Rafał Blechacz ‒ Biography
“This is breathtaking…. There is never any doubt that there is a personality shaping the music”
( BBC Music Magazine, April 2012 (CD review Debussy, Szymanowski)
Rafał Blechacz was born in the town of Nakło nad Notecią in northern Poland in June 1985. His innate musical talent became clear soon after he began piano lessons at the age of five. Three years later young Rafał enrolled at the Arthur Rubinstein State Music School in Bydgoszcz and progressed to study at the city’s Feliks Nowowiejski Academy of Music, where he graduated in May 2007 from Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń’s piano class. Blechacz’s meteoric rise from gifted student to globally acclaimed artist gathered momentum in 2002 when he took second prize in the Arthur Rubinstein International Competition for Young Pianists in Bydgoszcz. His progress continued the following year when he was named co-winner of the fifth Hamamatsu International Piano Competition in Japan and in 2004 with outright victory in the Morocco Philharmony International Piano Competition.
In October 2005 Rafał Blechacz attracted national headlines and international recognition as winner of Poland’s International Chopin Piano Competition, the first Polish musician to take its top prize since Krystian Zimerman thirty years earlier. The stylish eloquence and mature intensity of Blechacz’s competition performances were rewarded not only with the winner’s medal but also with a clean sweep of the event’s four special prizes as well as the Audience Award. His refined artistry was soon acknowledged by Deutsche Grammophon with the offer of an exclusive recording contract. Blechacz, who signed to the Yellow Label in May 2006, became only the second Polish pianist after Krystian Zimerman to join the company’s international roster of artists. Critics greeted the October 2007 release of Blechacz’s Deutsche Grammophon solo debut album with enthusiastic reviews. His interpretations of Chopin’s complete Preludes and two Nocturnes op.62 were noted for their depth and “mature pianistic insight” by the Süddeutsche Zeitung while BBC Music Magazine described Blechacz as a “superlative pianist but an even finer musician”. He was named “Instrumentalist of the Year – Piano” at the 2008 Echo Klassik Awards for his Chopin album.
Following his success in Warsaw, Blechacz was invited to give recitals at many of the world’s leading concert halls and concerto performances with a long list of great orchestras. His early career included important debuts at, among others, 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. His artistic development was also informed by the experience of landmark recitals at 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 in Kalamazoo, and has grown through close collaborations with conductors such as Charles Dutoit, Valery Gergiev, Daniel Harding, Marek Janowski, Paavo Järvi, Fabio Luisi, Jerzy Maksymiuk, Trevor Pinnock, Mikhail Pletnev and David Zinman. In recent seasons Blechacz’s concerto appearances include Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4 with the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and Milan’s Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala, Beethoven’s Concerto no. 3 with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie and Concerto no. 2 with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, Schumann’s Piano Concerto with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Chopin’s Concerto no. 2 with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Blechacz’s second Deutsche Grammophon recording revealed great subtlety in his interpretations of three piano sonatas by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. It received a Fryderyk, Poland’s equivalent of a Grammy Award, for Solo Piano Album of the Year in 2009; Gramophone, meanwhile, wrote of the “textural transparency, expressive economy, creative inspiration, high humour and strategically placed silences” of Blechacz’s playing. The pianist chose to mark Chopin’s bicentenary in 2010 with a recording of his compatriot’s piano concertos, made in company with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Jerzy Semkow. The album achieved gold status within a day of its release in Poland and went on to become a double platinum seller, while its artistic quality was acknowledged with a 2010 Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik and two Fryderyks. The special qualities of his work in concert and on disc were recognised in 2010 with the Premio Internazionale Accademia Chigiana, awarded annually by the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena to an outstanding pianist or violinist.
Blechacz delivered another outstanding Deutsche Grammophon recording in 2012 with an album of works for solo piano by Debussy and Szymanowski. “Blechacz’s Debussy is little short of miraculous,” observed the London Sunday Times. “This is an unforgettable disc from one of the pianistic giants of our time,” it concluded. The album was named “Solo Recording of the Year (20th/21st century)/Piano” at the 2012 Echo Klassik Awards and received the coveted Fryderyk for Best Classical Recording of the Year in 2013.
While Chopin remains central to his repertoire, Rafał Blechacz’s abundant virtuosity and profound musicianship have served works by a wide range of composers, from Bach and Beethoven to Liszt and Debussy. He returns to Chopin for his latest Deutsche Grammophon album, a recording of the composer’s Polonaises nos. 1-7, planned for release in September 2013.