“I 'd rather have bruises than ulcers”

An inerview with K. Popowa-Zydroń by Barbara Kanold (‘Głos Wybrzeża’, 27-29 February 2004)

  • The 10th International Chopin Piano Competition in 1975 turned out to be successful for pianists from Pomerania - for the first time a pianist from Gdańsk received honorable mention.
  • The competition went down in history mainly as a great victory of then a very young pianist Krystian Zimerman. But actually my honorable mention was widely discussed in Gdańsk.
  • A native Bulgarian in Polish colours!
  • I entered the Competition as a Polish citizen, a student of an excellent educator, recently deceased Prof. Zbigniew Śliwiński. I feel like a Pole, because although born in Sophia, I lived there but eighteen years, and all my adult life in Poland. My Bulgarian, unfortunately, is getting worse. I can understand less and less from what I read in Bulgarian newspapers because the language is changing continuously.
  • You moved from Poznań to Gdańsk because of your Professor. And how did it happen that you arrived at Poznań Academy straight from your hometown Sophia?
  • In a way, it is a question to do with men and feeelings. In Bulgaria I met a Polish artist, Antoni Zydroń. I fell in love and in my final school year I decided to come to Poland; we got married pretty soon.
  • Relationships between two artists tend to be complicated.
  • Ours failed to survive. It was difficult to coordinate our activities and interests over time. An artist, in contrast to a musician, doesn't have to practise several hours a day. I didn't want to compromise and give up my plans for life.
  • Music turned out to be stronger than feelings. Did you have it in your genes?
  • In my family music was cultivated in an amateur way but with great zest. My father, an engineer, was a great music lover. He had over five thousand discs. Moreover, he was a concertmaster in the orchestra of the Bulgarian army, and would play the clarinet. On Sundays family chamber concerts took place. My Mum, an English teacher by profession, sang beautifully and played the piano. She was very well-educated; one of her teachers was a renowed pianist and composer, Dimitr Nenova. I feel a bit like his granddaughter.
  • It was your aunt who was your first teacher.
  • Both her and my mother made me practice the piano when I turned seven because there was only one central music school in Sophia and only the children that could already play an instrument were admitted.
  • You nearly gave up music at the very beginning.
  • My Mum, being critical of my hardworking ability and rather pessimistic about the profession of a musician, sent me to the high school with the German language. But, when in Poland, I returned to music immediately, especially when it turned out easy for me.
  • I can't believe that you did not spend several hours a day with the instrument!
  • You must believe because I was pretty lazy. I was young, interested in everything and I didn't want to practise a lot. Of course, during the Competition I didn't reveal that, especially while speaking to journalists.
  • Has it changed over the years?
  • Today I am a musicaholic, I am mad about music. Two weeks of Christmas break with no instrument almost put me in depression and my mood improved on the very first day when I went back to work. I'm getting more and more hardworking - may it be insane? I think that people in their fifties are more experienced, available and better at work; what is more, they don't have small children. In many countries professors teach until their old age.
  • The honourable mention in the competition brought about a very busy stage career. There were lots of concerts in Poland and abroad.
  • Maybe not so many, but yet I could hardly bear the loneliness of hotel rooms. In most cases I didn't even have a chance to visit the city where I was playing. I wouldn't say that I don't like to be alone, but I enjoy more being with others. What I see in myself is not only the passion for music, but also for people who love music. Such people seem to be different from others, perhaps they are better.That's what pedagogics has taught me.
  • You represent the fourth teaching generation in your family.
  • My mother, grandmother and my grandfather's mother were teachers; perhaps it's in my blood, too. Immediately after graduation I was given a job at the Academy of Music in Gdansk as an accompanist, then an assistant. But I didn't give up performing even after having children. Besides, concert appearances help me in my teaching.
  • As a professor you coduct piano classes at the Music Academy in Gdansk and in Bydgoszcz as well.
  • I also have a few students in the High Music School in Wrzeszcz. I sometimes find it hard to refuse.
  • As for music, it seems more important who taught you rather than which university you graduated from.
  • Generally, students themselves choose a particular teacher. There must be a deep understanding based on the master and apprentice relationship.
  • So they play ‘a la Popowa’?
  • It sounds a little pejorative, but the influence of a teacher on a student's performance is evident. There is no such thing as an absolutely objective presentation of music. Notes are merely a signal, they must generate a response from the performer, who understands them through his or her personality. But, undoubtedly, my influence on the interpretation plays a tremendous role.
