Dear Joanna, I am very excited for this interview since it will not be composed of stereotyped questions. I try to paint your art in words, get personal and try to bring your opinion on several subjects into the forefront. I advise readers to get ready for intimate exploration of music, life and academics with a promising artist!
I met several international pianists in person but the first Polish pianist I met was Anna Lipiak, who gave a recital at my former Salon in Turkey. Her character and manners were warm. In single word, she is sincere and full of smiles. From all those experiences, in my humble opinion, Polish artists differ from all others. It is either the Chopin’s ‘French politeness’ or sociological heritage which is hard for me to name it. Please help us define this magic with your nationality!
Thank you for such a nice words about Polish people! I personally know Anna, and I am happy that she made such a nice impression to you. I am not quite sure, if in particular Polish artists differ from all others. I think majority of artists has quite the same features, and primarily it is sensitivity and developed emotionality. But you are right, that our Polish culture is a bit specific. One constant element is that we are trying to be very polite and respectful, and we have in Poland many social behaviors, which are unique and don’t exist in different countries. For example the rule, that woman always should enter first into the room. To say hi men are kissing woman’s hand. Also, men are always helping women to carry their things or open door for them. These are very old traditions, which are still surviving in Poland and aren’t known in another countries. So that’s true, we have some special heritage as a country.
From your biography one can get a list of conquered competitions by you. At 19th century, what we can see for the pianist were their graduation merits. At 18th century, that is not possible either. How did ‘competitions’ came to the life of artist? Is it a prerequisite for commercial contracts? What exactly competitions classify for the art public which cannot be done by their own personal perception of music?
Nowadays competitions are inseparable part of every musician’s life. Since I remember from my childhood, we competed very often, at the exams, concerts, competitions. Now, I think there is even more of the competitions than before. We could ask, how the competitions appeared in our musical world, and I would say that it probably happened already in the 19th century, when pianists started to perform in the big halls and show there their virtuosity. The two persons who had big influence on this field were for example Franz Liszt and Nicolo Paganini. They developed traditions of performing in the front of large audiences, with strictly prepared repertoire. Pianists started to play concerts all over the world, concert agents started to appear, and music itself became not only an art, but also a business. Then from the beginning of the 20th century, competitions started to appear to pick out the best pianists and musicians. Competitions have advantages and disadvantages, as we all know. In general, I think, that when the jury is good and fair, and when afterwards, after winning artists are promoted in many ways (concerts, cd’s…), then the aim of the competition is fulfilled. Unfortunately it is not often, because sometimes you can win many competitions, and still have no commercial contracts for concerts. There are for sure hundreds of competitions, but only few of them guarantee immediate career. But that is the musical world, and to be present we need to try many ways and show themselves in many places.
Majority of the pianists jumped directly to concert stage, half succeeding and half ending up with private tutors. However, I see that you continue your studies to doctorate degree. Tell me the motives behind this respectful choice. Do you believe it will add more value to your art?
Doctorate degree is very important in some countries as Poland or Austria, because with this title you can work at the university as a professor. I always wanted to work someday with adult students, and that is why I decided to begin this studies. My pianistic path was not very obvious, and I learnt a lot about playing the piano by searching a right methods and also through some failures. All the knowledge which I gathered, I would like to share with my future students. PhD process is quite complicated, you must do research on selected musical works, then record a CD and at the end write a huge essay. I am working on Grazyna Bacewicz music. She was a female Polish composer from the middle of 20th century. She was not only a great composer, but also a violinist and a pianist. Her works are full of inner energy and passion. I am trying to popularize her music in the world. My CD recorded for DUX label, will be released very soon – in February, on Grazyna Bacewicz’s birthday.
I want to know a typical week of Joanna Sochacka beside her musical occupation?
I really love to do many other things besides playing piano, but particularly every day I must do a lot activities related to studies and my musical career. A lot of time I spend writing emails, learning languages (last year it was French due to my studies in Switzerland, and now it’s German), writing some articles and completing PhD materials. But I love to have slowly mornings, to cook some healthy food and drink good coffee, to watch a good movies. Especially I like historical movies and psychological ones. If I have free time, and I am not travelling, my main activity in a week is to meet friends, family and talk a lot. I am very talkative person, and I love long conversations. Because I live in few places (including my family houses, Vienna and Cracow) and study in another cities (Łódź, Graz) I travel quite often. But fortunately it’s not too far away, and in one week I can be sometimes in few places.
Any books recently you are in love with? Tell us a bit of your reading habits and choice of genres
In the past, I used to read really a lot. Especially crimes and 19th century literature. I was always in love with famous writers as Agatha Christie or Jane Austen. Unfortunately right now I don’t have a lot of time for reading, because of activities combined with my studies. Although I really hope it will change soon. I like to use Kindle reader, and to read their English books, because it’s easy to translate very fast the unknown words. I can recommend very good writer Yuval Noah Harrari.
