Poland celebrate's piano great Krystian Zimerman

Krystian Zimerman

Poland's Krystian Zimerman, one of the greatest living pianists, turned fifty last week. When Zimerman entered the Warsaw Chopin Competition in 1975 he was an unknown 19 year-old, the youngest of all the participants. He won first Prize and almost all the special awards and overnight became one of the best known personalities in Poland.

He was already then a mature virtuoso, with an incredible technique and a deep insight into the problems of interpretation. And he was wise enough not to accept all the invitations for concerts from around the world. Having made appearances as a new star in all major venues, he took a two-year break to work on his repertoire and carefully plan his future. Today, Zimerman is among the most sought-after pianists in the world. Music critic Kacper Miklaszewski describes him as a true perfectionist.

"He's close to perfection in every of his performances. If he's not perfect he still tries to be pefect. He's looking for the perfect sounding of any music he plays and he's extraordinary in this aspect among all today's pianists performing throughout the world. He belongs to the small group of pianists who perform very rarely, only a few concerts a year but his every performance is an event."

Though not a prolific performer, Zimerman doesn't allow himself long periods of idleness..

"I work every day but ideas come only once in a while. When this happens it's no longer a matter of working on technique but it's creating an interpretation. For years now I've been collecting recordings of the pieces I'm going to perform, not to imitate other pianists but to outline a style within the framework of which I can improvise"

Krystian Zimerman has collaborated with the greatest conductors of our time, including Bernstein, Karajan, Boulez, Mehta and Rattle. His recording career is based on an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, for which he's recorded over twenty CDs. Recent highlights in his career include the world-wide tour with the Polish Festival Orchestra, which he himself founded and with which he performed both Chopin concertos, conducting from the keyboard. That was seven years ago. Since then Zimerman has not performed in Poland. Music critic Andrzej Sulek explains why.

"I'd like very much to hear him every year in Poland and follow the changes in his repertoire. The problem is not just logistics of his concerts. He's a person of very strict views on his art meant as a whole. I mean not only what he performs on the stage, not only how the piano sounds, but he's trying to build a special atmosphere around his music. I suppose that he's afraid of Polish audiences and Polish critics and it's the main reason why he doesn't like to play in Poland."

The logistics of Zimerman's performances is very complex. Over a decade ago, he decided to travel with his own concert piano, to which he's applied several technical inventions of his own. Krystian Zimerman lives with his wife and two children in Switzerland. He divides his time between his family, concerts, recording sessions and teaching. Polish music lovers are hoping that he'll soon include his native Poland on his itinerary.