  • It sometimes happens that a student doesn't come up to your expectations. What then?
  • I have never assumed that there is any optimal aim; it all depends on an individual; I set targets commensurate with the abilities of the person I am working with. My aim is to make them fully develop their own abilities and not mine. You can't make Zimerman out of every person you teach.
  • You don't teach children, why?
  • Once I calculated that with children the teacher's work accounts for seventy percent of the pupil's performance, in high school only fifty, and with students only thirty percent. The teacher's role decreases, it is moved into higher areas, but these can't be achieved without a fundament, which is built by a number of anonymous teachers who educate youngest pupils.
  • They don't collect laurels, that's true.
  • Only the last professor, who obviously has a significant impact on the artistic aspect of a student's performance, is known to the general public; however, the technique implemented, the pianist's approach to the sound depend mainly on the first teacher.
  • Once you sent your own children to music school.
  • At home Ewa and Franciszek witnessed my and their father, Waldemar Wojtal's work. They knew its ins and outs and how demanding it was; they didn't find enough passion in themselves to take it up.
  • Was their parents' work an obstacle for them?
  • Maybe not that much, but they perceived music as a kind of competition for their parents' attention. They didn't really want to practise, they thought that with some help from their parents they would be able to prepare for an exam in a week's time. But I do not regret my decision, I think that being in music school helped them develop. Now they can control their nerves, they are able to get ready to do a task in time.
  • As for your daughter, she discovered her Bulgarian origins at some point, didn't she?
  • You may say so. Ewa is doing Bulgarian and Croatian studies in Poznań, she is generally focused on the Balkans. She is undoubtedly an artistic soul. My son Franciszek studies at the Higher School of Economics. He believes that - unlike us - he will be earning good money... Well, we'll see. I tried not to prepare a career path for my children, but just let them become independent and able to fight for their future, although it might sometimes be painful for the parents.
  • Don't you give them any advice?
  • The world is changing so rapidly that I frequently do not know how to advise them. My grandmother used to say that you should not overlook the moment when, instead of making your children listen to you, you should start listening to them...
  • Is this precisely the moment?
  • Well, not quite, I have very good, intelligent and good-looking children, which may sound awful when a mother says this. They generally love life. For the time being, I'll try to 'manage' myself.
  • Two pianists in the family - were you competitors for each other?
  • We tried not to compete, but people would make comparisons, which was perhaps inevitable, although not very nice. Our relationship rewarded me with my beautiful children; it also helped me to develop as an artist.
  • And now?
  • We work together, we have common goals, and the kids are probably equally proud of their father and me.
  • You are speaking very well about your ex-husband...
  • I could also say a lot of bad things, but - what for? I'd rather remember the good ones. It is perhaps naive, perhaps even impractical, but let me stay like that.
  • This way you get blows from life...
  • I call it bruises and believe me, I prefer bruises to ulcers. When I was young I used to be a gloomy person, hardly ever smiling, but now I am often more cheerful. Maybe I am getting old? Or maybe I appreciate the fact that things go smoothly without any special efforts on my part but due to the fact that fate has been kind to me...
  • Aren't you banging your head against the wall?
  • Gallantry is not my dominant trait, but if I ever feel valiant, it concerns principal matters rather than personal ones. I'd rather wait out and forgive, that's my golden rule. I have never fought tooth and nail for my own, and yet I still get gifts from life...
  • For instance?
  • At the moment it is an eighteen-year-old student; working with him makes me happy. He could actually start his international career right away. His name is Rafał Blechacz, please remember this name!
  • Haven't you ever considered returning to Bulgaria?
  • I feel like a Pole, it is my place. I'm very sorry about the situation in my home country. More than a million of young intellectuals have already left the country. And Poles - born grumblers - should try to see what it looks like elsewhere, to appreciate the conditions of life in their own country, although in terms of culture things are still far from the ideal here.
  • As if you did not have enough work, you are busy at the Gdańsk Association of Music Lovers.
  • It began with the piano. It was just a little spontaneous reaction to a very badly-tuned instrument, which I was playing at a concert in the Town Hall. I thought I had reached a dead end, when I met a wonderful person. Mr. Vincent Broniwój-Orliński from Hamburg, a great Pole, offered Gdansk music lovers a gift of a new instrument. Recently we have organized a Schubert festival and I celebrated my thirty years in the profession.
  • In a sense, Mr. Orliński became your angel. Thanks to him your dreams came true.
  • I ususally set my goals, I don't count on miracles. The most important thing to me is for my children and my future grandchildren to live happily.