A note in the time of Janina Fialkowska 372 pages (Novum Publishing 2021) ISBN 978-3-903861-97-8. Available here.
For music lovers interested in the written word, there is nothing better than to experience a multifaceted artist, in this case an ivory piano, and between book covers. This is especially true if it was written by an artist without the services of another author, or, quite inappropriately, a ghost writer. And if it’s as readable as these memoirs of Canadian pianist Janina Fialkowska, published before her 70th birthday in 2021, this is a volume that can be captured and preserved.
Born in Montreal to a Polish immigrant father and a Canadian mother, Fialkowska began piano lessons with her mother at the age of four, entered the prestigious Vincent d’Indi School at the age of nine, and made her Montreal Symphony debut at the age of 12. . She won 1st prize in the CBC Radio Competition for Young Performers, and at the age of 19 studied with Sasha Grodnitsky in Juilliard. Participating in the Arthur Rubinstein Competition in 1974, she impressed the great Rubinstein so much that he took her under his wing and became her champion until his death in 1982. Fialkowska has become one of the most famous Canadian pianists of today.
Almost four hundred pages, Note in time it’s a formidable but exciting read. It starts abruptly, around the time the planes hit New York’s World Trade Center during 9/11. Fialkowski wakes up on the operating table after undergoing surgery for hand cancer at the Sloan-Cattering Memorial Center in Manhattan. The symbolism of all this is a world-class pianist suffering from health problems, which is aimed at her ability to share her artistic skills. However, this is not the end, far from it. These memoirs emphasize her remarkable resilience and strength in overcoming this painful adversity that eventually comes out with triumph.
The specifics of the 70th anniversary of Yanina Fialkovskaya:
The book is divided into 15 chapters, each named after a famous piano piece that echoes the various events mentioned in this chapter. For example, Schumann children’s scenes it’s all about her early life, piano lessons, first successes in competitions, and the beginning of her encounters with many exciting characters throughout her long career. If I can apologize for not being musical – what a wonderful surprise to read that Peter Fialkowski, my favorite weather forecaster at CHEX-TV in Peterborough, where I taught for 33 years at the University of Trent, is her brother!
The following sections describe in detail her artistic and life path, her studies in Paris under Madame Yvonne Lefebvre, in Juilliard with the famous Grodno, her preparation for the Chopin Competition and many other events. Interesting insightful comments on the politics of piano competitions, reflections on the music business, live performances against the record, etc. Her meetings with many musicians, such as Solti, are endlessly intriguing. But most significant of all was her participation in the Rubinstein Competition, which proved to be a turning point in her life. Going to leave the speech to enter law school, her meeting with Rubinstein changed everything. He became her teacher and the fiercest champion. The rest is said to be history.
Like some artists, Fialkowska’s life / career has had its ups and downs, triumphs and failures. She survived the initial crisis in 1978, suffering from self-doubt, physical and mental illness that led to the fact that she almost gave up her career. Fortunately, she found the inner strength that allowed her to eventually emerge from the abyss. If you think it’s all doom and gloom – no, the memoir is also an interesting read. It contains fascinating glimpses of faces in the world of classical piano, a real gold mine of people both on stage and behind the scenes, artists who are becoming and beginners, impresarios, agents, promoters, fans and so on. There are, of course, Rubinstein, but also Mrs. Rubinstein, Anabel, Sir Georg Solti, Isaac Stern and the whole Canucks group, including her Piano Six colleagues (Angela Hewitt, Angela Cheng, Marc-Andre Chamelin, Andre Laplante and John Kimura Parker). There are also celebrities in show business such as Christopher Plummer, whom she met when she moved to Connecticut.
Her comments and remarks about people seem honest, fair, and sometimes quite funny, but never mean. Her thoughts on Mrs. Rubinstein illustrate my view – she does not shy away from some unflattering statements, but you can be sure that they are based on first-hand observations and not on gossip. Some of those mentioned in the book, who did naughty things, remain anonymous, such as a nun who hid in a cupboard with brooms to get detailed information from the competition jury, which she then passed on to her favorites. One of them is fascinated by Fialkovskaya’s innate sense of humor – I laughed at how she called her black postoperative bandage “Brace Bumblebee!”
Then there are sections on touring life in the UK, Italy, Spain, the US and Canada. This really emphasizes that the life of an artist is not as glamorous as it can sometimes be portrayed. It can be very difficult and unpredictable. But in the end it is also infinitely nice to do what every artist loves, communicate and share their musical talent.
In the final chapter, the book covers the full circle, detailing the author’s episode of cancer, dramatically exciting, disturbing, but full of hope. Too bad I didn’t hear her play Ravel Piano Concerto for Left Hand – played on his right hand, with his own fingers. Only this emphasizes her inner strength and determination. Man is impressed by the seemingly superhuman memory, down to the smallest detail of particularly delicious food. I decided to ask her husband Harry Esterle. Well, it seems Janina has kept a detailed diary for years. The mystery is solved! A few small quibbles – for the sake of completeness, I would really like the chronology of her speeches with dates and names of places. A pointer at the end and a discography (live and in the studio, including broadcasts) would have been great, but I guess the size of the book would have become unmanageable. I love the many gorgeous photos, but the captions under each would be fine.
The epilogue gives the reader an insight into her current life, near Augsburg, in idyllic Bavaria, as well as several other updates, such as receiving her Lifetime Achievement Award from the Governor General of Canada. In her 70s Fialkovskaya does not stop there. She was supposed to give a concert, but the pandemic put an end to it. As I write this, she is due to embark on a concert tour of the US and Canada in February if Omicron allows. In her great view of talent, she instructs promising pianists, including the outstanding winner of the Chopin Bruce Liu Competition in Warsaw, whom Fialkowska first nominated for praise at the Rubinstein Competition a few years ago. Obviously, Fialkowska still has a lot of notes, and the future still needs to be written.
From the bottom of my heart, pleasant memories, highly recommended to all piano lovers.
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