Playing by the book

The whole world is celebrating Chopin’s 200 anniversary, and next week two pianists – Eric Artz of France and Krzysztof Jablonski of Poland – will bring the festivities to Israel, performing some of Chopin’s best-known piano works in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Beersheba.

The idea of the concert, the result of a mutual effort by the French and Polish institutes in Tel Aviv, is to present the two facets of the Polish composer, who divided his time between Poland and France.

Canadian-based Jablonski performed his first concert with an orchestra at age 12. After winning numerous top prizes in prestigious competitions, he launched his international career at 20. He says there’s no particular school with which he associates himself.

“The communication between people through the Internet, recordings and master classes makes the distinctions between the schools less recognizable,” he says. But he identifies himself with the education he received from his tutors. “I owe my technical skills and understanding of music to my first teacher, Janina Butor, who devoted an enormous part of her life to me, while Andrzej Jasinski was always asking me to explain why I went a certain way. And that helped me immensely when I was on my own,” he says.

Speaking over Skype from Warsaw, where he was on tour, the pianist shares what he describes as “painful thoughts about the music world of today.”

Jablonski admits that for many years he himself “tried not to copy but to follow an old tradition. Only after reading in a review that there were clear elements of [Vladimir] Horovitz in my performance did I start building my own musical language. Today, many pianists really sound the same because too often, young people copy the great masters of the past.”

He recalls how at one of the competitions he saw “a young Japanese pianist sitting with her eyes closed and headphones on her head just a few moments before her performance. It was really frightening. We, the judges, looked at each other as if to ask, ‘Where has the music gone?’ People are trying to take shortcuts to be famous. They can be very good when it comes to technique, but they don’t know much about music.”

Jablonski admits that “Music has become a big business, and I do not accept it. Neither I nor my teacher looks at the clock when practicing. The goal is to make it as beautiful as possible, and how much time it takes simply does not matter. I refuse to play music that does not speak to me, music that I feel I can’t play in an authentic way, and I pay the price because I’m losing my chance. But being honest to myself and authentic are still more important for me.”

And that is what he teaches his students: “Have admiration for the composer because what is happening today is that many performers are ignoring the text of the compositions. I have difficult conversations with my students, and we have some bad examples these days. Everything I teach my students not to do, some musicians are doing and get standing ovations. So how can I convince a 20- year-old that the composer’s original text, with many precious things he wrote, is far more important than strange ideas presented by some performers who are violating the text and the tradition and have big careers?”

Speaking of his musical preferences, Jablonski says that his nature is “pretty much Romantic, so my repertoire is based somewhere between Scarlatti and the Neo-Romantic period, including 20th-century music, but not so modern music. I need harmony, I need melodics, I need rhythm to be smiling, to be happy, maybe to cry, but music has to touch me deeply.”

That said, there are pieces that he plays or is planning to include in his repertoire, such as Penderecki’s and Prokofiev’s piano concertos. “French music is something that I adore, and Chopin is very important and I play almost everything he wrote.”

Jablonski is happy to return to Israel where, as the 1989 Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition Gold medal winner, he has appeared many times.

November 13, Rapoport Auditorium, Haifa (04) 835-3506. November 14, TAPAC, Tel Aviv (03) 692-7777. November 15, Beersheba Arts Center (08) 616-6422.

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