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Oct 23, 2010

Blechacz- - Born in the country of Chopin --essay by Tsutomu Nasuda

From the program booklet of Rafał Blechacz Piano Concert 2010 in Japan

Rafał Blechacz- - Born in the country of Chopin
By Tsutomu Nasuda

(This essay is based on the interview that Blechacz gave to Nasuda in Feb. 2009)

Poland has produced many excellent pianists.  Their characteristics are varied: Paderewski, the national hero of Poland with the strong personality and aura; Rubinstein, the maestro of gorgeous music and temperament; recalling the winners of the Chopin Competition, Czerny-Stefańska, a magnificent big flower; Zimerman, man of sharp intelligence and elegance.  But I think it is unprecedented to have a pianist like Rafał Blechacz.  He never cries out loudly or overwhelms with power but listening to his playing, listeners feel at peace and fulfilled.  The “natural and amazing” pianism is very charming.

I had an opportunity to interview him in Feb. last year when he came to Japan to play as a soloist for the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and give solo recitals.  The topics of discussion were in wide range; organ, his favorite instrument, Bach, Polish traditional playing of Chopin’s music.  The way he talked was gentle and composed, unpretentious without exaggerate gesture, suggesting that he is a man of peaceful mind and harmony.  The characteristics are reflected on his music, too.

People of Poland are religious.  Rafał Blechaczi is not exceptional and he attends church regularly even when touring in Japan.  “Faith supports me when I do activities as a musician.  For me it is important that Bach, Mozart and great musicians found important meaning in faith”, he says.
It was an organ of his parish church that gave him a motive of learning music when he was young.  Actually Blechacz looks very happy when talking about organ.  Four days after he won the 2005 Chopin Competition, he got permission from the organist to play the wonderful organ installed in Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw.  For many hours.  “I was able to sit at the organ in that hall where nobody was there and play as much as I liked.  It’s a very pleasant memory.  For me it was a special award of winning the competition”.

The story is a good example to show Blechacz’s personality and how he sees music.  It also reminds me that Chopin was fond of playing organ since his childhood.  Blechacz began learning piano as a natural course.  At age of 17, he won the 2nd place in the competition in Poland and the 2nd place (the highest award) in Hamamtsu Piano Competition in the following year. He kept showing remarkable results in major competitions, leading up to the victory of 2005 Chopin Competition as is well known.  I believe that the process was not easy and he had been making every possible effort every day but he says;
“I’m like a bird who has no day when he doesn’t fly. I have no day when I don’t play piano”.
I’m not aware of even a small sign of difficulties from his tranquil manner of talking.  For him playing piano is natural, something like breathing.

When I watch his playing from DVD of the Chopin Competition, I’m attracted by his flexible touch, exceptionally beautiful pianissimo, his ability of concentration and technical accuracy.  At the same time I’m fascinated by his single-minded attitude towards music and highly pure expression.  It’s understandable that his performance at the competition let the judges shed tears. It is about the great harmony among technique, music and soul.  After the competition, Blechacz’s music grew further.  At age of 25, he already has an enormous capacity to embrace hearts of listeners.  What is distinctively wonderful about him is every sound he produces is brought to life.

Blechacz is conscious of the fact that he is a pianist born in the country of Chopin.
“I often listen to the recordings by Raul Koczalski, a second-generation pupil of Chopin. I have a lot to learn from them. Of course style and trend of playing may change as we go forward in time. However I think that there is an invariable tradition regardless of such changes that I would like to maintain”.
“Another thing that I can count on is the letters written by Chopin and writings by those close to him. Reading such a literature, I can understand how Chopin played and feel closer to him”.
“It is written that Chopin’s playing was very delicate and sensitive full of nuances. Chopin played the Concerto in F minor so smoothly as if he was walking in heaven”.

During the interview, I wanted to know his personality more and asked how he spends spare time.  He answered that he began studying philosophy at Copernicus University in Toruń and reads books by Roman Ingarden, a Polish philosopher, and Husserl, his teacher and Phenomenologist.  He also said that he loves driving and when his sister is with him, enjoys listening to her favorite pop music onboard.  I was able to catch a glimpse of another aspect of Blechacz, a gentle young man caring about his sister.

What differentiates Chopin played by Blechacz from those by other Polish pianists is that the air of desperation by a musician of the country that was divided and reigned by other countries in history is relatively low.  Instead his music gives you spirit of trust and harmony.  I guess it is not unrelated to the fact he grew in the post-perestroika period.  It is probably one of the reasons why his interpretation, albeit orthodox, impresses listeners with freshness and inspirations.  While paying respect to the Polish traditional way of playing Chopin music, he brings out a new type of Chopin’ s icon.  What a godsend!  We are grateful to be able to listen to Blechacz’s interpretation in this historic bicentennial year of Chopin’s birth.


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Rafał Blechacz held a recital in Yokohama Minato-Mirai Hall on October 23, his final concert in Japan in 2010.
The hall was packed with those who love Blechacz’s music.  The audience was deeply impressed by the entire program, especially by the beautiful pianissimos and every detail he magnificently expressed.

A friend of mine from university (with expertise of producing artists of modern arts) was impressed by the depths of his interpretation and a wide variety of tones and colors.  Sometimes she felt hearing organ.  Exquisite touch and meticulous expression.  Pianissimos are just amazing.  She was also fascinated by his broad-mindedness and said "Thank you for bringing me here to see an angel".

Sister of my colleague was surprised, "I cannot believe that he plays it all alone!"

As a reply to the unending warm applause, he gave the audience three encores: Heroic Polonaise, Nocturne (posthumous) and….the Prelude op.28-7 in A major!
A beautiful farewell to the Japanese audience.

Next time Rafał Blechacz comes to Japan will be in February 2013.

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