I know the huge impact of pandemic on Poland. This effects both concerts and private tutors. How do you cope with it? Did Polish Government succeeded to support artists enough by the means of funding? Majority of the artists asking for support from their followers by the means of online donation however this was not the case with you. Does it mean your income is stable at the moment? If so, how did you managed to survive pandemic shock?
I think that pandemic has impact on almost every artist life – all the concerts were cancelled, many things started to happen online (but unfortunately mainly for free), all the big venues are closed … That was new and unexpected. In Poland there is a lot of help from Government for artists and cultural institutions. My personal situation is quite stable, because although I lost many concerts engagements, I have still since few years some stable income and scholarships. So I still can develop. I hope that next year concerts will happen. So far I haven’t thought about earning money through social media, but who knows, maybe in the future some projects like this will appear at my website.
Name three pianists you’d like to be compared to and your professional career goal at the music society.
I really admire many outstanding musicians, but if I would need to mention three of them, for sure that would be Vadym Kholodenko (I will never forget his great interpretations of Scriabin’s music and Prokofiev Concertos) Seong Jin-Cho (he plays everything perfectly and incredibly well! I was truly amazed by his recital), Yuja Wang (for an incredible female power, great technique and really huge repertoire). My career goal is to have constant contact with audience at concerts. I love to hear about people feelings and impressions after my performances.
Your repertoire is dominated by solo works of acclaimed composers. Volume of concertos are limited and no trio/quintet works as far as I saw. However, from your YouTube account, I saw several piano accompaniments. How is your 2021 strategy shaped by the means of repertoire?
In 2021 I will have projects containing all the kinds of music you mentioned – I will play with Orchestra, I will play in chamber music groups as trio and duo with amazing violinist from Bulgaria, but of course I will perform mainly solo works. On my YouTube account there is just a small part of things I played in my life – there are maybe two trio and duo recordings (there are piano chamber music pieces, rather no accompaniments), two concertos and solo works. It is like that because, before pandemic I didn’t care at all if the concert is recorded or not. I was focus just on musical side, for sure nor about cameras or microphones. But now my thinking changed a little bit, and I am sure I will record more concerts and develop my channel.
I am an advocate of performing Chopin on period instruments, which is of course a Pleyel manufactured before 1845. Have you got such a chance to reach any historical instrument, either an Erard or Pleyel, for your taste?
I played on such instruments few times, just to try it. I personally admire in the pianos very deep, huge sound which is not possible to obtain on historical instruments. So my favorite pianos are concert, big Steinways, Bösendorfer and Fazioli’s. But never say never, maybe someday I will change my mind and perform on period instruments as well.
Why did Maria Szymanowska perished from the concert programs? I am a big fan of her, recently published an article about her life and the Salon music in my country. Is it only Chopin that must survive?
That’s very interesting! It’s impressive, that you found her wrote about her life! I think, Chopin survived because he was one and only one of the biggest geniuses in the music history. Another composers and performers had less or more luck in becoming popular. That’s how is for example with Bacewicz, which music I am popularizing. Maria Szymanowska was a woman, so at that time, it was a factor which could decide about whole life. Maybe if the person with such potential and talent like her lived in the current times, the story of her career would be completely different.
If you have the full roster of artists from 16th to 20th century, which program you would most like to curate?
I love especially music of Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Prokofiev – in general Russian music. Besides my program would probably contain works of Liszt, Bartok, Bacewicz and Brahms. I played a lot of Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven and Bach, but mostly because it was needed to complete education and studies.
If you were appointed as the Poland’s new Minister of Culture, what will be your first practices, reforms in the office?
It’s not easy to imagine, because I never had a thoughts that I could do anything else except being a pianist, but probably I would try to save more funds for culture and organizing classical music events. Also I would rise the salaries of the symphonic orchestra players, which are extremely low. Moreover situation of teachers is not great, also their salaries are symbolic, the lowest in the whole community. Furthermore I would support artist’s managements, because there are only few in Poland – in Europe there are much more of them, and Polish situation should change.
Name three essential albums for Joanna
Rafał Blechacz – Chopin Preludes for DG Ivo Pogorelich – Ravel Gaspard de la nuit for DG Danill Trifonov – Complete Rachmaninov Concertos for DG
Tell me about any future recording projects, of course starting with Chopin Prelude’s which was postponed due to pandemic?
Yes, I really hope in the beginning of spring I will finally record this CD with Chopin Preludes, also now I am waiting for this Bacewicz release. My next CD will be for sure contain many works which I truly admire, so probably some Scriabin or Rachmaninov.
My tradition for completing an interview is let my guest discuss on any subject which may be omitted at the content. By taking this chance, I would like to thank you from heart for your time, honesty and attention shown to my questions. I hope to collaborate more on different projects!
Thank you very much for the invitation to the interview! Questions was really interesting and I am extremely glad I could answer them. I am also looking forward to any future collaboration between us. From myself, I can add, that I am truly proud that as a community we found so many ways to cope with the pandemic. We didn’t give up, and still fight for the things important to us. As soon as music is so important for me, I will always try my best and I will try to develop myself to become better and better version of myself- really good musician, professor and person