Tell us about your background. Where are you from? How did you get into music? Where and how did you train?
I was born in Tarnow, a small town in southern Poland, sixty miles east of Krakow. I went to a performing arts high school. In my junior year, I won an audition for the role of a pianist in a theater play production at the University at Buffalo. Before the final dress rehearsal, I traveled to Rochester, New York and visited Eastman School of Music for the first time. I fell in love with the school and applied there the following year. I came to Eastman in 2005 and graduated with my BM and MM in Piano Performance in 2011. In 2012, I moved to Evanston, Illinois where I’m currently finishing a DMA in Piano Performance at Northwestern University. I’m writing my doctoral thesis on the performance practice of the most extraordinary pianists of the past: From Liszt to Victor Borge: A Legacy of Unique Piano Performances.
How did you develop your programs? Where did the idea to combine magic and music come from?
As musicians we sometimes forget about the most important aspect of performing in front of people: making a meaningful, lasting connection with the audience, creating a sense of wonder. Classical music is a bridge that connects with people on a very intimate level. Magic shares the same qualities, but differs in one principal aspect. Music is essentially an auditory experience while magic relies on the visual stimuli. I realized that a clever, visual magic can amplify audience’s appreciation of a complex musical work. In addition, magic brings back the much needed level of interaction between the performer and the audience so familiar to the nineteenth-century concert goer, but often forgotten in the twenty-first century concert hall. As a side effect, the new audio-visual collaboration becomes an engaging and memorable concert experience.
I owe interest in magic to my great-grandfather. He wasn’t a professional magician per se, but I vividly remember him entertaining the kids in our family with a few simple magic tricks. When he passed away, I inherited a book on card magic from his drawer. I was just six years old and that’s when it all started. I was essentially self-taught. There were only a few books written on magic in Polish so I had to learn English in order to learn the new techniques and meet other magicians. I traveled to magic conventions and performed at festivals throughout the Europe, from France to Czech Republic. When I was sixteen, I went to Dubai, United Arab Emirates to give sixty shows at the Dubai Summer Surprises Festival.
My heart, however, has always been with music. During my undergraduate years, along with completing my piano performance degree, I enrolled in an honors program with an ambitious senior project: I was finally going to combine my lifetime interest in magic with a piano recital. I worked with a theater director from the University of Rochester, I researched performance techniques of the nineteenth-century artists, conceived the script and premiered “An Evening of Music & Magic” in 2009. I sent the DVD of the performance to my friend Harold Weller, Conductor Laureate of Las Vegas Philharmonic, who in turn forwarded it to Teller of the Las Vegas magicians duo Penn & Teller. Teller, a one-of-a-kind performer and one of the most inspiring minds in magic, invited me to Vegas where we created a piece of magic based on a fugue by J.S. Bach that won the 2011 WQXR Classical Comedy Contest at Caroline’s on Broadway.
What are some recent projects you are particularly proud of? Any upcoming shows you’re looking forward to?
I’m fortunate to be constantly working on new ideas for the show. I love collaborating with orchestras and have worked on wonderful concerts with an immensely creative conductor Jung-Ho Pak and the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra. In the upcoming season, I’m making my concerto debut at the Symphony Hall in Chicago and I’m taking my show to New York City and Hong Kong, among other places. I’m also working on an all-consuming book project based on my doctoral research.
Why music? What do you think makes classical music valuable in today’s world?
Two quotes come to mind. Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman once said that music is more than just an organized sound. Music is a flow of emotions organized in time. Musical work is an emotionally-charged story. By listening, learning and disseminating these stories with each other, music empowers us to connect, understand and strive to be better to one another. One of my mentors I have never met, Leonard Bernstein, said that “the best way to know a thing is to learn it in the context of another discipline.” Discovering the vast wealth of classical music can be a transformative experience to someone from outside of the music world: a medical student looking to become a virtuoso neurosurgeon, or a public school teacher searching for ways to inspire her students in the classroom. Finally, attending a live concert is a rare opportunity to focus, as simple as it sounds, on one activity, forgetting – if for a moment – the fast-paced hours of the day, disconnecting from the digital world and connecting with real people.