INTERVIEW WITH ALEKSANDRA ŚWIGUT – pianist, winner of the 3rd prize in the 5th edition of the Danuta Szaflarska Brilliant Local Global Ranking

Last year you were one of the winners of the BLG ranking, this year you stood on the podium again. Are these awards an indication to you that not only the Ranking’s Board, but also the Nowy Sącz region, appreciate classical music performers?

Yes, it is a great honour for me. It means that my work and engagement in cultural and social life are being noticed by the people of Nowy Sącz. Regardless of the place in the rankings, what I value the most is my own motivation and constant love for the work I do. It is a great gift. The last concert at St. Margaret’s Collegiate Basilica in Nowy Sącz, which I performed together with my sister Agnieszka – violinist of the Royal Stockholm Opera (awarded the 5th place in the Ranking), showed how many people discover and appreciate the beauty of the 19th-century Polish composers’ works and how much the language of classical music is close to people’s hearts and universal.

“Early music for contemporary people is almost a completely exotic idea, and its performers have difficulty finding their way in an extremely commercialized reality” – these are your words. I’m dwelling on this subject because I’m under the impression that unfortunately classical music is still considered elite, maybe simply too difficult and incomprehensible to the average listener? What could be the reason? Is this the influence of our times when attention span of 10-15 minutes seems to be the maximum of our abilities? Or maybe is it due to the lack of proper musical education from an early age, lack of proper modelling of musical aesthetics?

On the occasion of the concert at St. Margaret’s Basilica, I also held open lessons for young pianists at the State Music School in Nowy Sącz. The youngest ones played music by Mozart, Chopin and Szymanowski. In children’s perspective, there are no alien harmonies, rhythms, elites or difficulties in understanding. Children absorb culture in its entirety and benefit immensely from it.  Modern culture has marginalized classical music and closed it in a box of inaccessibility and elitism. No wonder there is a shortage of recipients. It stems from the commercialization and Americanization of culture, the development of pop music, loosing connections with what is considered local, the devaluation of music and art in general which nowadays is approached only in terms of cheap entertainment, not a deeper spiritual experience. I agree that social media and the pace of life additionally distort our perception abilities, and the media have specialized in making the message shallow and primitive. Meanwhile, classical music is a very complex and sophisticated art. Contemplating it requires mindfulness and openness although not necessarily thorough musical training. There is, however, one condition that must be met if one were to derive satisfaction from this kind of music – exhibiting the curiosity to discover new artistic territories and the desire to deepen one’s spiritual sensitivity… On the other hand, I make attempts to (after Herbert) “look for the lost paradise in the new jungles of order”. New generations come up with their own vision of the world, their own music and imagination, a new code of culture and language. If the expression of other genres, other worlds (even those surprisingly distant) appeals to me, I let myself go with the flow, I remain open, I do not criticize nor get offended that pop music gathers bigger audience than classical music. What matters the most to me is authenticity.

Is in your opinion the work of Waldemar Malicki and the MozART Group a way to make people acquainted with classical music, or on the contrary – does such humoristic approach somehow kills the essence of classical music, also often considered serious?

I have never liked the term “serious music”, I think it is unfair and quite discouraging. Every listener would like to feel comfortable listening to music and be a recipient of genuine emotions, and not experience an imposed, pre-defined perspective. Classical music encompasses a whole variety of emotions, both “serious” and “frivolous” ones. It simply affects deeper the human existence and reaches for more complex and developed means of musical expression. I have always admired Waldemar Malicki and the MozART Group as they were the first ones to combine intelligent humour with thorough music education. They pulled off a very successful flirt with commercialism and have become iconic figures in the musical community. Their work, however, has nothing to do with classical music performance. In my mind these constitute separate universes. I believe as strongly in the charisma of the artists and their energy as in the abstract value of a musical work. If the artist does not activate his or her internal drive to pass this work on, no amount of advertising or popularization will make it successful. On the other hand, aggressive and increasingly primitive marketing aimed at the masses results in people becoming unable to assess the value of art and what we could use is a compass as we seem to keep losing our values. This is a very difficult topic. Nowadays we suffer from the lack of authorities, while those we still have are being destroyed…

Your website presents recordings of your performances. A deep concentration before the concert can be observed on you face. It resembles the image of an athlete before, for example, starting a run. And then is the focus entirely on the instrument, music and yourself?

Performing a piece at the highest professional level requires enormous concentration. Indeed, in this context, comparing this state of mind to sports is very accurate. However, a musician’s task includes not only to effectively achieving the goals, but above all appealing to the listener on an emotional, intellectual and spiritual level. The stage is a magical space where I can reveal emotions that I do not show on a daily basis, the ones I hide inside or are too difficult and complex to express. I really like taking risks and exposing myself, and in fact what interests me the most in being an artist is hazard, putting myself to the test, crossing boundaries. I do it all in order to connect with other people and offer them my most valuable qualities. I do my work honestly and put my heart into it. I am grateful that I am able to do what I love. I owe this mainly to the commitment and work of my mother Maria.

How important is the audience and interactions?

I communicate with the audience all the time. I once played a solo recital at the NOSPR concert hall where the performer is surrounded by the audience from all sides. It’s a truly amazing feeling to be the one deciding on the pace other people breathe. It’s a great privilege to be able to slip into another person’s imagination and be a part of their life, at least for a moment. And to be remembered. Being immortal is my great artistic, impossible and vain dream (laughter). Recently, after a concert, I talked to Aleksander Humala (director of the Krakow Philharmonic), who shared with me a very wise sentence: “Never expect anyone to remember you. All you can do is to be here and now, and do your job as best as you can in the moment that is given to you, without expecting anything in return.”

When on stage, you are the main figure, the audience listens to you but also watches you, does it add to your stress?

I learned that stage fright is part of this profession and it is necessary to learn how to tame it and like it. The energy of fear can be very creative once channelled properly. The stage always generates great emotions and exposes all weaknesses of an artist. But that’s what makes it beautiful (and scary at the same time, but that’s a part of the risk) – being aware that anything can happen on stage, you may either win or lose, and regardless of the result you will not give up on it. If you put your heart into it, stop holding to any guarantees of success, at the same time not feeling like you’re missing out, then you can say that… you’re either crazy (laughter) or… you really know what it means to love. And music is my greatest and truly fulfilled love.