Young Calgary pianist brings old music to Victoria

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When I called Jan Lisiecki on a Friday morning in early March, I got his voicemail. I was about to leave a message when he picked up the phone and apologized, telling me he’d lost track of the time. I had caught him in the middle of practising, and considering his line of work, this didn’t surprise me in the least.

Lisiecki, 17, is one of the fastest-emerging pianists in the world of classical music. In 2011, he was signed to the prestigious Deutsche Grammaphon record label. In December 2012, he made his debut with the New York Philharmonic, and at the end of March, he will be playing two concerts on the Island with the Victoria Symphony — one in Qualicum Beach and the other in Victoria. On a program consisting of Kernis’s Musica Celestis and Mozart’s last symphony, the Jupiter, Lisiecki will perform Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor.

The Chopin concerto is a piece that has been in Lisiecki’s fingers since he was 14. “For many soloists, that would be a very short time, but for me, it’s a very long time. It’s one of those concertos that I could really wake up in the middle of the night and play confidently with my own ideas after not playing it for many, many months.”

Although it’s a piece he knows well, it still changes with each performance. “I believe it’s very different from when I played it first . . . that’s the beauty of classical music — that every time you play something, it will be different. And that’s special, because often in pop [music], you have the same concept every single time.”

That’s not to say that he prefers live performances over recording. In January, he recorded the Chopin Études in Koerner Hall in Toronto “after convincing the Germans that indeed in Canada we do have some very beautiful halls,” says Lisiecki. The CD will be released in April.

When asked about his New York Philharmonic debut, Lisiecki speaks warmly of the rapport he had with the orchestra and says he appreciated the fact that the audiences were “amazingly quiet” during his time on stage.

“I went to hear Les Troyens, a very large opera, after my performances, and the audience was incredibly noisy, from my viewpoint, and it wasn’t during my performance. So that was really special. I appreciated the silence during the performance more than the applause.”

Lisiecki enjoys his busy touring schedule, as it combines the two things he loves most: performing and travelling. He tries to see the sights if he can — he plans to see the Butchart Gardens while in Victoria — but there are occasional conflicts. A concert engagement will leave him unable to attend the Juno Awards, where he earned a nomination for his recording of Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 20 & 21, his debut album with Deutsche Grammaphon.

Like any other teen, Lisiecki is trying to balance his work and school life as a distance student at the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Glenn Gould School, and unfortunately his concert schedule means missing lectures. He just has to leave the note-taking to the critics and the crowds.

Lisiecki plays Chopin
Saturday, March 23 @ 7:30 p.m.
Qualicum Beach Civic Centre (747 Jones St.)
$25 (tickets available at Mulberry Bush Bookstore)
Monday, March 25 @ 8 p.m.
Royal Theatre (805 Broughton St.)
$18–$75 (tickets available at rmts.bc.ca)

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