Profound thought and feeling merge in Rafał Blechacz’s music-making to create interpretations of irresistible energy and penetrating insight. The Polish pianist’s artistry is recognised by reviewers as rare by any measure – his many plaudits include being dubbed “a musician in service to the music, searching its depths, exploring its meaning and probing its possibilities” (Washington Post) – and arises from his total command of the keyboard and ability to unlock his instrument’s full expressive range. Those qualities, driven by innate curiosity and openness, have supported Blechacz’s artistic and professional development in the years since he took first prize at the 2005 International Chopin Piano Competition. He stands today among the world’s finest pianists, a young artist in high demand for the honesty and vision he brings to performances of everything from Bach and Beethoven to Chopin and Szymanowski.
Rafał Blechacz was born in the small town of Nakło nad Notecią in northern Poland in June 1985. He showed early signs of musical talent and began piano lessons at the age of five. Having first enrolled at the Arthur Rubinstein State Music School in Bydgoszcz, he progressed to study at the city’s Feliks Nowowiejski Academy of Music, graduating in May 2007 from Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń’s piano class. Blechacz’s outstanding technical and artistic attributes secured a sequence of competition successes, beginning in 2002 with second prize at the Arthur Rubinstein International Competition for Young Pianists in Bydgoszcz, continuing the following year with joint first prize at the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition, and culminating in outright victory at the 2005 International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, where he became the first Polish musician to receive the top prize since Krystian Zimerman thirty years earlier.
The stylish eloquence and mature intensity of Blechacz’s Chopin Competition performances, delivered within months of his twentieth birthday, were rewarded not only with the winner’s medal but also with a clean sweep of the event’s four special prizes and the Audience Award. He signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon in May 2006, following Zimerman to become the second Polish pianist to join the yellow label’s international roster of artists. The new relationship was launched in October 2007 with Blechacz’s debut solo album, a coupling of Chopin’s complete Preludes and two Nocturnes op.62. The release prompted BBC Music Magazine to describe Blechacz as a “superlative pianist but an even finer musician” and went on to win Echo Klassik and Diapason d’Or Awards. His second album, a recital of piano sonatas by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven released in October 2008, was praised by Fanfare for its “compelling and remarkably mature” artistry, and inspired Gramophone to commend the “textural transparency, expressive economy, creative inspiration, high humour and strategically placed silences … [of] Rafał Blechacz’s splendid, beautifully recorded interpretations”.
Over the past decade Blechacz has reinforced his position among the great interpreters of Chopin. His schedule of past performances and Deutsche Grammophon discography are rich in works by his fellow countryman, complete with critically acclaimed albums devoted to the composer’s piano concertos and polonaises. His account of the two piano concertos, made for the yellow label with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Jerzy Semkow, was released in late 2009 to herald the upcoming bicentenary of Chopin’s birth. The album won a 2010 Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik and two Fryderyks, Poland’s equivalent of the Grammy Awards.
Blechacz’s repertoire choices also reflect his passion for the music of, among others, J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Liszt, Mozart, Schumann and Szymanowski. The Sunday Times (London) greeted his 2012 album of works by Debussy and Szymanowski as “an unforgettable disc from one of the pianistic giants of our time”, an accolade endorsed by an Echo Klassik Award in the category “Solo Recording of the Year (20th-/21st-century)/Piano”. His sixth Deutsche Grammophon album, set for release in February 2017, comprises works by Bach, the Partitas Nos.1 & 3 and Italian Concerto among them. Speaking about performing Bach, he observes, “Of course, it’s very important to be well informed about Baroque style, but sometimes … I feel it’s even more important to listen to your heart and your intuition.”
In 2016 Blechacz took a sabbatical from performing to complete a doctorate in philosophy at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland. His dissertation explored aspects of the metaphysics and aesthetics of music. “This has helped me to understand both the freedoms and limitations of musical interpretations,” he reflects. Blechacz marks his return to the concert platform in Italy at the end of January 2017 with a recital of works by Bach, Beethoven and Chopin, a programme he will then tour to venues in Germany, France, Belgium and the United States. Later in the spring he will perform concertos by Beethoven and Chopin in Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Canada, while the autumn will see him embark on a recital tour of Japan.
The special nature of Rafał Blechacz’s work was recognised in 2010 with the Premio Internazionale Accademia Chigiana, awarded annually by the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena to an outstanding pianist or violinist. In 2014 he received the Gilmore Artist Award, a prestigious prize conferred every four years – “following a rigorous and confidential selection process” – in recognition of “extraordinary piano artistry”. In addition to formal prizes and awards, Blechacz has also garnered ringing endorsements from senior colleagues, with Martha Argerich, winner of the Chopin Competition in 1965, describing him as “a very honest, extraordinary and sensitive artist” and the Irish pianist and pedagogue John O’Conor as “one of the greatest artists I have ever heard in my life”.