Rafal Blechacz made headlines in 2005 when he became the first Polish pianist in 30 years to win the prestigious International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. It was an especially captivating victory, because no second prize was awarded that year. (San Francisco’s Garrick Ohlsson is the only American winner.) The 27-year-old virtuoso appears this weekend in a Chamber Music San Francisco presentation. It’s his third visit to The City, after sold-out concerts in 2008 and 2011.
How do you prepare for concerts?
I usually need a lot of time to be completely alone with a particular piece and its composer. I prefer a very quiet atmosphere and usually choose pieces that are very close to my heart and personality. I think the audience can definitely feel it. It’s also very important for me to study other subjects — it can’t always be just music. A few years ago, I began studying philosophy, especially that of aesthetics, and I’m very much fascinated with books about freedom in the arts, interpretation, etc.
How do you see the role of the classical musician today?
The most important thing for the performer, after all, is to create a very special atmosphere. We enter the composer’s feelings and emotions and recreate them freshly for a given audience. There is logic to every piece and we enter it and create a particular interpretation from our understanding. In order to accomplish this, we must absolutely first respect all the composer’s intentions and suggestions. This is the key for developing an individual view, a personal interpretation.
How did Chopin’s work become part of your repertoire?
I love Arthur Rubinstein, especially his live recordings. As a child, I was just so fascinated, so moved by his playing. Rubinstein was a unique, incredible artist, and it is always a great pleasure for me to watch and listen to him. I think his Chopin mazurkas, his interpretations of the polonaises and the concertos are just incredible.
Can you talk about Chopin’s late mazurkas, which are also on your program this weekend?
These are, of course, very special pieces for me. It’s sometimes easier to play the mazurkas when I can actually feel the particular rhythms of Polish dances, like krakowiak. As we know, typical Polish folk music was a big inspiration for Chopin, especially when he was in Paris.
How are you feeling about returning to San Francisco?
I just hope the weather is much better than what we have in Poland right now. It’s absolutely freezing here, and snowing!
Rafal Blechacz: Presented by Chamber Music San Francisco
- Where: Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
- When: 3 p.m. Sunday
- Tickets: $36 to $48
- Contact: (415), 392-4400, www.chambermusicsf.org