Thirteen Strings: Janina Fialkowska’s moved by Mozart

Janina Fialkowska. Photo: Julien Faugère

In Bavaria, in the town of Augsburg, winter has not descended on Janina Fialkowska. Climate change has changed weather patterns there too.

But she knows that snow and ice awaits when she lands in Ottawa on Feb. 18 for a concert with the Thirteen Strings chamber orchestra.

“I’ll be prepared,” she said. Although she won’t be doing any skiing.

“I actually promised Arthur Rubenstein some 45 years ago that I wouldn’t ski. I used to ski happily but he was worried I would fall and break something and put an end to everything so I said I wouldn’t ski anymore. I didn’t say that about skating.” Perhaps she’ll take a twirl on the Rink of Dreams.

Janina Fialkowska with a orchid that was named in her honour by the horticultural society in Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany.

She will be participating in a concert that marks Kevin Mallon’s 10th anniversary as the music director of Thirteen Strings.

“It’s a nice celebration.He’s an old friend of my husband’s too. Kevin was a member of Tafelmusik when it was the orchestra in residence for my husband’s festival in Bavaria. He knew Kevin way before I knew him.”

Fialkowska is known for her interpretation of Chopin but this time in Ottawa she’ll be playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12, in A major.

“This is one of my regulars. I have recorded it with the Chamber Players of Canada. I love this piece.

“Mozart wrote it so it could be played either with strings alone — no oboe or bassoon — which is what we are going to do or with a string quartet or with orchestra. That makes it extremely flexible. It’s a wonderful piece to have in one’s repertoire because a lot of places don’t have full orchestras.

“He wrote four concertos, three in 1783 all with the option to be played full orchestra or strings alone. He wrote them for himself to play and to make money. They are wonderfully pianistic because he was a wonderful pianist. They are extremely interesting and entertaining. This is a very entertaining piece, very upbeat with a beautiful slow movement.

“It’s almost like chamber music; we have to really listen to each other. I love that connection. The advantage of knowing a piece so well I can do so much more with it. I am capable of really paying attention to them not just concentrating totally on me.”

She says it’s nice to have good partners with whom to perform.

“Sometimes I know they won’t be very good and that can be a real burden. But I am totally happy about Thirteen Strings.”

She has played with many of them before.

Fialkowska has also just released a new recording of music by French composers including Ravel, Debussy, Poulenc, Faure and two lesser knowns including one woman, Germaine Tailleferre, and Emmanuel Chabrier.

This recording, she said, is a return to music that was very influential in her youth.

Why this now?

“It seemed very right. I have been doing a lot of other recordings, mostly Chopin and also Schubert and I thought my first 19 years was very much in the French school. All my teachers trained in Paris. I did an awful lot of this repertoire very early on.

One of her teachers, Yvonne Lefébure, had worked with Ravel on the two pieces she plays on this album.

“I just thought that before I pop off, I wanted to make a CD of some of this music. I have played so much in my life and I’ve loved it so much in my life.

“I was a real francophile, not only the music, but the literature too. I was madly in love with Paris. It meant everything to me. All my holidays in those days were spent in France. It was my second home.”

Bavaria is today her first home, but “I had no relationship with Germany at that time.”

There is a strong connection to Chopin who loved most of his short life in Paris.

“He’s at the root of these French composers and they all admit it, especially Debussy and Ravel. They both would study Chopin’s scores before writing themselves.”

Fialkowska is touring across Canada this winter. Most of the concerts are recitals and she will play a lot of the French music from the CD.

Coming back to this music in a serious way, she found that because “I am older and more experienced now, to come back to this music with 50 years of experience and discover it fresh and new, it was an incredible joy. I spent a year preparing it and I found the music to be even better than I remembered. Of course I would because I know a lot more now. I can recognize a lot more now in the music.”

These days Fialkowska says she is “very much having the time of her life.

That must be the case when the local horticultural society names an orchid after you.

“I have a lovely garden that we started four years ago. My  husband and I have gotten quite passionate about flowering bushes and roses and other things which we grow. I had never attempted an orchid. Then at the botanical garden here in Augsburg they created this orchid for me and I have it in the house.

“They gave me two of them.They are a pink with little red dots in it. I am looking after them very carefully and I hope they will be alive after I come back after five weeks on tour in Canada.”

Thirteen Strings presents Mozartmania
With Janina Fialkowska
Where: Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre
When: Feb. 18 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.