Polish Pianist Rafal Blechacz Receives 2014 Gilmore Artist Award
Polish pianist Rafal Blechacz (pronounced Ra-FAW BLEH-hatch) has been named the recipient of the 2014 Gilmore Artist Award, it was announced today by Daniel R. Gustin, Director of the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival. One of the most prestigious honors in music, the Gilmore Artist Award is presented every four years on a non-competitive basis to an exceptional pianist who, regardless of age or nationality, has the potential to sustain a career as a major international concert artist. Mr. Blechacz will receive $300,000 in support of his musical and career goals over the next four years. Previous recipients of the Gilmore Artist Award are Kirill Gerstein (2010), Ingrid Fliter (2006), Piotr Anderszewski (2002), Leif Ove Andsnes (1998), Ralf Gothóni (1994) and David Owen Norris (1991).
Mr. Blechacz will perform works by Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven and Debussy during his first public performance as the 2014 Gilmore Artist in an event presented by WQXR at The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space on Wednesday, January 8 at 5:30 p.m. ET. Hosted by WQXR's Jeff Spurgeon and American Public Media's Fred Child, the Greene Space event will include interviews with Mr. Blechacz, Daniel Gustin, Director of the Gilmore Keyboard Festival, former Artistic Advisory Committee members Ara Guzelimian (1998 and 2006) and Sherman Van Solkema (2010 and 2014) as well as the 2010 award recipient Kirill Gerstein. The Greene Space event will be streamed live on www.greenespace.org, and a Gilmore Artist radio special will air on New York's WQXR 105.9 FM on Wednesday, January 15 at 10:00 p.m. ET and Sunday, January 19 at 11:00 p.m. ET, and nationally on American Public Media's Performance Today onJanuary 14 (check local listings for time).
"Rafa? Blechacz stood out to us as a truly distinctive musical figure whose passionate commitment to his art and profound musicianship portend a long and brilliant career," said Daniel Gustin.
Rafa? Blechacz, 28, is a native of Poland, where he still makes his home. In October 2005, his career was launched when he was named the uncontested winner of the prestigious International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, receiving all five prizes including First Prize and special prizes for best mazurka, polonaise, concerto and sonata. He has since performed in Europe, Japan and North America to critical acclaim. Mr. Blechacz is an exclusive recording artist for Deutsche Grammophon, and has made five well-received recordings with the record label.
"To receive this prestigious award is a great honor for me," said Mr. Blechacz. "The award offers superb support for my upcoming musical projects and undeniably is a significant factor in the furthering of my career."
The Gilmore Artist Award is given by the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival, established in 1989. Candidates for the Gilmore Artist Award are nominated confidentially by a large and diverse international assemblage of music professionals. The finalists among the candidates are then each evaluated for their career potential and musicianship in many live concert performances by Mr. Gustin and an anonymous committee representing various aspects of the classical music world. The committee evaluates the candidates' work over a sustained period of time, rather than judging their achievements during the course of a highly concentrated and limited set of conditions as in a public competition.
The Gilmore Artist receives a $50,000 cash grant to be used at the artist's discretion and $250,000 typically disbursed over a four-year period for projects and activities that will enhance the artist's musicianship and career.
In addition to Mr. Gustin, the supporting committee for the 2014 Gilmore Artist Award included Numa Bischof-Ullmann, Artistic and Executive Director of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra; Anthony Fogg, Artistic Administrator of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Christopher Roberts, President of Robison Consultants and former President of Universal Music; Judith Sherman, eminent recording producer and engineer; and Sherman Van Solkema, musicologist and retired chairman of the music departments of Brooklyn College and Grand Valley State University.
The Gilmore also gives Gilmore Young Artist Awards every two years to the most promising of the new generation of American pianists, age 22 and younger. Andrew Hsu and Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner, were named the 2014 Gilmore Young Artists. Between 1990 and 2012, 28 young pianists have received the Gilmore Young Artist Award, including Christopher Taylor, Jonathan Biss, Yuja Wang, Orion Weiss, Kirill Gerstein and Orli Shaham.
The Gilmore Festival and Awards are the legacy of Irving S. Gilmore, a Michigan businessman and philanthropist based in Kalamazoo, whose special devotion to piano music and pianistsinspired the creation of the biennial Gilmore International Keyboard Festival and the Gilmore Artist and Young Artist Awards. Mr. Blechacz, along with former Gilmore Artists Kirill Gerstein, Piotr Anderszewski and Ingrid Fliter will appear at this year's Gilmore International Keyboard Festival taking place April 24 to May 10, 2014 throughout West Michigan. More information can be found at www.thegilmore.org.
