In September 2018, 23-year-old Tomasz Ritter won the 1st Chopin Competition on Period Instruments in Warsaw. With the introduction of this new branch of the famed competition, the Chopin Institute have sent a clear message about the importance of reviving and understanding the 19th century instruments for which Chopin wrote.
Of the thirty pianists from nine countries in the competition, Ritter’s talent unanimously captured the jury’s imagination. A graduate of Moscow’s Pyotr Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Ritter has studied with period pianist luminaries Johannes Sonnleitner, Alexei Lubimov, Malcolm Bilson, Andreas Staier and Tobias Koch. Join EMV and the Vancouver Chopin Society for this riveting online concert by one of the piano world’s most prominent rising stars.
All works by Frédéric François Chopin
Sounds of Heaven on Earth – the music of Frédéric François Chopin
Whether or not we acknowledge it, the music of Chopin has been firmly embedded in public and popular consciousness. How often would even a casual music lover, in hearing one of the countless melodies written by the composer, have the feeling that they had heard it somewhere before – in a film, a commercial, or even a mobile phone ring tone. The ultimate compliment, or not – depending on your perspective – that one has really “arrived” is when one captures the attention of Hollywood. Chopin’s life has been captured on film several times, in efforts ranging from ridiculous to tolerable. And perhaps nowhere is Hollywood’s ignorance with serious music more glaring than in these infamous lines from a thankfully anonymous screenwriter, delivered by none other than Joan Crawford, “I like all symphonies, some concertos, and Chopin before George Sand made him soft.”
Indeed, such popularity inevitably leads to more than a little misunderstanding about the man and his music. An in-depth look into all of Chopin’s works is of course beyond the scope of these brief notes. Suffice it to say that the range of works represented in this recital should tell us that Chopin’s music is so much more than can be described in a few sentences. One thing we can say for certain is that Chopin’s music goes far beyond the “perfumed poetry” that many associate with it.
Chopin’s Lento con gran espressione in C-sharp minor, more popularly known as the Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. posth., contains everything we consider “Chopinesque” – a beautiful melody set against the backdrop of broken chords. The melody is elaborated with every return, with the pearly runs of the right hand we associate with Chopin. The contrasting lively middle section of the work even contains a quote from the first movement of the composer’s second piano concerto.
The Etude in E minor (Op. 25, No. 5) begins with a scherzo-like character, with broken rhythm and quasi-guitar arpeggios. This gives way to a theme of great beauty in the middle section, where the melody is played by alternating thumbs, producing a unique “three-handed” effect. Perhaps nothing needs to be said about the celebrated Etude in E major (Op. 10, No. 3), a work that arguably opens with the most meltingly beautiful melody ever conceived by the human mind.
The Waltz in A minor (Op. 34, No. 2) betrays the composer’s most autumnal moods, but a great surprise comes at the middle of the work, where we hear a melody of great songfulness. However, the same melody changes before long, and the music falls back into the dejected and darkened key of A minor.
Chopin was in Stuttgart when he received news of the catastrophe of the Warsaw Uprising of 1830. According to legend, his fury over Russian retribution overflowed into his “Revolutionary Etude”, Op. 10, No. 12. We should, however, know that Chopin himself never refers to the work as such, and the title is not his. Moritz Karasowski evokes the image of Zeus hurling thunderbolts at mankind. According to Alan Walker, author of the magisterial biography of the composer, “For younger pianists with nothing more than thunderbolts to hurl it is a dangerous one, for in callow hands the work itself is turned into the battlefield, instead of depicting one.” After the tumult of the middle section, Chopin brings back the opening impassioned theme whose, quoting Walker again, “muffled eruptions finally come to rest in C major.”
According to Moritz Karasowski, the Nocturne in D-flat major (Op. 27, No. 2) contains “a profusion of delicate fioriture.” The work really contains only one theme, and has no shortage of the “ravishing harmonies” and “melodic whispers” people ascribed to Chopin’s own playing.
The Polonaise in E-flat minor (Op. 26, No. 2) has been known by names such as the Siberian, or the Revolt Polonaise. Such fanciful titles may have been inspired by the work’s sinister opening, with its suppressed and threatening rumblings. Respite comes by way of an almost jaunty episode in B major; James Huneker finds a hint of Meyerbeer in this brief section. The same writer goes on to describe the return of the Polonaise proper, with its “smothered explosions”, and the music “ends in gloom and the impotent clanking of chains.”
