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Interview with Adam Aleksander (Piano)

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The Winner of 2007 International Web Concert Hall Competition

(Honorary Mention)

 

Adam Aleksander (Canada / Poland - Piano)

Background and Teachers

Piano lessons started when I was five - I was very eager to begin since my sister had taken up lessons a year before and I knew already at that age that this was what I wanted to do more than anything.  My first teacher reluctantly accepted me, but after I completed the entire book the first week, he became more enthusiastic.  I had four teachers in Canada; the last one was Edward Lincoln, professor at the University of Alberta and a student of Cortot.

I graduated high school as student of the year at age sixteen (after completing the last three years in one year) and moved to Warsaw, Poland, to study with Regina Smendzianka at the Chopin Academy of Music where I was awarded a scholarship.  This was a very important time for my development as a pianist and person; Prof. Smendzianka is one of the great pianists and teachers in Europe, a winner of the International Chopin Competition.  She is an extraordinary musician and was a great influence not only pianistically, but also artistically and culturally.  I have always had a fascination and admiration for pianists from Poland - the country where so many of the world's greatest pianists of the last century were born and educated - the Chopin Academy is steeped with that great tradition and history.

In 1988, I was awarded full scholarships and studied at Peabody Conservatory with William Doppmann, followed by the University of Southern California with James Bonn and later the University of Miami with Ivan Davis, where I earned my Doctorate in Music.

However, one of my most important teachers and artistic influences was Sergei Babayan at the Cleveland Institute of Music - one of the greatest pianists and teachers of our times.  Lessons with Sergei were profound, intense and deeply inspirational; his great knowledge of music and boundless imagination and creativity could take one's playing to another dimension.  I continue to be inspired by his unique genius.

What was your thesis title for the DMA?

My doctoral thesis was a bibliographical and historical survey of the piano sonata in Canada with an in-depth analysis of Harry Somers’ Piano Sonata No. 3.  As a recipient of many awards and scholarships from the Canada Council and the Alberta Heritage Trust Fund, I decided to write about a Canadian topic not only because I felt an obligation to do so, but also to discover and propagate some truly wonderful music which is mostly unknown to the rest of the world.

Do you teach?  If so, where?  Tell us about your teaching methods?

I taught as a Teaching Assistant at the University of Miami, as an Adjunct Professor at a local private university for several years, as well as a private teacher in Poland and in Miami currently.  My wife, Hanna Cyba, is an incredible pianist and teacher (we met at the Chopin Academy in Poland) and we have been very successful in building a studio with enthusiastic and talented students of all ages.  We organize annual recitals and prepare students for competitions as well as auditions for university schools of music and conservatories; many of our students, of course, study piano to have music and culture in their lives or because of the great benefits to child development, not to pursue it as a career.

I believe one my strengths as a teacher is my ability to inspire a student to search for more, to find a depth in performance and reach a level previously unattainable through creative thinking and problem solving, disciplined and original practicing, in-depth analysis and most importantly, a passion for music and the piano.  Every student has a different personality, a different hand and different strengths and weaknesses and therefore requires a unique approach.  The danger of anyone preaching a certain "school" of thought or playing is the difficulty to condense any so-called school into a convenient formula that can have universality in its applications.  I believe in finding positive influences and inspiration in historical contexts; dogmatic attempts to codify and implement a system may lead to a lack of originality and creativity, or, worse yet, a mediocre plagiarism.

So, too with practicing.  It seems that there is so much being said and taught about style, tone quality and other elements of music interpretation but all too often not enough time is dedicated to explaining how to achieve that goal, i.e. how to practice.  An efficient and creative approach to practicing must be included in each lesson and not only regarding the technical aspects of playing: in their broadest concepts, musicianship and technique are inseparable and proper practice depends on an understanding on their intrinsic relationship.

How do you select repertoire for your recital?

There are several factors that help determine the choice of repertoire in my solo and concerto performances.  Of course, often the presenter or philharmonic societies have a special request or a request from my repertoire list.  More often than not, however, in solo recitals I have the freedom to arrange the program.  I try to have a varied repertoire but more importantly, I prefer to perform pieces about which I feel passionate.  Music of Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt is almost always in my programs.

How many concerts do you have a year?

In an average year, I would have about twenty concerts.  For a while, however, I had a great number of hours of teaching at the university as well as at home, and this took time away from my practicing so of course I had to take some time off.  Now that I left the university job, I am able to dedicate myself more to my private students and to practicing.  One needs countless hours, freedom and peace of mind and no distractions in order to be able to focus on concert preparation – this cannot be a part time endeavor, but requires a great deal of energy and extraordinary hard work and dedication.

Practicing and performing are part of a lifelong quest to fulfill an artistic desire for creativity and originality within the contexts of a historic perspective of style, a balance between the intellect and passion, and an opportunity to share one’s life’s dedication with others through concerts and recordings.  It is important to maintain artistic integrity in this search for these truths as they can be reached only through an honest and profound dedication to music.

Do you like any other forms of art?

It is important for a pianist to have constant contact with other arts  - this has great influence on one’s development as a musician.  Throughout my life, I have had a passion for reading great literature; some of my favorites would include Charles Dickens, and also Henryk Sienkiewicz, Czeslaw Milosz and Boleslaw Prus – Poland has had some incredible authors and I read them in Polish since so much can be lost in translation. 

Throughout my travels over the years, I have been fortunate enough to visit the great museums of the world many times.  A painting can create just as profound and moving an experience as a work of music – for example, in The Flaying of Marsyas, Titian captures the essence of what it means to be an artist: the challenges, suffering, sacrifice and loneliness in such a profoundly moving way and on so many levels.

What was the event that changed your life?

In 1996, my wife had a near-deadly aneurysm in the brain that put in her in a coma; the doctors gave her a 10% chance of survival and severe disability if she were to survive.  After four-hour brain surgery and endless months of rehab, she not only made a full, 100% recovery, but went on to complete her doctoral dissertation and perform a spectacular recital, amazing and confounding doctors who themselves suggested that there must have been a miracle involved.  It is times like that when one realizes what is truly important in life; my perspective on many things changed.

In your opinion, what are the characteristics of a good performer?

I believe a great artist is one who discovers new depths in art and reaches a transcendental level in communicating original thoughts while at the same time being grounded in the roots of a tradition which embodies a historical sense of style.

How did you learn about the International Web Concert Hall Competition?

I happened to come across the website by accident while searching online – I think it is a highly original idea and commend the organizers for their effort and forethought.  The digital environment is no longer the future but the present, and it is very promising to find that music from hundreds of years ago has found its place in this media.

On be half of the Web Concert Hall, we would like to thank you for your time and we wish all the success.

To contact Adam: http://www.adamaleksander.com

Interviewed by Webconcerthall November, 2007


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