Whether it be destiny, some rare astrophysical occurrence, serendipity or a just another random convergence of events…you have stumbled upon my piano music blog!
I realize there are hundreds of other things you could be doing right now and so I wish that the time you spend here be as mutually stimulating, engaging and inspiring as it has been for me.
On this page, you’ll find a few words about me. Pianists’ biographies can sometimes look so formal and forbidding, so instead I’ll walk you through the most important events of my life as they occurred and leave you to find the profound ‘existential’ meaning into how they shaped me into the musician I am today.
I always subdivide my name in 3 syllables to make it easier to pronounce. Also, in Polish the W’s are pronounced as V’s, so the phonetic spelling of my last name is vnoo-koff’-skee.
I think therefore i am
“So quiet and shy but always brightly smiling!”
My parents will never forget the twinkle in my eye, when at the age of 3 and a half I saw a grand piano in a Toronto music store, whose outer parts were made of clear glass; the kind of piano that would allow its viewer to see the intricate details of a piano’s mechanism. We couldn’t afford a piano right away, so for the first six months they bought me a small Hammond organ to check if my strong desire to take piano lessons were indeed sincere.
Money was always rather tight in the household, and growing up as the second child meant sleeping on the living room sofa for many years. But I loved my family dearly and we survived the hardest of times but staying together and nurturing a strong sense of communication based on trust and respect.
Growing up in Canada exposes a young musician to a wide variety of different cultures and musical styles and sure enough I had absorbed everything from the Polish folk dancing performed live in my living room to the 80’s pop rock and punk scene.
There are two memories which stand out clearly…
- My embarrassing dance lessons in the Mazurka, Oberek, Kujawiak at age 6 did serve their purpose in helping me to understand the piano music of Chopin.
- My first composition for piano and voice written at age 4 and entitled “My Heart” was a cross between Elvis Presley and Hugo Wolf and was banned in my house until I would grow up to be more ‘sexually mature’.
The longest journey is the journey inwards
What was meant to be a simple summer vacation 7000 km away in Poland at age 15 turned out to be a long and confounded three years! A brief encounter with the director of the Chopin Academy in Warsaw quickly spiralled into a long series of engagements all across Europe.
Only one month later, I was asked to perform my piano music compositions among other works at the National Theatre in Warsaw for a theme concert entitled “Jutro Nie Bedzie Wojny” or “Tomorrow there will be no war” in front of about 2000 people.
In Faustian terms, I had sacrificed my prime adolescent years which should have been spent partying, graduating, socializing for an impressive career which would involve arduous, long hours spent practicing sometimes without sleeping for 72 hours.
High School, you may ask? That was done through correspondence, further impeding any possible social contact with the outside world. The only people I really connected with were the many audiences I performed for which would arrive and whistle away like the colourful autumn leaves. But it is here that I truly learned to love my audiences …without them there would be no point for me in serving as that important medium which brings the composer’s music to life.
“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.”
From “Song of the Open Road” by Walt Whitman
ON A MISSION FROM GOD
I left Poland at the age of 19. I could no longer agree with the lifestyle of traveling from one piano competition to another in search of finding a magic pot of gold under the rainbow. Up until then, I still had mild successes in winning competitions such as the National Chopin Piano Competition and eventually becoming semi-finalist at the International one in Warsaw. But eventually I would continue getting thrown out after the first stages of other major competitions.” The truth be told – I could never really play my best at competitions. I also had a nasty habit of practicing too many different pieces at the same time – which I recently learned is taboo, especially the day before a competition.
Obi Ken Wanobi Teaches piano
Having learned the complete works of Frederic Chopin and those by many other Polish composers such as Szymanowski and Lutoslawski was of little use in Leon Fleisher’s class as he himself had been trained under the rigorous auspices of ‘Teutonic universalism’. His keen sense of a rhetoric, intelligent approach to the complex idea of rhythm, and his infectious enthusiasm of German piano music added another dimension to my understanding of music.
But years of concertizing had already paid grave tolls on my health. By the time I had entered Leon Fleisher’s studio at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, MD, I looked 15 years older than my age, suffering from frequent attacks of anxiety and depression, and my generally melancholic disposition prevented me from studying at my full potential.
I wanted to experience life again…the warmth of confiding one’s thoughts to a close friend, the euphoria of a graduation party, the identity of belonging to a close-knit community, the cool breeze of sailing on the mediterranean with the spontaneity of a herd of wild animals…and so I left on a journey.
The three words that summarize life: ‘It goes on’
Someone had suggested that I try hypnosis…after all, it helped Rachmaninoff get through his hurdles with composition. I remained in long-distance terms with a renowned hypnotist in California, but it took me months to finally find the courage to meet up with him.
I don’t know if you have ever overcome a similar battle against life’s adversities. Indeed, a profound sense of victory can sometimes send tingles down one’s spine that are stronger than the rise and fall of a rolling ocean wave.
Run away from the piano?
There is no escape from piano music. The lifestyle of being a concert pianist involves many facets of commitment. There is foremost a strong desire to relish oneself in other forms of art such as paintings, sculpture, architecture and literature.
The connection that music has with language and poetry should also never be overlooked. Poetry is a language where one can become playfully and blissfully immersed in a landscape of words. Just substitute ‘words’ with ‘notes’ and you have the metaphysical definition of music.
The piano addiction resumes
Ah, yes! Back to my biography. In California, I met a renowned and retired artists’ manager by the name of Jacques Leiser who inspired me with long conversations about his dealings with many of the great pianists of his day…such as Arturo B. Michelangeli, Sviatoslav Richter, Maurizio Pollini and Claudio Arrau to name a few.
Here I learned the values of perseverance and a strong education which brought me to the International Piano Academy in Lake Como, Italy. I was one of the lucky students chosen to participate in a series of masterclasses with some of the great living classical pianists of our time such as Menahem Pressler of the Beaux Arts Trio, Charles Rosen and Graham Johnson.
Over time my interests began to change. I became bored with the prospect of performing the same doggone works 60 times a year. I mean, how many Rachmaninoff Concertos and Chopin nocturnes can you handle throughout the year, until you are ready to puke?
Today, I try to actively engage in more creative pursuits, such as promoting the works of stellar, rarely-performed composers, composing, improvising and outreach. On this website and my personal blog – bagatellen, I will post any interesting discoveries in the world of piano music I come across including rare composers, compositions and share more details of my story as they happen in real-time.
They sat them down upon the yellow sand,
Between the sun and moon upon the shore;
And sweet it was to dream of Fatherland,
Of child, and wife, and slave;
but evermore Most weary seem’d the sea,
weary the oar,
Weary the wandering fields of barren foam.
Then some one said, ‘We will return no more’;
And all at once they sang,
‘Our island home Is far beyond the wave; we will no longer roam.’
from “The Lotos-Eaters” by Alfred Lord Tennyson