“There is someone...”

Anna Iwanicka-Nijakowska (‘Chopin 2010 Celebrations Office’, round III of the XVI International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, 15th October 2010) spoke with Professor Katrzyna Popowa-Zydroń.

  • Do you think that there is an ideal model for interpreting Fryderyk Chopin's music?
  • To my mind, something ideal is ideal because it is unattainable. Even if it did exist in theory, then someone would play like that once and we wouldn't need the Chopin Competitions anymore.
  • A huge success for you as an outstanding teacher are the achievements of your pupils in the Chopin Competition - Rafał Blechacz won the last edition, and Paweł Wakarecy is already a semi-finalist in the current edition. What is the secret of your method of working with talented young pianists so that they come as close to that ideal as possible?
  • I don't have a method. Every pianist is different, although it's true that I do manage to intuitively find and bring out each pianist's individual ‘truth about Chopin’.
  • There are different approaches to interpreting Chopin's music, for example trying to be as close as possible to his own performance...
  • I believe that it's not possible to create a way of playing like Chopin - let's forget about that. The most important thing is to be able to find the music between the notes, which are only graphic signs, and, in the music, one's own emotional world. For me, that is the only way to be convincing on stage. Trying to play like someone else, even if that someone is allegedly Chopin, means renouncing oneself.
  • So I understand that Paweł Wakarecy didn't consult with Rafal Blechacz, for example. Did they meet before the competition at joint sessions?
  • They definitely didn't have any contact because, since he graduated, Rafał has never come back to the Academy in Bydgoszcz.
  • You also achieved success as a pianist in the Chopin Competition in 1975, being awarded distinction. With hindsight, which role in the Competition do you think is more difficult: pianist or juror?
  • For sure the greatest burden falls on the one who comes out on stage. I think that when I took part in the Chopin Competition, I was too focused on playing perfectly - that is to say, how my professor showed me. My emotions at the time had been ‘clipped’. Those were different times than now. Then, academies focused on perfect interpretation conceived in a rigid manner - academic performances. I'm not negating that, in fact I think that everyone should be an ‘academic’ if only to stop being one later. If someone knows what they are against and disapprove of, they can support their arguments because they've thought over their decision, they don't like something and want to change it. Their argumentation is then logical and convincing. If, however, someone breaks some canons by accident, because they simply don't see them, then they are, quite simply, amateurs. Their behaviour is substantiated neither in the logical sense nor in the sense of psychological development. Because basically, when we are dealing with music, we are entering the world of the composer and the performer, as one. This world has to have its own logic so that the listener can understand it. If there is chaos, a random compilation of overheard, concocted ideas, then there is no communicative force.
  • So the most important thing is to experience Chopin's music individually and subjectively...
  • ... based on the music.
  • Do you have your own catalogue of rules that can absolutely not be broken when interpreting Chopin's music? A set of reprehensible mistakes?
  • For me, a reprehensible mistake is hammering on the piano (forgive the colloquialism). The ideal is when the artist forms a whole with the instrument. It is a mistake to have an aggressive approach to the language, for ultimately the piano is the pianist's tool of expression. I feel sorry for the piano, sorry for the ears of the people who are listening. When I see that type of aggression, I react very negatively to it. I also definitely consider it wrong when the issue of the order of psychological time is omitted, which is, of course, not the same as clock time. Psychological time is quite flexible and shouldn't have anything in common with dead, metronomic time.
  • Were there any pianists who didn't qualify for the later rounds of this year's Chopin Competition that you could see felt Chopin but quite simply were not suitable for the competition?
  • In the first round a lot of very good pianists were eliminated. This round didn't, however, provide the possibility to hear who really feels Chopin. Performing mainly etudes at this stage shows only one aspect of pianism, and it was relatively easy to get through the nocturne playing conventionally. Therefore, anyone who shone during the etudes got a green light to the second round, which was a true reflection of understanding of Chopin's music. Among those forty people I noticed several very good pianists and I regretted the fact that I didn't have the opportunity to verify if they were good chopinists. Whether someone is highly predisposed to Chopin is a difficult question as each performer is slightly different, each makes use of Chopin to make contact with the audience. However, the audience is made up of individual units. It is not a ‘mass’ to which you can speak with one voice. Even among the jury, which is made up of very sensitive, competent people, there are such discussions of the type that one performer ‘spoke’ to one juror and to another not at all. I could say who I think would be a good chopinist, but I am not allowed to - the rules forbid it.
  • I understand - after the Competition. My last question: in accordance with the rules, YES or NO - is there anyone among the semifinalists who particularly impressed you? Apart from Pawel Wakarecy, of course.
  • Did I say that Paweł Wakarecy impressed me?
  • I can't ask that.
  • There is someone...
  • Thank you.