Janina's Blog

Fear, Food, Faith, Fulfillment and further …

by Janina Fialkowska

More magnets for my collection
More magnets for my collection


I fully intended to write, this 65th Birthday year, a monthly essay chronicling my adventures around the world. Ah, but as we all know, the proverbial road to hell is paved with such good intentions and I faltered already by the third month; too tired, too stressed, too busy and, I admit, perhaps too lazy?


So here I am in the 12th month having played my final concert of the year, and having quickly planted my tulip bulbs before the hard frost comes to Bavaria, ready to look back and collect my impressions to be recorded here on my computer for anyone who may be vaguely interested.


I started by getting out my calendar and looking at all the places  I had frequented in 2016; the list is quite terrifyingly long and varied and I’m not quite sure how I managed it all without collapsing somewhere along the line.


But how do I write about it all and not have my words turn into an incredibly boring list of times and places?


I think I will divide it up into thematic paragraphs and impressions and see what happens.


Shall I start with my favourite topic? That would be FOOD.




I did have some memorable meals along the way; After my recital at the Cheltenham festival, I was taken to a fabulous restaurant in a wonderful old stone Cotswold manor house out in the country ... I had the most delicious Dover Sole and a white chocolate pudding/concoction to die for. The whole Cheltenham experience was pure fun; it is not only one of Britain’s premier music festivals but it is, of course, one of the great horse-racing centers of the world; anyone who is a fan of Dick Francis mysteries (and I am a huge fan) will know this bit of information so I was doubly thrilled to be there. There was also, in Cheltenham itself an excellent restaurant with a Santa Fe theme serving Southwestern American meals! And incidentally, the audience I played for was one of the most attentive ever.


After my Toronto recital in October, we went out to a diner just across the street from the Jane Mallett theatre and I had scrumptious Eggs Benedict, something I only permit myself to eat if I feel the concert has gone well and, in this case it had … so I ate blissfully guilt-free.


St John, New Brunswick, has a remarkable street market where one can find (unusually for a smaller Canadian town) some top restaurants specializing in fish, including an Asian bistro serving the freshest crab cakes imaginable.


And finally I can’t talk about restaurants without mentioning Quebec city where I not only performed with the orchestra this year, but I also recorded my annual CD ( Chopin recital 3) at the Palais Montcalm with my friends from ATMA  Classique and the best piano technician in the world ( Marcel Lapointe) in attendance. Lunch invariably finds me in a little hole-in-the-wall Lebanese restaurant near the Hall, and for dinner I have my three favourite bistros all within walking distance either in the old part of the city or on the Rue Saint Jean.


In Warsaw, where I performed the Paderewski concerto a few weeks ago, we found a marvelous restaurant along the Nowy swiat street specializing in Polish food and I had quite literally the best Golapkis (stuffed cabbage) ever. For such a hearty dish, it was exquisitely flavoured and melted in one’s mouth.


Home cooked meals were extremely welcome starting with my dearest friend Linn in London, England, with whom I always stay when in England and who makes it her mission in life to try and keep my neurotic behavior in check. She regularly plies me with delicious, healthy meals for which I am truly grateful.


Then there was a fantastic Roast Chicken dinner in Belfast, Northern Ireland, at the home of a very dear new friend who took pity on a restaurant-weary pianist. Belfast was not at all what I expected; all I had known about it came from news reports I had seen during the ‘troubles’ twenty or thirty years ago. What I actually found was a pleasant, interesting, lively town with a very imposing University, the nicest people imaginable and lots of music lovers. Usually I am terrified when I know the recital is being recorded (in this case for the BBC) but everyone was so supportive, I almost forgot to be nervous!


I played over thirty concerts in Canada in 2016, divided into three separate trips. Between concerts I was sometimes fortunate enough to be near my brother’s home on Lake Ontario and was lucky enough to be there for the Thanksgiving meal; bliss! At the other end of Canada I did a West Coast tour (always a favourite of mine as I love riding the ferries from island to island and I actually like the super-sweet Nanaimo bars) and in Victoria my cousins threw me a wonderful dinner where we all got together and exchanged news over delectable pacific salmon.


Which segues into the next topic which would be FRIENDS.




