Mark Swed et al. / Los Angeles Times Blog – 2009-04-28 22:15:51
Krystian Zimerman’s Controversial Appearance at Disney Hall
Mark Swed / Los Angeles Times Blog
LOS ANGELES (April 27, 2009) — In 1978, an unknown, soft-spoken, 21-year-old Polish pianist appeared as soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for its newly appointed music director, Carlo Maria Giulini, in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The performances of Chopin’s two piano concertos were recorded by Deutsche Grammophon. Krystian Zimerman’s eloquence went far beyond his years, and a major career was launched.
In the ’80s, Zimerman became Leonard Bernstein’s favorite pianist, the conductor’s choice to record the Beethoven and Brahms piano concertos. In 1992, the summer before Esa-Pekka Salonen became music director of the L.A. Philharmonic, he selected Zimerman to perform with the orchestra at the Salzburg Festival.
And now, Sunday, making his Disney Hall debut in a recital sponsored by the Philharmonic, Zimerman, who has become arguably the greatest pianist of his generation, made the surprise and shocking announcement from the stage that in protest to America’s military policies overseas and particularly in Poland, he would no longer perform in the United States.
“Get your hands off my country,” he said, soft-spoken but seething. He accused the US military of wanting “to control the whole world,” and made a reference to the US military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Approximately three dozen in the audience walked out, some shouting obscenities. “Yes,” he answered, “some people when they hear the word military start marching.”
Others remained but booed or yelled for him to shut up and play the piano. But many more cheered. He responded by saying that America has far finer things to export than the military, and he thanked those who support democracy.
Zimerman (who doesn’t allow photos taken of his performances) had been in a seemingly curious mood all evening. Normally, the most exacting of pianists, he dispatched with strange impatience Bach’s Partita No. 2 and Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 32, Opus 111, in the first half the program.
He quickly walked to the piano and instead of allowing the audience to quiet and the mood to be just right, he launched into each piece, not even waiting for latecomers to be seated before beginning Beethoven’s most visionary sonata.
A program change from Brahms’ late piano pieces, Opus 119, to the Piano Sonata No. 2 by Grazyna Bacewicz, announced over the loudspeakers after intermission, was the evening’s next surprise. It was premiered in 1953 and is a strikingly modernist, moody and nationalist sonata for Soviet Poland. Again Zimerman went straight to the piano and immediately attacked the percussive first movement. The performance was riveting.
Before playing the final work on his recital, Karol Szymanowski’s “Variations on a Polish Folk Theme,” Zimerman more typically sat meditatively on his bench for a moment. Twice he leaned toward the keys and almost began to play, but then turned to the audience saying he hadn’t planned to speak but decided he could not keep silent.
Zimerman is a magnificent obsessive. He travels with his own Steinway, is his own piano technician, and even his own truck driver. He typically spends half a year devising a concert program and will do anything to achieve the sound he desires.
Three years ago at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, he substituted Gershwin for Chopin because the Transportation Security Administration had held up his piano at the airport and he didn’t have time to practice to adjust it properly. An earlier piano was destroyed by Homeland Security at JFK airport because officials were suspicious that its glue could be an explosive in disguise.
All along, Szymanowski’s Variations had seemed an unusually lightweight end to a program that contained far-reaching Bach, Beethoven and (originally) Brahms. An early work by the only internationally famous Polish composer of the early 20th century, the pleasingly Chopinesque Variations were written in 1904 when the composer was 22 and demonstrate none of the erotic mysticism of his mid-career compositions or the folk-inspired nationalism that made him known as the Polish Bartók.
Yet to hear Zimerman play anything in Disney was amazing. His Bach was richly nuanced and beautiful although pushed in the final Capriccio. The trills in his Beethoven had a bell-like shimmer that sounded like a newly discovered acoustic phenomenon.
But in the Szymanowski, Zimerman’s meticulous tone, so luminous in the Introduction and theme, ultimately took second place to idealistic patriotic zeal. It’s a good thing that he can look after his own pianos, because this one will probably want some doctoring after the treatment he gave it. There was no encore. Pianist, audience and piano were all spent. The cheers were deafening.
I hope Zimerman reconsiders his US embargo. He has, of course, angered some Americans. But our country is precisely the place where politics are not outlawed from the concert hall. And I can’t imagine a more compelling case to be made for Polish solidarity than his incomparable performance of these variations.
Krystian Zimerman’s Shocking Disney Hall Debut
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES (April 27, 2009) — Poland’s Krystian Zimerman, widely regarded as one of the finest pianists in the world, created a furor Sunday night in his debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall when he announced this would be his last performance in America because of the nation’s military policies overseas.
Before playing the final work on his recital, Karol Szymanowski’s “Variations on a Polish Folk Theme,” Zimerman sat silently at the piano for a moment, almost began to play, but then turned to the audience. In a quiet but angry voice that did not project well, he indicated that he could no longer play in a country whose military wants to control the whole world.
“Get your hands off of my country,” he said. He also made reference to the US military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
About 30 or 40 people in the audience walked out, some shouting obscenities. “Yes,” he answered, “some people when they hear the word military start marching.”
Others remained but booed or yelled for him to shut up and play the piano. But many more cheered. Zimerman responded by saying that America has far finer things to export than the military, and he thanked those who support democracy.
For the first half of the recital, Zimerman had played a Bach Partita and Beethoven’s last piano sonata, Opus 111, with firm determination. After intermission he made a last minute substitution, exchanging late Brahms works for a 1953 sonata by Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz. The Szymanowski variations, which closed the program, was played with an astonishing ferocity that brought nothing but tumultuous cheers. There was no encore.
The pianist was not available after the concert for further comment.
