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The Warsaw Voice

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Pure Beauty

Saturday, 22 October 2005

RAFAŁ BLECHACZ, a 20-year-old very modest but extremely gifted young artist, has won the title of the best Chopin pianist of 2005! Apart from the First Prize and Gold Medal, he has received a number of special awards: from Polish Radio for the best performance of mazurkas, from the Frédéric Chopin Society for the best performance of a polonaise, from the National Philharmonic for a concerto, and an award that has very special meaning: from Krystian Zimerman for the interpretation of a sonata.
It has been a long time, 30 years, since a Polish pianist won the Chopin Competition again like Krystian Zimerman did then.
Halina Czerny-Stefańska, Adam Harasiewicz, Krystian Zimerman and at the present 15th Chopin Competition - Rafał Blechacz. That is the quartet of Polish pianists, winners of the Chopin Competition in 1949, 1955, 1975 and 2005 respectively.
Blechacz, born June 30, 1985, comes from Nakło on the Noteć river. He learned to play the piano at a local music group since he was five. At age eight he started attending the Artur Rubinstein Music School in Bydgoszcz, in the class of Jacek Polański. In September 2000 he transferred to the piano class of Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń at the same school, and upon graduation continued his studies with the same teacher, this time at the Music Academy in Bydgoszcz. In 1996-99 he won the main prizes at national piano competitions. In 2002 he won the second prize at the Artur Rubinstein In Memoriam International Competition for Young Pianists in Bydgoszcz; in 2003 together with Alexander Kobrin he won the International Piano Competition in Hamamatsu (two equal second prizes, the highest awarded). In 2004 he won the first prize at the International Piano Competition in Morocco.
During his first concerts at age 11, including those at the Lutosławski Studio or the Paderewski Manor in Kąśna Dolna, he played Bach’s preludes and fugues, Scarlatti’s sonatas, works by Mozart, Chopin, but also interesting pieces like Moszkowski’s Scherzino. Later, with an orchestra this time, the concertos of Bach and Mozart as well as Chopin’s Concerto in E Minor. For Polish Television he recorded Chopin’s early polonaises in Żelazowa Wola.
At the Artur Rubinstein In Memoriam Competition (2002) he played works including Sonata No. 52 in E Flat Major by Haydn, Schumann’s Sonata No. 2 in G Minor, Szymanowski’s Variations in B Flat Minor, Saint-Saens’s Concerto No. 2 in G Minor and (phenomenally) Liszt’s Leggierezza. During three successive appearances at the Polish Piano Festival in Słupsk, where he won the Young Stage competition, his performances included Liszt’s Concerto in A Major, Chopin’s Concerto in E Minor and, from the solo repertoire, Brahms’ Sonata No. 1 in C Major. As for other works, apart from his extensive Chopin program he also plays Debussy, among other composers.
Therefore, the winner of the 15th Competition is not a man from nowhere. That he is a talent of the purest and noblest kind has been clear for at least 10 years. The most important thing is that he was allowed to develop and mature naturally and in peace and quiet. Credit for this is due largely to his teachers. It is a manifestation of the wisdom and noble modesty of his closest circle: his family, which is not musical but understands his needs and his devotion to music with such delicate sensitivity.
At the end of the 15th Competition his interpretation of the Concerto in E Minor proved that he is someone who “plays Chopin like Chopin.” This has been missing from the Competition for a very, very long time. The most important thing is, that among 257 entrants, there was That One in whose case it could be believed that his Chopin is also everyone’s Chopin. He turned out to be the best representative of a whole group of our young piano virtuosos, who also deserve congratulations for preparing for such a difficult competition performance.
The winner of the First Prize was set apart from his rivals by the scale of his talent, which means that he will be an excellent ambassador of the Chopin Competition in the wide musical world. All can be satisfied with the performance of the Polish pianists in general. There are many excellent young people who have a feeling for and can play Chopin.
With regard to more general issues, as far as standards are concerned, apart from the great creation of Rafał Blechacz, nothing much happened during the final. Actually, this was yet another competition in which the performances of Chopin’s concertos were pale and, apart from more or less proper technique, there was a lack of Chopin-like expression. Perhaps this would have been displayed by those who were rejected in stage one or two? Unless for today’s young pianists Chopin’s concertos are an artistic task beyond their capacity? The winner of the 15th Competition has convinced us that this is not the case and that at a time of complete unification, it doesn’t have to be so, and one can remain independent. This is extremely important, both for the Competition and for the music of Chopin, to protect its originality from a universal pianism. The triumph of Rafał Blechacz and his performance aesthetics is a “sign of salvation” in this respect.
Congratulations to Rafał Blechacz on his wonderful success for him personally and for the music of Chopin. The works of Poland’s musical genius need artists with exceptional talent; artists able to express this music’s noble beauty in purest form. This is what Rafał Blechacz does with his playing.
Jan Popis

This article appears courtesy of The Warsaw Voice.
You will find more articles in connection with the 15th International F. Chopin Piano Competition in a competition Gazette at and

More about the 15th F. Chopin Piano Competition
Results of the 15th F. Chopin Piano Competition

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