In his review of Chopin’s Ballade in A-flat major (Op. 47), Robert Schumann refers to the work as being one of the composer’s most original creations. Schumann goes on to describe the work with flowery prose, recognizing in the music, “the refined and intellectual Pole, accustomed to moving in the most distinguished circles of the French capital.” In spite of its gentle opening, the work does contain dark, sinister as well as powerful moments. A second theme brings to the work a more dance-like, coquettish, rhythmically willful, and constantly syncopating character. Throughout the work, we hear the interplay between these two themes – the songful and the sparkling. In the words of Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski, “they grow and bloom in a fullness of sound, elude one another and intertwine, join together and separate. In moments of ecstasy, they are transformed beyond recognition.”
Like the “Revolutionary Etude”, whether Chopin was inspired to write his Scherzo in B minor (Op. 20) following news of the Warsaw Uprising in 1830 is another matter for conjecture. Certainly the opening chords, once suggested as a “a shriek of despair”, betrays a despondency beyond words. The music is agitated, even angry, and calmness only ensues with the arrival of the Trio, an angelic melody that is a paraphrase of the Polish Christmas carol “Lulajże Jezuniu” (“Sleep, Little Jesus”) – this was the first Christmas Chopin had spent outside of Poland. The calmness of this lullaby is shattered by the return of the opening chords, and the violence and rage of the music continues until its cataclysmic conclusion.
We hope that this video concert by Tomasz Ritter will give you a glimpse into the sound world of one of the most unique and original geniuses in the history of music. Arthur Rubinstein says that when one hears the music of Chopin, it is like coming home. In these troubling and confusing times we live in, perhaps this feeling of “coming home” is indeed the Balm of Gilead we need for our heart and soul.
— Notes by Patrick May
Tickets for this concert are choose-what-you-pay. You may decide between $10, $15, or $20 for your ticket. There is no difference in the product you receive. When purchasing your ticket, please consider how many people will be watching the concert in your household.
Once you have purchased a ticket, you will receive a confirmation email which contains a link to watch. The concert will premiere online on Thursday, June 25 2020 at 7pm PST, at the link provided.
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Tomasz Ritter is a pianist who won the 1st International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments. He studied at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory under Mikhail Voskresensky (piano), Marya Uspenskaya (harpsichord), and Alexei Lubimov (period piano).
He was born on 21st January 1995 in Lublin where, in 2002, he started at the Karol Lipiński Music School under the tuition of Bożena Bechta-Krzemińska. In 2008, he became a pupil of Professor Irina Rumiancewa-Dąbrowska at the Karol Szymanowski No. 4 Complex of State Music Schools in Warsaw. He has attended master classes conducted by Victor Merzhanov, Tatyana Shebanova, Avedisa Kouyoumdjiana, Ian Hobson, Pavel Gililov and others. He has also gained experience playing period instruments through his work with harpsichord maker Peter Šefl and in courses conducted by Johannes Sonnleitner, Alexei Lubimov, Malcolm Bilson, Andreas Staier, and Tobias Koch.
In November 2011, he won the 9th Arthur Rubinstein Memorial International Young Pianist Competition in Bydgoszcz. He has also received the Aniela Młynarska-Rubinstein Special Award, the Arthur Rubinstein Ruby Pin for artistic personality, the Pomeranian Philharmonic’s Symphonic Orchestra Award, and many others. In September 2018, he received the Main Award at the 1st International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments in Warsaw.
He is also the laureate of many other competitions, including the San Sebastian International Piano Competition (Spain, 2008, 1st prize), the 8th International Piano Competition for Young Musicians in Enschede (Netherlands, 2010, 1st prize and the Journalist Award), the Prague Music Conservatory’s Mlady Klavir Competition (2010, the Mlady Klavir Title), and the 3rd Szymanowski Memorial Polish Piano Competition in Warsaw (2011, 1st prize). In 2018, he was nominated for Polityka magazine’s Passport Award in the Classical Music category.
Ritter has toured in many European countries, Russia and Japan. He performed under the baton of conductors such as Łukasz Borowicz, Ian Hobson, Jerzy Maksymiuk, Jan Stanienda and Jakub Chrenowicz. Among others, he has worked with Kvarteto Martinů, Stradivari Quartett, singer Elena Zolotova and flautist Benedek Csalog. In 2014, an album of Ritter’s performances was released by Polskie Nagrania. It features music by Bach, Beethoven, Szymanowski, and Ginastera.
What do the critics think of Ritter’s performances? In 2012, Maciej Pinkwart wrote the following for Ruch Muzyczny magazine: ‘In the second part, the 17-year-old pianist Tomasz Ritter took the stage, a student of the Karol Szymanowski Complex of State Music Schools in Warsaw. If this is the level he represents as a student, what will we able to hear from him in the future?’ One year later, Witold Paprocki added the following in another article for the magazine: ‘Ritter’s performance draws attention to the deliberate, consistent concept of interpretation and the ability to use the display of virtuosity to highlight the music’s expressive qualities’.