Zimerman has had problems in the United States in recent years. He travels with his own Steinway piano, which he has altered himself. But shortly after 9/11, the instrument was confiscated at JFK Airport when he landed in New York to give a recital at Carnegie Hall.
Thinking the glue smelled funny, the TSA decided to take no chances and destroyed the instrument. Since then he has shipped his pianos in parts, which he reassembles by hand after he lands. He also drives the truck himself when he carries his instrument from city to city over land, as he did after playing a recital in Berkeley on Friday.
What led to Krystian Zimerman’s surprising comments, walkouts
Jessica Garrison and Diane Haithman / Los Angeles Times Blog
LOS ANGELES (April 28, 2009) — Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman, who is widely admired for his virtuosic performances and who famously tours with his own custom-altered Steinway, created a furor at Disney Hall on Sunday night when he stopped his recital to announce that this would be his last American appearance — in protest of the nation’s military policies overseas.
In a low voice that could not be heard throughout the auditorium, Zimerman, universally considered among the world’s finest pianists, made reference to Guantanamo Bay and US military policies toward Poland.
“Get your hands off my country,” he said.
Then he turned to the piano and played Szymanowski’s “Variations on a Polish Folk Theme” with such passion and intensity that the stunned audience gave him multiple ovations.
Earlier, about 30 or 40 people in the audience had walked out after Zimerman’s declaration, some shouting obscenities.
“Yes,” the pianist, known in Poland as “King Krystian the Glorious,” answered, “some people, when they hear the word military, start marching.”
Zimerman then said that America has far finer exports than its military — and he thanked those who supported democracy. He left the stage without further comment and was unavailable Monday.
His manager, Mary Pat Buerkle, told the Associated Press on Monday that Zimerman has talked for the last couple of years about not coming back to the United States “for a while. . . . I don’t think it’s appropriate to say it’s all political.”
Zimerman has had problems in the United States in recent years, but many in the classical music world thought they were logistical.
Just a week ago, before an appearance in Seattle, Zimerman expressed frustration about the hassle and expense of touring the US with his piano.
Shortly after Sept. 11, his instrument was confiscated at JFK Airport when he landed in New York to give a recital at Carnegie Hall. Thinking the glue smelled funny, the Transportation Security Administration decided to take no chances and destroyed the piano. Since then he has shipped his pianos in parts, which he reassembles by hand after he lands. To get from city to city within the US, he hires a driver to take the shell of the piano, and he drives another car that holds the precious custom-designed keys and hammers.
Lately, he’d seemed pleased with the direction the United States has taken. During a performance Friday at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall, he delighted his Bay Area audience by making sly reference to his approval of Barack Obama in the White House.
But by the time he drove his piano to Los Angeles, Zimerman’s mood appeared to have darkened. His remarks, which some in the audience characterized as angry, were the talk of Los Angeles’ classical music world and its small Polish community Monday.
Deborah Borda, president of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, said that while some patrons were taken aback by Zimerman’s comments,she did not believe it would affect attendance or fundraising.
“It was very clear he was speaking for himself,” she said. “We obviously can’t censor. We believe in freedom of expression. We don’t use a hook to drag people off the stage.”
In a spirited range of comments on Culture Monster, many praised Zimerman and others said the stage was no place for divisive political speech. “Go Zimerman, and take the Dixie Chicks with you,” said one post, referring to the country music group that in 2003 created a ruckus when a member said they were ashamed President Bush was from Texas.
Others noted that though classical music culture in the United States is among the least overtly political of enclaves, Poland has a long tradition of mixing the political and the musical. Composer and pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski was Poland’s third prime minister and is revered in Poland the way the Founding Fathers are here.
“There is a tradition of Polish pianists being in the middle of political events,” said Marek Zebrowski, director of the Polish Music Center at USC.
Though Poland gets comparatively little attention in the US, American policy recently has been a hot-button issue in Poland. Poles were upset about allegations that the CIA held suspected Al Qaeda militants in secret prisons in Poland. A Polish newspaper mockingly referred to the country as “the 51st state.” Also controversial was a Bush administration proposal to put missile defense facilities there.
Sumi Hahn, a Seattle journalist who interviewed Zimerman earlier this month, said she was not surprised to hear of his outburst. She said he told her that he had “very mixed feelings now about America.”
In the past five years,” she quoted him as saying, “something happened here that changed the world: a war based on lies. . . . So much damage was done worldwide … and Americans are so unaware.”
On the other hand, Robert Cole, director of Cal Performances in Berkeley, said he was surprised to hear of Zimerman’s L.A. comments — especially because of the lightness that characterized his performance in Berkeley.
Just before playing a Bach partita, Zimerman told his audience it was important to consider the political purpose of a piece of music. Bach, he told his audience, “had made a decision to put his piece in a minor key rather than a major one.” Perhaps, he said, according to audience members who were there, he did that because there was a leader Bach didn’t like.
Zimerman made an approving reference to Obama and then played the piece, but ended it in a joyful C major instead of amelancholy C minor.
“The audience loved it,” said Christina Kellogg, director of public relations at Cal Performances. “His playing was brilliant and they broke into huge applause, and he was clearly pleased that the audience was completely with him.”
Cole said he had breakfast with the pianist last week at a music-themed cafe across the street from the campus. Zimerman spoke mainly of how exhausting it was to travel with a Steinway.
“I’m sorry he’s not coming back,” Cole said. “He reminds me of Don Quixote. He’s on a quest for perfection.”
Cole added that, from a public relations perspective, it’s too bad Zimerman hadn’t offered his comments about Bach to Los Angeles and saved his fiery political rhetoric for Berkeley.
“I think he maybe picked the wrong place,” he said. “It would have been less of an uproar here.”
Mark Swed contributing.
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