PIANIST PERFORMS AT GALA CONCERT - The Coast Reporter March 3, 2006

The audience at Raven’s Cry Theatre last Saturday night for the Coast Recital Society’s annual gala event cheered pianist Janina Fialkowska for her fine performance and listened raptly while the musician chatted with the CBC’s gregarious Shelagh Rogers.

Many of the crowd had donned their evening finery to lend an air of sophistication to the proceedings. Fialkowska wore a gold and bronze toned blouse and long, black skirt; she looked fragile and a touch nervous as she emerged on stage to be interviewed by Sounds Like Canada broadcaster Rogers. The two women sat at the front of the stage informally, as if they were going to share a joke with the audience and, indeed, the pianist’s sense of humour served to break the ice.

Fialkowska travels extensively for her performances and she is contracted into the 2007/08 season. The society’s artistic director, Frances Heinsheimer Wainwright, showed great perception in booking her so far ahead.

Why does she play small towns like Sechelt? Rogers asked.

She likes the relaxed atmosphere, the pianist replied, adding, “Everyone has a right to music beautifully performed.”

She related how the Piano Six (now Piano Plus) program helps tour musicians to rural areas. Then she told a funny story about a recent concert in Squamish in which a bright schoolboy asked her naively: “If you’re so great, what are you doing here in Squamish?”

At one of her very first competition recitals, when she was just 23, she performed before the late Artur Rubinstein. When he and the other jurors heard her exceptional interpretation of Liszt, they became emotional. Rubinstein asked her what she hoped to do in future. “Go to law school,” she answered. “We’ll change that,” Rubinstein replied, and took her under his wing to launch her musical career.

Fialkowska is humble about her gift. “We musicians are the conduit,” she told the audience. “Whatever Mozart was trying to convey when he composed the music, then that’s what I’m bringing to the performance.”

It was up to Rogers to broach a subject that has clouded the pianist’s horizon. In 2002, doctors discovered a malignant tumour on Fialkowska’s left arm — a career-stopping shock for the pianist. She underwent a complicated surgery involving muscle transfer and was not allowed to move the arm for many weeks afterward. Fialkowska described the months of doubt, and then the moment when she knew she could play Chopin again. Her arm is still disabled in many ways, she says, “but it plays the piano nicely.”

Now in her 50s, her health and subsequent recovery have given her a new approach to her music. “I have nothing to prove,” she says. “My best time is now.”

She transmitted this unaffected manner during the recital. First up was a Mendelssohn selection, Four Songs Without Words, followed by Schubert’s Piano Sonata in G Major Opus 78, a harmonious and accessible choice. She displayed an astonishing lightness of touch on the Chopin waltzes that formed a large part of the second half, and gave with gusto during the dynamic Chopin Scherzo No. 1. For an encore, she played a romance by Schumann.

At a gala reception following the concert, a tired but exultant Fialkowska signed CDs and spoke with fans. The evening of fine music closed on a high note. After the elegant appetizers were consumed and the champagne drunk, each departing guest was offered a Denman Island chocolate shaped like a grand piano. It was a classy finish for the Coast Recital Society’s event

- Jan Degrass, Arts & Entertainment Writer