She's Hooked on Chopin

It probably comes as no great surprise that Janina Fialkowska has been in love with the music of Chopin from a very early age.

by Tom Murray, Edmonton Journal - 26 February 2010

It probably comes as no great surprise that Janina Fialkowska has been in love with the music of Chopin from a very early age.

You could almost say it was fated, especially after the experience of watching the great pianist Arthur Rubenstein play some of the composer's work in Montreal when Fialkowska was 12.

Already something of a prodigy on the piano, having debuted that year as a soloist with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, she immediately fell in love with the composer's expressive and gorgeous music.

"It was kind of an epiphany," says the Canadian-born pianist, who was eventually mentored by Rubenstein himself in the 1970s.

"With the emotional reaction I had, I realized what I could do on the piano with this music. It was like a little light bulb went on, and that's when I decided I wanted to be a concert pianist."

Little wonder that years later, Fialkowska, now a revered pianist in her own right, has decided to pay homage to the man who changed her life by dedicating 2010, the 200th anniversary of his birth, to a celebration of his work.

She's not just throwing together a program to perform in a few select places, but is taking it on the road to 24 Canadian cities and a number of European venues as well. It's important for Fialkowska, who believes that the Polish composer is sometimes unfairly dismissed by certain critics.

"Some people might think that it's fluff because they're hearing bad interpretations of his music," she asserts. "The secret to Chopin is that he never wrote a note that didn't mean something. As well, with other composers, when you listen to their work, you can think of it in orchestral terms. But he is always soft and melodic and you hear the human voice even in the fastest runs. Chopin is lyrical, and if you approach his music in this way, it's complex and profound."
Her itinerary for the upcoming year might seem like an overwhelming amount of Chopin for one woman to take on, but Fialkowska is unperturbed. She not only can't get enough of his music, but she also sought out other ways in which to show her love, such as the world premiere of a Chopin-inspired piano concerto by John Burge, to be performed with four Canadian orchestras (though not in Edmonton).
And, if she needs to get away from Chopin for a bit, there's also a notable birthday boy in German composer Robert Schumann, to whom she'll be paying respect this year. It's also the 200th anniversary of the Romantic composer's birth.
"But really, I'm hooked," she admits with a chuckle. "I can't escape Chopin, and why would I want to?"
Pianist Janina Fialkowska pays homage to
Polish composer at Con Hall

When: Monday at 8 p.m.
Where: University of Alberta Convocation Hall
Tickets: $10 to $20, available at Student Union Infolink, 780-492-4212

By Tom Murray, Freelance
Originally printed in The Edmonton Journal
February 26, 2010