Krystian Zimerman

comes from a family with rich music-making traditions. Musicians would meet almost daily in his home to play various works, mostly chamber music. These performances afforded Zimerman a most intimate, natural, everyday contact with live music and provided an early impetus to his musical preoccupations. Naturally, he made his first steps in music under his father's supervision. At the age of seven he started working systematically with Andrzej Jasiński, then a senior lecturer at the music conservatoire in Katowice. This tutorship was crowned by Zimerman's graduation, fourteen years later, from the Music Academy in Katowice. For Zimerman, who has always expressed the opinion that a day without learning is a day lost, the diploma could not mean the end of education. His close relationship with Prof. Jasiński has in the course of many years developed into a lasting friendship.
     Zimerman had no zest for contests, but he followed the common way of musical development for concert pianists, which brought him the highest prizes at several prestigious competitions - devoted to Russian and Polish music, as well as the works of particular composers - Prokofiev, Beethoven. There followed the Grand Prix at the Chopin Competition of 1975, which paved the way for performances in concert halls worldwide.
     The twenty-five years of Zimerman's artistic activity have been marked, first of all, by regular meetings with his own dedicated audiences, which ardently look forward to every concert. Wherever his concert tours take him, in the music centres of Europe, Asia and America, he always recognises familiar faces. During the last ten seasons, since he has resolved to travel with his own concert piano, he has managed to accustom his audience and the concert organisers to this unusual and only seemingly inconvenient gear. Zimerman has applied several technical inventions of his own which have made it possible for him, as for other musicians, to take his instrument along on tours. The confidence afforded by his own, thoroughly familiar instrument, combined with his piano-building expertise - first acquired in Katowice and developed through permanent cooperation with the Steinway Company in Hamburg - allows him to eliminate, or reduce to the absolute minimum, everything that might distract him from purely musical issues.
     Zimerman's comparatively early acquaintance with the main developments of European music - German, Russian, French, and other - precluded him from becoming a "Chopin specialist". Instead, it stirred in him the ambition, which he has achieved in the last ten years, of performing music in the place and culture of its origin: French works in Paris; Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert in Vienna; Brahms in Hamburg; American music played in New York, and, what is more, conducted by the composer himself - Leonard Bernstein. "If I were an actor", he argues, "I would also set myself the aim of performing Shakespeare in London and Chekhov in Russia"... Witold Lutosławski's honourable dedication of his Piano Concerto to Krystian Zimerman inspired the pianist to a similar treatment of that work: it was self-evident that it should be performed in Warsaw during the Warsaw Autumn Festival of Contemporary Music, with the composer as conductor.
     During each of his New York recitals, he has taken care to perform a Polish composition as part of the programme or as an encore. For several consecutive seasons he performed Karol Szymanowski's works in principal music centres on three continents.
     His encounters with pre-eminent musicians - performers of chamber music and conductors - have been, he claims, his greatest luck. He has repeatedly performed with Kaja Danczowska, Kyung-Wha Chung, Gidon Kremer and about forty other celebrities of the musical world, including artists like Yehudi Menuhin.
      It appears that the piano was not his only musical passion: he has always remained an exceedingly keen organ-player. Playing the organ also allowed him to grasp and fashion the musical form in its horizontal dimension. He has also enriched his knowledge of conducting due to collaboration with the most illustrious conductors of his time: Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajan, Seiji Ozawa, Riccardo Muti, Lorin Maazel, André Previn, Pierre Boulez, Zubin Mehta, Bernard Haitink, Stanisław Skrowaczewski, Simon Rattle and numerous others. In some instances (with Bernstein, Boulez, Karajan, Kondrashin, Ozawa), the cooperation was particularly close and sustained by friendship. With Leonard Bernstein, they worked together for thirteen years: Zimerman was the last - for some time also the only - pianist who performed under this conductor, both during recording sessions and at concerts in many European countries and the USA. Working frequently and closely with an outstanding musical personality, a master of orchestral sound, was a truly formative experience. The same could be said about his close and long-time contacts with Herbert von Karajan.
     Krystian Zimerman has also embraced the opportunity to meet and make a closer acquaintance of the older-generation masters: Claudio Arrau, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Arthur Rubinstein, Svyatoslav Richter, all of whom exerted a powerful influence on his musical development.
     Presently the artist lives with his wife and two children in Switzerland, where he has spent the greater part of his life, dividing his time between the family, concert life, performances of chamber music and, in the last several years, teaching. He has laid down for himself the limit of fifty concerts in one season. He pursues a comprehensive approach to the musical profession: he organises his own management, studies the acoustics of, among others, concert halls, the latest sound recording technologies and instrument construction. He has also applied himself to the study of psychology and computer science. He has adapted a similar attitude to the recording process, which he intends to control at all of its stages. During his 24-year collaboration with Deutsche Grammophon, he has made 22 records, for which he has frequently received the most prestigious record awards.


1999, Polish Festival Orchestra; Produced by JMC Interactive Multimedia