These are my ‘oldest’ friends, mainly in Canada. You must remember that I have been going back to all of these Canadian cities regularly over the past 40  years so strong friendships develop; I’m thinking of Jan and Jean Narveson; I have played at least 30 recitals over the years in their living room for the Kitchener/Waterloo Chamber Music Society and I was there again this Fall.


Then there is Joanna in Squamish who I’ve known since the very beginning of my Piano Six days ( a long time) , who took us up on the Gondola to the top of a mountain overlooking Howe Sound and the surrounding mountain ranges..breathtaking views everywhere you looked.


And Clark, at the Aeolian Hall in London , Ontario, who I would say with certainty is perhaps the most important person in that community for all the work he does promoting music of every kind and getting people ( and a great many children), involved. The Aeolian is a cozy, atmospheric place in which to play and the piano there is excellent ... something that is not always the case in North America.


There is also Frances in Sechelt along the BC Sunshine Coast, who runs one of the best recital series in Canada. I have known Frances literally all of my professional life since she used to work for the CBC in Montreal where I grew up.


Nicola in Winnipeg is one of my best friends and no one can make Scotch eggs like Nicola. She has been driving me around Winnipeg from rehearsals to interviews , back to the hotel, to her place and to receptions for years. She had her work cut out for her this time as I had a recital in Vancouver the day before, caught a 6 am flight to Calgary where I changed planes and arrived in Winnipeg just in time for Nicola to whisk me to my first rehearsal with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra (Beethoven four … a real treat with Scott Yoo conducting) at one o’clock, then an interview at four and a chat with music lovers at a music shop at 6. Nicola also had a big party for me (with Scotch eggs) after the performance; she is amazing.


I did 5 concerts this Fall with my friend the German conductor Bernhard Gueller ( who comes from a town just down the road from us) with his Nova Scotia Symphony and then when we both were guests with the New Brunswick Symphony. What a pleasure it was and our pre-concert talks became more and more hilarious as time went on. It is such a relief to play with a conductor one can trust completely.


And I saw Adriano again! I had a huge crush Adriano when I was fifteen and he was nineteen and we were both participating in the summer course of Madame Lefebure at St Germain-en-Laye outside of Paris. Adriano now runs the big international music festival in Sintra, Portugal and had invited me to play an all-Chopin recital in May. Sintra is a magical place and I bought some wonderful tiles for our kitchen there but the real highlight was seeing Adriano again after fifty years. He hasn’t changed … I mean he REALLY hasn’t changed except perhaps there is a little less hair on his head. It was such a pleasure seeing him again and being in Portugal ... although I wish they didn’t start their concerts so late; 10.30pm ... Hard to keep awake.


Recording a live recital for the CBC is a very rare occurrence. In the old days practically every second concert I played in Canada was recorded by either the CBC or Radio Canada. But those days are long gone due to severe budget cuts in recent years. Which makes it all the more extraordinary that one of my most cherished supporters , producer Denise Ball, managed to organize a recital for me in the legendary ‘Studio One’ in CBC Vancouver building that was not only recorded but was also filmed, with a live audience. I was pretty scared beforehand but Denise is a very reassuring figure to have by me before I step onto the stage. The concert was a success … but naturally I was an exhausted wreck afterwards!


Lastly two childhood friends from Montreal : Elspeth, who was instrumental in bringing me to Hexham Cathedral where I played a recital in September. She lives in Northumberland near Hexham and I stayed with her as did my other, brilliant friend Flora who flew over from Canada for the event! We had a wonderful get-together and even found a moment to visit nearby Hadrian’s wall on a very sunny morning. To have the time to do such a pleasant, touristy thing on tour is rare. Rarer still that I was able to enjoy the beautiful morning with my two oldest friends.


My concert in Kingston, Ontario was one of my favourite concerts of 2016. I played the Paderweski concerto for the first time in 12 years and the orchestra and conductor (the enthusiastic and utterly reliable Evan Mitchell) had never done it before. It was like a huge adventure because we were all so excited about the piece, and it was so pleasant in the Bader hall with a wonderful instrument, a bunch of friends in the audience and everything organized with the utmost efficiency. The Paderewski concerto is a forgotten treasure; it has one of the most touching slow movements and lush , romantic themes throughout with a rousing finish … audiences lap it up and I wish there were more conductors around with enough gumption to put it on their programs.


