Janusz Wawrowski, violinist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

When I was a small kid there was a lot of folk and classical music on TV and the violin is one of the most popular instrument in both genres in Poland. I very much enjoyed watching and listening to the musicians in media and during live concerts. My parents are doctors but they both play the piano a bit so we have enjoyed playing and singing together since I was 3 years old. I would say that chamber music and the art of making music together was very important to me from the beginning.

We had an old piano at home that belonged to my grandfather, who was also a doctor, and for me that was always one of the most amazing objects in our old house. My grandfather was studying piano as well and he dreamed about having a virtuoso in our family. Unfortunately he died two years before I was born and I knew him only from family stories.

When I was 6 years old I met my first violin teacher who is an extraordinary personality. I think that after my musical introduction at home, my first master had the biggest influence in my musical path and showed me that classical music is a kind of magic.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

It’s really hard to say. When you are a perfectionist – and I believe many musicians, including me, are – your every concert or recording can be seen as the greatest challenge. Overall though, and from a violinistic point of view, I consider preparing, practicing, recording and especially playing during one concert all the 24 Caprices by Niccolo Paganini, as the hardest duel with myself. I think I have played them all in one event more then 20 times and I recorded them on my first album.

Another tremendous challenge was also connected with an Italian heritage. Together with my friends we managed to find a beautiful violin from 1685 built by Antonio Stradivari and to convince a great Polish philanthropist to buy the instrument. That is the first Stradivarius in our country since the World War II and I’ve been extremely happy to play and record on this amazing violin for almost three years now.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

I am very proud of my latest album, PHOENIX, as this not just my newest recording but also my discovery. PHOENIX includes the first studio recording of Ludomir Różycki’s Violin Concerto, reconstructed on the basis of discovered fragments of the orchestration. In 1944 in war-torn Warsaw, the composer was extremely well known both at home and abroad and started to put pen to paper and create the violin concerto. Alas, with the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, Różycki was forced to flee the capital, which not only put a stop to his creative workflow but caused him to leave behind fragments of his manuscripts. The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra was considered lost for many years. The discovery of the manuscript allowed me to reconstruct the work completely. Following the reconstruction, I travelled to London and recorded the piece for the first time ever together with the world renowned Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and  Grzegorz Nowak. With the release of this album and its performances worldwide, Różycki’s concerto takes on a new lease of life and is no longer a ‘victim’ lost during World War 2. Quite literally rising from the ashes, it is a testimony of recovered national cultural heritage, which undoubtedly deserves to be heard!

On the album I decided to pair Ludomir Różycki’s Concerto with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, which is of course well known to all music lovers. Both of these works share a romantic character, a specific overtone of fantasy and fairy tales, and each composer wrote these works in painful periods during their respective lives – Tchaikovsky after a difficult breakdown of his marriage and Różycki during the war, in the year of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising (1944). The melodies seem to enchant dark reality, bring perspective and create a world better than the real one. Tchaikovsky is an exceptional composer for me, the first one with a style and creativity resembling film music, although it was written long before the era of the movies. Both composers treat the orchestra in a colourful, visual way and they both wrote operas and ballets. I associate Różycki’s work with Gershwin or Korngold, leading directly in the Hollywood style, but also exploring a Slavic tone. Różycki treats the solo violin part similarly to Tchaikovsky. Their compositional techniques are alike with the manner of imagining this instrumental part on top of a symphony orchestra, even though Różycki created his work 65 years after Tchaikovsky and had a much wider instrumental range at his disposal.

Piotr Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto has accompanied me since I was a child. Everyone knows it well, violinists all over the world perform it on stages and competitions, and indeed it also brought many awards to me. Pairing it with Różycki’s Concerto – only recently discovered, and unknown to the wider public – makes a very powerful musical duet. Both of these works take me to a fantastical world of imagination, dreams and miracles. I really do hope that my feeling of this special sound-world is shared by the listener, whilst in turn PHOENIX becomes a recording in their collection to revisit time after time.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

It is a very difficult question. My listeners should answer it! I know that my audience always appreciates my Wieniewski and Paganini performances and I’m also very happy that they also like my interpretation of 20th and 21st century music, for instance: Ravel, Ysaye, Penderecki or Berio.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I enjoy walks in the forest, going out to the theatre, watching movies and reading books. I read about composers and musicians, about astronomy, astrophysics and quantum physics (Stephen Hawking, Michael Heller etc.). I love literature and science-fiction, and fantasy books (especially J. R. R. Tolkien).

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I always try to combine my concert repertoire choices with my latest or upcoming recordings which are connected with my artistic ideas, new inspirations or sometimes even with a new discovery, as seen with my new PHOENIX album. Currently I’m trying to focus on 20th century music including violin pieces written by the amazing female composer and violinist Grażyna Bacewicz.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I don’t think I have one favourite concert venue to perform. I really enjoy playing with orchestras in old concert halls like the Musikverein in Vienna or at the Warsaw Philharmonic. I also feel an amazing connection and cooperation in the sound wave distribution between my Stradivari violin from the 17th century and brand-new concert venues, like the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, NOSPR in Katowice or NFM in Wrocław.

Wigmore Hall is such a charming and extraordinary place, in my opinion. It’s a perfect combination between a beautiful concert hall and a place for intimate chamber music.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences/listeners?

The education of the younger generation, without a doubt.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I was invited by Ida Haendel to listen to her recital in Cracow when I was a student. It was absolutely outstanding and unforgettable.

From a performer’s point of view, my every last concert is a memorable experience for me. I love this connection with the audience during a live performance. Sometimes a small concert venue with small amount of people can be a very strong experience which stays in your mind for a long time.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

My dream is to develop as a musician and to develop my artistic ideas for as long as possible. Success means for me to increase my audience as much as possible in order to show them my interpretations, artistic ideas and discoveries but never to forget about the quality of my performances and my musical identity.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I believe that being a musician is such a beautiful profession. Be sure that you never forget your inner voice of child. Work very hard and find people who can support your artistic ideas.

What has lockdown taught you as a musician?

Lockdown helped me to understand and also reminded me how important it is to have a passion and time in my artistic life. It also taught me how refreshing and helpful it is to rest with your family from time to time.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

I would like to be on the same path but a few thousands steps forward.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I don’t know if there is a perfect happiness but I would wish I could always count on my music, which helps me to win through, despite any worries in my life.

What is your most treasured possession?

My passion and my musical gifts.

What is your present state of mind?

I’m very happy and excited because of my new PHOENIX album coming out but also a little bit worried for the future of our musical world in these times.

Janusz Wawrowski’s new recording PHOENIX, violin concertos by Tchaikovsky and Rozycki, is released on 12 March on the Warner Classics label.

International award winning violinist Janusz Wawrowski has appeared to critical acclaim in major concert halls throughout the world.

A double winner of the Fryderyk Award, decorated by the Polish Ministry of Culture, and appointed as one of the youngest tenured Professors in Europe at the prestigious Chopin University of Music in Warsaw: Both at home and abroad Janusz is considered to be the leading Polish violinist of our time. As a tribute to his efforts in promoting Polish culture worldwide, he has been gifted the Antonio Stradivari “Polonia” violin (1685) on an indefinite loan (courtesy Roman Ziemian).

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