Prominent Poles

Krystian Zimerman, piano virtuoso

Photo of Krystian Zimerman, piano virtuoso

Born:  December 5, 1956, Zabrze, Poland

Summary. Zimerman's concept for the interpretation of Chopin’s concertos met with extremely varied reactions, which ranged from exuberance on one hand, to accusations of blasphemy on the other. As a matter of fact, Zimerman's execution of both concertos at times differed at a very fundamental level from accepted standards.

Early days. 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. He began to study piano at age five with his father, also a pianist. Two years later he became a student of Andrzej Jasinski at the Katowice Conservatory. He graduated 14 years later. His first prize at the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in 1975 launched his international career.

Career. Artur Rubinstein invited Zimerman to Paris in 1976, and this would prove very significant to the development of the young artist. Zimerman performed with the Berlin Philharmonic under the baton of Herbert von Karajan in 1976 and made his debut in the United States with the New York Philharmonic in 1979… He worked with some of the world's most outstanding conductors, including Abbado, Bernstein, Boulez, Haitink, von Karajan, Ozawa, Maazel, Mehta, Muti, Previn, Rattle, and Skrowaczewski. In some instances (with Bernstein, Boulez, Karajan, Kondrashin and Ozawa), the cooperation was particularly close and sustained by friendship. Mr. Zimerman and Bernstein worked together for 13 years. He has worked many times with Danczowska, Chung, and Kremer. Zimerman also made a closer acquaintance of the older-generation masters: Arrau, Michelangeli, Rubinstein and Richter--all of whom exerted a powerful influence on his musical development. Zimerman's recording career is based on an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, a label for which the artist has recorded twenty-two albums that have brought him a number of prestigious awards. The artist's repertoire encompasses the works of Chopin, Liszt, Schubert, Brahms, Grieg, Bartók, and the chamber music of Franck and Szymanowski. Since 1984 he has been living in Basel, where he leads master classes in piano at the Academy of Music. He has wife and two children. In 1999 Zimerman created the Polish Festival Orchestra Polish Festival Orchestra, a chamber orchestra that proved immensely successful during a vast tour organized to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Chopin's death. Zimerman generally avoids the limelight, limits the number of live performances he gives, records relatively infrequently. . The great pianist held innumerable rehearsals with the young musicians and together they embarked on a tour during which they gave over thirty concerts in some of Europe's most significant music institutions, in four Polish cities, and in the United States, among other places at Carnegie Hall. Wherever they went, Zimerman's appearance was the source of sensation. In Paris an additional concert date was added at the Salle Pleyel. In August of 1999, at the Giovanni Agnelli Auditorium in Torino, Deutsche Grammophon recorded both of Chopin's concertos in the Polish Festival Orchestra rendition. Within a few weeks the album was published and immediately sold out throughout the world…. Zimerman is best known for his interpretations of Romantic music, but has performed a wide variety of classical pieces as well. He has also been a supporter of contemporary music. For example, Lutosławski wrote his piano concerto for Zimerman, who later recorded it. Amongst his best-known recordings are the piano concerti of Grieg and Schumann with conductor von Karajan; the Brahms concerti with Bernstein, the piano concerti of Chopin once conducted by Giulini and a later recording conducted by himself at the keyboard; the piano concerti of Beethoven under Bernstein; the first and second piano concerti of Rachmaninoff; the piano concerti of Liszt with Ozawa, the piano concerti of Ravel with Boulez, and solo piano works by Chopin, Liszt, Debussy and Schubert. During the last 10 seasons, since he has resolved to travel with his own concert piano, he has managed to accustom his audience and concert organizers 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.

Awards. 1973 top honors at the Ludwig van Beethoven International Piano Competition in Hradec Kralove ,1975 International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, Warsaw, Poland (First prize), 1985 award of the Accademia Chigiana Award, Siena, Italy (best young musician of the year), 1994 Leonie Sonning Award, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Source: This article uses, among others, material from the Wikipedia article "Krystian Zimerman" licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. :

with additions and modifications from:
Allmusic (includes fragments of his performances)
Discography by Alberto Notarbartolo
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Polish Culture

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