"If you want to understand Chopin, you must hear Rafał Blechacz.", the Westfälische Nachrichten wrote. A diligent student who is performing his duty, the young pianist fills the silence in between the notes.
"If you want to understand Chopin, you must hear Rafał Blechacz," wrote the Westfälische Nachrichten. Beginning at a young age, his dilligent study of piano only grows stronger.
Rafał Blechacz, photo: Karol Piechocki / Reporter / East News
At the age of 20, he walked away with all the prizes at the 2005 International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, his most notable prize to date. The judges were so taken that they awarded no second place. He immediately had a contract with the international record label Deutsche Grammophon. Always having dreamt of performing throughout the world, the victory opened the doors of the world’s most famous concert halls to him. Today, interpretating Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Szymanowski and Debussy, the 27-year-old Polish pianist performs with the best symphonic orchestras under the direction of acclaimed conductors Valery Gergev, Mikhail Pletnev, Charles Dutoit, David Zinman.
"I love it, I feel what I am, I need to travel," he said in an interview for the German magazine Rondo; but living with his parents and sister in the Polish town of 20,000 inhabitants Nakło nad Notecią, where he was born on the 30th of June 1985, "is sufficiently calm and [there] I have a sense of concentration." Rafał Blechacz began taking piano lessons at the age of five. He continued his piano education at the Artur Rubinstein State School of Music in Bydgoszcz graduating in 2007 from the Feliks Nowowiejski Academy of Music in Bydgoszcz, from the class of Professor Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń.
The classical musician likes "Listening to music, playing the organs and driving a car, reading Dostoyevsky, Leszek Kołakowski and that's enough already for my time." He looks like a hard-working pupil who is patient and perseveres. His body is predisposed to live up to the high technical demands of Fryderyk Chopin's music, he "has the supple fingers, the powerful forearms, and the agile feet," James Leonard wrote for All music, "the ringing tone, the powerful left hand, the lyrical right hand, and the dancing sense of rhythm that seem uniquely designed to play Chopin."
He has released four albums. From the hearing of his third CD, Chopin The Piano Concertos performed with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under the direction of Jerzy Semkow (which won the 2009 Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik and reached double platinum status in Poland), Blechacz’s renditions show his capability to maintain the Classical layout and reveal his search for the deeper meaning of the piece, perhaps caught in its Romantic spirit. Expressing the upheavals and moments of drama of youth, Chopin filled the concertos with joy and, as Blechacz says, it is the lyrical second movements "that are the heart of the two compositions" because they are about Chopin's first love - Konstancja Gładkowska.
Blechacz’s interpretations of Chopin's mazurkas and polonaises bring up the question of nationality in music. What does being Polish bring to his understanding of music written by Polish composers? "I think the greatest contrast between me and the Chinese pianists Lang Lang and Li Yundi is that they treat tempo rubato very differently than I do," Blechacz said in a 2007 interview for the German magazine Rondo, "In my case, it is in a natural Chopin' piano process. I go there with a very naive approach." Having grown up with Polish folkore influences his ability to identify and convey the origins of the music. However, in shades, harmony, and the silence in between the notes great composers left room for freedom; a freedom filled with the personality of the pianist, the atmosphere of the concert hall and the rapport with the conductor. "At the end of the day it’s a universal language," he told Aleksandra Sagiel from the European Magazine, one that is never the same.
In July 2010 the artist received the prestigious Premio Internazionale Accademia Musicale Chigiana (Siena, Italy) awarded to young musicians for their superb artistic achievements. A reminder of his young age and the hope and trust put in his future development, following a concert at the London Wigmore Hall in 2009, renowned British Guardian critic Andrew Clements wrote "That Blechacz is highly talented there is no doubt, but on the evidence of his latest London appearance he has still a good way to go before he can be mentioned in the same breath as his Polish compatriots such as Zimerman and Anderszewski."
On January 8, 2014, Blechacz was awarded the prestigious Gilmore Artist Award, which made him the second artist from Poland to win the prestigious award. The Award was previously obtained by Piotr Anderszewski (2002). Blechacz was given a prize of $300 000, most of which ($250 000) he was expected to spend on his career development.
Simultaneously with obtaining the Gilmore Artist Award, Rafał Blechacz was invited to perform at the Gilmore International Festival in Kalamazoo, MI (24 April-10 May 2014), next to some of the previous laureates: Gerstein, Fliter, and Anderszewski.
For information on Rafał Blechacz's ongoing concerts see: Deutsche Grammophone
Sources: culture.pl, commentary written by Władyslaw Strozewski in the booklet to Blechacz's Chopin Conertos CD, Blechacz Info, All Music, Blechacz.net
List of Selected Awards
- 1995 – hounourable mention at the Warsaw Piano Competition
- 1996 – First Prize and Grand Prix – The Apollo’s Chariot at the J.S. Bach Piano Competition in Gorzów Wielkopolski
- 1997 – First Prize and hounorable mention for performances of Frederic Chopin’s compositions at the National Piano Competition in Żagań
- 1998 – Second Prize at the Konrad Pałubicki Composition competition in Bydgoszcz
- 1999 – Second Prize the National Frederic Chopin Competition for Children and Youth in Jelenia Góra
- 1999 – Special Mention from the Lower Silesian Philharmonic Orchestra in Jelenia Góra
- 2002 – Second Prize at the International Competition for Young Pianists ‘Artur Rubinstein in Memoriam’ in Bydgoszcz
- 2002 – Young Stage Laureate at the 36th Polish Piano Festival in Słupsk
- 2003 – Second Prize at the 5th Inernational Piano Festival in Hamamatsu in Japan
- 2004 – First Prize at the International Piano Competition in Morocco
- 2005 – Grand Prix at the 15th Frederic Chopin International Piano Competition, Warsaw, Special Awards for best Performance of Mazurka, Polonaise, Concerto and Sonata
- 2010 – Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik in the Concert category for the recording of Chopin's Concertos with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under the baton of Jerzy Semkow
- 2012 – winner of the Echo Klassik Award 2012 in the category ‘Solo Recording of the Year (20th/21st century)/Piano’for his recording of Debussy/Szymanowski, released by Deutsche Grammophon
- 2013 – Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik for the recording of Chopin’s Polonaises
- 2014 – Winner of the Gilmore Artist Award
Author: Marta Jazowska, 28.03.2013, update: Anna Micińska, January 2014