Jan Lis photographed by Mathias Bothor for Deutsche Grammophon

After debuting at the age of 9, classical pianist Jan Lisiecki has traveled the world since, marveling audiences with his precocious talent and remarkable skill. Born on the 23rd of March 1995 in Calgary, Canada.

Called the "reluctant prodigy" of classical music, Jan Lisiecki is a young man whose bearing and composure suggest a maturity well beyond his years, yet the discernible twinkle in the eye and coltish toss of the head betray the youthful joy he brings to classical performance. In spite of this youth, he has already been afforded comparisons to Maurizio Pollini, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Krystian Zimerman. He has even been called the Mozart of our times. And still he retains a sweet modesty throughout all of his success, conscious of the difficult passage from boy genius to a professional whose career follows a dynamic, all the while steady, path. BBC Music Magazine's critic called Lisiecki a "remarkable young soloist (who) is perhaps the most 'complete' pianist of his age I have encountered".

Lisiecki rebuffs the labels of "genius" or "child prodigy", confiding that such classifications put a great burden on a young artist as the world watches "what will he do, what will he become?" And such pressure is certainly "not good for the child". His approach to music is a refreshing combination of dedication, skill, enthusiasm and a realistic perspective on the career of a musician. "I might be lucky to have talent but this also takes a lot of hard work," he said in an interview with DigitalJournal.com in 2009. And if his career as a musician were to take a dip, he says he would find solace in his second thrill in life - aviation. 

Jan Miłosz Lisiecki was raised in Canada by Polish parents. He learned Polish as a child and has maintained ties with Poland, often visiting his grandparents and performing at major festivals, including the prominent Chopin and his Europe Festival each summer since the age of 12. He was discovered by musical heavyweight Howard Shelley at a piano festival in Manchester and thanks to Shelley's support he has become one of the principal attractions of the festival each year. His renditions of Chopin's Piano Concertos 1&2 under the baton of Shelley himself and accompanied by the Sinfornia Varsovia Orchestra at the 2008 and 2009 editions were recorded and released by the Chopin Institute in 2010 as part of their "White Series".

Surprisingly, he doesn't come from a musical family. Lisiecki began studying piano at the age of five upon the advice given to his parents by a school counselor that the study of music would broaden the boy's horizons. His incredible talent and skill were recognised immediately by his tutors at the Mount Royal University Conservatory, who encouraged the boy and his parents to hone this gift. He debuted on the Canadian stage at the age of 9 and since has performed all over the world as a solo artist, including New York's Carnegie Hall. He has shared the stage with Yo-Yo Ma, Pinchas Zukerman, James Ehnes, and Emanuel Ax, also performing with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, L’Orchestre Symphonique de Québec, Minnesota Orchestra, Sinfonietta Cracovia, Suwon Philharmonic Orchestra, and Sinfonia Varsovia. The CD was awarded the Diapason découverte award. In January 2010 he was selected to open the Chopin 200th anniversary celebrations with a special concert at Chopin's birthplace in Żelazowa Wola and that same month gave a highly acclaimed performance of Chopin's Concerto No. 1 in E Minor at the MIDEM Classical Awards Gala in Cannes, France. Later that year he stood in for Nelson Freire in four concerts France, opened the Seoul International Music Festival in Korea and performed for Her Majesty the Queen of England on Parliament Hill in Ottowa Canada. His performances have been broadcast on radio all over the globe.

His intellectual acuity and hard work also made him an accomplished student. After skipping four grade levels in January 2011, he graduated from Western Canada High School and went on to study for a Bachelor of Music degree at the Glenn Gould School of Music in Toronto on a full scholarship. He continued to polish his technique as a pianist and touring the world, averring that he's quickly bored after just a few weeks at home and is itching to set off again. In October 2011 he signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, releasing the first recording in the series in May 2012 - Mozart’s Piano Concertos no. 20, K. 466 and no. 21, K. 467 under Maestro Christian Zacharias with the Kammerorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. He has spoken of the opportunity to record with the historic label as a great privilege, recognising how the collaboration "reinforces the idea that music is larger than any single artist". Speaking of Mozart himself, he finds that the composer

often wrote very different works at one and the same time. Even so, the carefree surface of the C major Concerto conceals beneath it traces of the dark energy of the D minor Concerto. Conversely, this last-named piece also has something of the lightness of the C major Concerto. That’s why I was so keen to record both these pieces together.

While it may seem that Mozart and Chopin are something of an obsession for the young pianist, absorbing a relatively large area of the scope of his interests, Lisiecki insists that his interests are varied and he reaches for various composers at various points in time. It is the comparisons with a young Mozart or Chopin that has formulated an association in the minds of the public that he incorporates these masters for the modern piano. As for his approach to style, Lisiecki says his aim is always to perform the music in a way that carries forward the beauty and brilliance of the original composition, rather than highlight any particular quirks or effects that would grant him a recognisable style. In this way he has demonstrated that he is capable of rendering an original composition remarkably close to the way it was intended to be played by the composer himself. Lisiecki does not add anything, he does not take anything away from a piece. He comes marvelously close to a "pure" performer, however his unmistakable exuberance crowns this very straightforward style of great skill and concentration.

 

He has been awarded prestigious awards in his native Canada, including the 2010 Révélations Radio-Canada Musique and the 2011 Jeune Artiste des Radios Francophones, along with numerous international honours. He has also been the youngest winner in history of the Canadian Music Festival (2008) and OSM Standard Life Competition (2009)and Jan has won numerous major Canadian music titles. In 2009 he was awarded Grand Prize at the OSM Standard Life Competition (the youngest in history). In 2008 he won the Grand Award in both the Canadian Music Competitions (June 2008) and (August 2008, as the youngest in history). Jan was a prize winner in seven international competitions in the USA, Italy, England, and Japan.

Jan is also involved in charity work, donating his time and performance to such organisations as the David Foster Foundation, the Polish Humanitarian Organization and the Wish Upon a Star Foundation. In June 2008 he was appointed a National Youth Representative by UNICEF Canada.

Performance highlights for the 2011/12 season include the opening concert of the Orchestre de Paris under Paavo Järvi at Salle Pleyel, and debuts with the BBC Symphony at the Barbican in London, the Leipzig Radio Symphony at Leipzig Gewandhaus and the Göteborgs Symfoniker. He tours Europe and Brazil before heading to Japan in the autumn with concerts in Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka, then the United States and Canada. In 2012 he makes his debut with the Accademia de Santa Cecilia Orchestra under Antonio Pappano, and the New York Philharmonic under Daniel Harding. In early 2013 he will begin recording his second Deutsche Grammaphon recording - this time the concertos of Chopin.

Jan Lisiecki performs works from the album at the 2012 edition of the Chopin and his Europe Festival in Warsaw under Christian Zacharias and Sinfornia Varsovia (24.08.2012, 7:00 p.m.).

Discography:

  • 2012

Mozart. Piano Concertos K. 466 and K. 467
with Christian Zacharias and Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Publisher: Deutsche Grammophon
To purchase: www.deutschegrammophon.com

  • 2010

Chopin. Piano Concertos 1&2
with Howard Shelley and Sinfonia Varsovia
Publisher: Fryderyk Chopin Institute
To purchase: sklep.nifc.pl or itunes.apple.com

Author: Agnieszka Le Nart

For more information on Jan Lisiecki, see: www.janlisiecki.com

Thumbnail credit: Andras Schram