Look on eBay for a rare set of Deutsche Gramophone Classical Music All-Stars trading cards, and you’ll find on the back of Krystian Zimerman’s card this factoid – “Zimerman can dismantle, repair and reassemble a concert grand in a single evening.”
Krystian Zimerman truly does know the music of his Polish forebear – AND his chosen instrument – from the inside out. He insists on touring – and tuning - his own custom-made pianos in order to minimize technical distractions and focus on “purely musical matters.” Sometimes political matters can get in the way however; government agents destroyed his hand-built Steinway when he landed in New York shortly after 9/11 – they claimed the glue smelled like explosives.
As for his Polish forebear, in 1975 Zimerman became the youngest-ever winner of the Chopin Piano Competition. He was just eighteen. Years later he said, “I was probably the only competitor there who did not want to compete. I wanted to spread a little happiness and give people something to remember.” Especially memorable is this Grand Prize-winning recording of Chopin’s piano concertos that Zimerman made with his hand-picked Polish Festival Orchestra.
Radio, television, and Internet-free, Krystian Zimerman struggles with the digital age. “Music is not sound,” he says. “A recording records just the sound, so it’s only a part of the actual happening. It doesn’t record the broken hearts, it doesn’t record the people crying, it doesn’t record the tension in the halls which can get unbearable.” Krystian Zimerman – a great – and complex – Chopinist. - Frank Dominguez