Pianist Krystian Zimerman stands as one of the most sensitive and exacting pianists to have emerged in the latter part of the 20th century. The possessor of an exclusive lifetime contract with the Deutsche Grammophon label, he has a large repertory running from Beethoven to Witold Lutosławski.
Zimerman was born in Zabrze, Poland, on December 5, 1956. His father was a pianist who gave his son extensive lessons; Zimerman was already giving concerts as a boy. He attended the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice, studying with Andrzej Jasinski. Zimerman's breakthrough came in 1975, with a win at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. The following year, he performed with the Berlin Philharmonic under conductor Herbert Blomstedt, and he made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1979. Zimerman was signed to Deutsche Grammophon shortly after arriving on the scene, and he issued his first LP album, a collection of Chopin works, for that label in 1977. An unusual feature of Zimerman's early career was that, in addition to performing, he pursued training as a piano builder. He has always insisted on performing on his own Steinway pianos, to which he has occasionally made modifications according to the repertory. This has limited Zimerman's touring to a degree; two of his pianos were badly damaged by personnel at New York's Kennedy Airport, and he has refused to perform in the U.S., a country of whose foreign policy he has also been critical. However, he has collaborated with many of the world's leading conductors, including Daniel Barenboim, Leonard Bernstein (whom he especially admired, although their styles were quite different), and Simon Rattle. Zimerman created a Polish Festival Orchestra to mark the 150th anniversary of Chopin's death in 1999, and he has been known for his innovative interpretations of the music of that composer. He has a large repertory of Romantic and early 20th century piano works, and he also sometimes plays contemporary music; he was the dedicatee of Witold Lutosławski's Piano Concerto (1988) and gave its world premiere at the Salzburg Festival.
Zimerman has made more than 40 recordings. He recorded very little between the late 1990s and the late 2010s, although gaps in the marketplace were filled in by enthusiastically received reissues. Zimerman returned to recording in 2017 with an album of Schubert sonatas. In 2021, he released his second cycle of Beethoven's piano concertos, joining the London Symphony Orchestra in a socially distanced recording on which he replaced the keyboard of his Steinway for each piece.
© James Manheim /TiVo