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
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
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.