I discovered this year that the so–called ‘smaller ‘ Canadian orchestras have all made tremendous strides forward over the past ten years; Edmonton ( which has become an impressive Classical orchestra), and the orchestras of Calgary, Kitchener/ Waterloo and Quebec. I mostly played Chopin concertos and with each of these orchestras I was impressed by their high level of performance and their friendliness. I also saw a great number of new and young faces and four new concertmasters. Canadian orchestras are young, vibrant and in fine form.


My next few paragraphs are about FEAR.




You’d think after all these years I wouldn’t be afraid anymore … think on … I’m just as scared , if not more so before performances and this year was no exception. But the worst concerts for nerves are the life-broadcasts, and if they happen to be for television, they are quite terrifying! In Tokyo my recital was filmed for television, but the clever Japanese have cameras that are tiny and can be operated by remote control so that after a while one actually forgets about them; which is a good thing.


My concert in Augsburg, the day after my birthday, was pretty scary. I was playing two Mozart concertos with the marvelous and lovely-to-work-with , London-based Sacconi quartet, AND a Mozart sonata all being recorded for the Bavarian radio. The program was a real killer (playing Mozart is sometimes akin to walking on eggs and SO much Mozart on one program is quite beyond the pale.) I had to be so concentrated I felt my head bursting by the end of the evening. Hopefully everyone enjoyed it; it’s hard to go wrong with such uniquely gorgeous music.


At the Duzniki Chopin Festival (the world’s longest running piano Festival) I was in danger of being thoroughly intimidated by all the other performers. The fact is the Festival consisted of about only three old timers like myself and about twenty first prize winners from the world’s top piano competitions of the past five years… whiz kids who never miss a note… something I find thoroughly irritating. My recital was also recorded for Polish radio just to add to the stress…. but I survived… one does.


My concert with the London Mozart Players in May, should have been a doddle as it was K415 which I had just played in Augsburg and Nottingham. However, the conductor canceled and we ended up with only a twenty minute rehearsal immediately (and I mean IMMEDIATELY) before the performance. I had an excellent replacement conductor from Spain, Jaime Martin, but we saw each other for only a very  a short time (46 minutes in all counting the performance) which is a shame because he was impressive and seemed to have a very upbeat and confidant personality ... an absolute necessity that evening!


And speaking of Spain, I played De Falla’s “Nights in the gardens of Spain” in Madrid with one of the best conductors I know: Grzegorz Nowak. But the organization was somewhat erratic and for one rehearsal I ended up waiting four hours for the piano which had mysteriously disappeared. I loved being in Madrid, though, and we stayed on an extra day just to wander about and eat tapas (oh, that should go into my FOOD section) and visit the Prado and just marvel at the beauty of the city and its parks and trees.


There were plenty of Master Classes dotted across the landscape, at the Chopin University in Warsaw, and at the Royal College in London, the Glenn Gould Royal conservatory in Toronto, Dalhousie where I listened amongst others to pupils of Lynn Stodola, my colleague from  Juilliard days ... far in the past … and lots of other places. So many terrific young pianists in the world today; it cheers one up amidst all the horror in our current world.


My summer Festival tour in Canada is something I look forward to every year. 2016 found me in Ottawa, Niagara-on–the-lake (where I stocked up on Greaves’ jams and marmalade) and Parry Sound where Harry and I took a day off and hiked in nearby Kilbear Provincial park. The park is situated right on Georgian Bay with magnificent views, beautiful beaches and intriguing rock formations; it reminded me why so many foreigners come to Canada and never want to leave.




My last recital of the year was in Memmingen, Bavaria, a delightful town about an hour from home. I love giving concerts in places which are close enough to home so that I can sleep in my own bed afterwards. The audience was filled with family and friends and I played the Chopin program that I had been using all year. It was my best recital. I shall label this nice little paragraph FULFILLMENT.




And lastly, I’d like to tell you which concert was my favourite and about FAITH. It was a recital in St Asaph, Wales (a true beauty spot), given in the St Asaph cathedral which is the UK’s smallest and an absolute jewel. As I waited in the wings, the Bishop addressed the audience and gave a little prayer in English and in Welsh. The nice part was that although he prayed for everyone, he also had a little bit just for me; that I should enjoy my experience and have a good concert. I’m not a terribly religious person but his words touched me and when I walked out to the piano, I felt as though I was walking on air. It was a lovely feeling, having God on my side.


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