Rafa? Blechacz already has been praised as "one of the pianistic giants of our time" (The SundayTimes). With a determined pursuit of clarity and brilliance at the keyboard, his playing is often characterized by its elegance and delicacy, which conveys a poetic solemnity that has led him to be compared to legendary pianists of the early 20th century, as well as to fellow Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman, one of Mr. Blechacz's mentors. The music of Chopin resonates strongly with Mr. Blechacz, and he is recognized for his intelligent and expressive interpretations of the composer's works, yet his abundant virtuosity and profound musicianship have incited equal acclaim for his performances of works by an increasingly wide range of composers, from Bach and Beethoven to Liszt, Debussy and Szymanowski.
Mr. Blechacz was the first Polish musician in 30 years to win the International Chopin Piano Competition. In a feat no other pianist has achieved, he was awarded First Prize, as well as all the special prizes of the competition including the Polish Radio Prize for best mazurka performance, the Frédéric Chopin Society Prize for the best performance of a polonaise, the National Philharmonic of Poland Prize for the best concerto performance, the Krystian Zimerman-sponsored prize for the best performance of a sonata, and the Competition Audience Award. In July 2010, he received the prestigious Premio Internazionale Accademia Musicale Chigiana (Italy), awarded annually by an international jury of music critics to young musicians for their outstanding artistic achievements.
In May 2006, Rafa? Blechacz was signed as an exclusive recording artist for Deutsche Grammophon (DG). His award-winning recordings for DG include Chopin's Complete Preludes, which received a German Echo Klassik award and a French Diapason D'or l'Année award; a recording of sonatas by Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart; and a "Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik" (German Record Critics' Award) winning recording of both Chopin concerti with the Concertgebouw Orchestra led by Jerzy Semkow. In spring 2012, his fourth DG album featuring works by Debussy and Szymanowski was named Gramophone magazine's "Recording of the Month" and won Echo Klassik's Solo Recording of the Year. At the beginning of this season he added yet another Chopin disc to his discography with his recording of the Chopin polonaises. In the Gramophone review of the recording, Jeremy Nichols writes: "...this is Chopin-playing of the highest order," noting that it sets "a new benchmark" among the many recordings of this repertoire.
Mr. Blechacz has performed with renowned orchestras such as the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Concertgebouw Orchestra, NDR Hamburg, Orchestra Filarmonica della Scalla in Milan, Orchestre de Paris, Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in Europe; and the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic in the U.S. Also in the U.S. he has performed in recital in Ann Arbor, Portland, Washington, DC and San Francisco, among other cities. He has made important debuts at London's Wigmore Hall and Royal Festival Hall, the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, the Salle Pleyel in Paris, the Berlin Philharmonie, the Alte Oper in Frankfurt and the Konzerthaus in Vienna; and he is a frequent performer at important festivals including the Chopin Festival in Warsaw, the Klavier Festival Ruhr, Festival de la Roque d'Anthéron, the Verbier and Salzburg Festivals and the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival, at which he made his North American debut in 2008.
This season Rafa? Blechacz made his debut with the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin conducted by Cornelius Meister and returned to the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia conducted by Kent Nagano. He performed in recital at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, as well as in Glasgow, Porto, Madrid and Tokyo. His upcoming engagements include performances with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen in Germany, Italy and France; an extensive tour of Germany with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by John Storgårds; and concerts at the Musikverein in Vienna with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra led by Alain Altinoglu.
Born in 1985 in Nak?o nad Noteci?, Poland, Mr. Blechacz's earliest memories about music are connected with attending church and being fascinated with organ music he heard there. He aspired to become an organist until he began piano lessons and realized the piano was the right instrument for him. Mr. Blechacz enrolled at the Arthur Rubinstein State Music School in Bydgoszcz and went on to study with pianist Katarzyna Popowa-Zydro? at the city's Feliks Nowowiejski Academy of Music, where he graduated in May 2007. In addition to his performing career, he is currently pursuing a Doctorate in philosophy with emphasis in aesthetics and the philosophy of music, at Uniwersytet Mikolaja Kopernika (Nicolaus Copernicus University) in Torun.