Celebrity Interview: Janina Fialkowska

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The worst nightmare of any professional pianist must be the loss of movement in their hands or arms. And in 2002, that nightmare came true for Polish-Canadian performer, Janina Fialkowska.

Diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in her left shoulder muscle, Janina was consequently unable to move her left limb and her performances came to a halt.

Undaunted, Janina refused to give up and spent two years learning the concertos and works originally written for the left hand only. She then transcribed them for the right hand.

And Janina’s resilience paid off in 2004 when surgeons completed a rare muscle transfer procedure which eventually allowed the pianist to play the piano with both hands again.

Now Janina is back on tour and preparing to play alongside the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Royal & Derngate in Northampton on January 27. But how did Janina find the strength to cope with that dark time in her career?

She said: “It was sheer stubbornness. I did have the ability to concentrate on the fact that I believed I would play again. I did have moments of complete despair in the middle of the night, but I refused to believe I wouldn’t play again.

“I was 50 years old and had spent my life playing the piano. I had just got married and my husband completely supported me. It did not even cross my mind I wouldn’t play again.

“There were two years when my arm was immobile. I was going to radiotherapy and my husband and I were getting to know each other and I was in one place for the first time in so many years.

“I was actually having a good time. When I look back at that time, the realisation of the horror of it becomes much clearer.

“My left hand was completely paralysed, but the fingers were not affected so I would hold that hand up to the piano and a lot of music had been written for one hand.

“What has changed in my playing now is that I’m far more aware of my left hand. I used to use it as my accompanying hand but now I use it as a right-hand partner.”

Hearing her play, many critics now say Janina’s playing has been given a new lease of life by her ordeal.

Hailed by her mentor, Arthur Rubenstein, as “a born Chopin interpreter,” Janina will play the composer’s Piano Concerto No 2 at her forthcoming concert with the RPO, in a programme which will also contain the Tragic Overture, by Brahms, and Pastoral Symphony, by Beethoven.

“I think it’s really good that people think I’m a born Chopin interpreter. I don’t expect that everyone likes my Chopin interpretations, but what is so vital to me is an understanding of the underlying rhythms. There is a special pulse to all Chopin’s music. I’m playing a Polish dance in Northampton and I understand these Polish rhythms without having to be taught them.”

To book tickets for the concert, which starts at 7.30pm, log on to www.royalandderngate.co.uk or call 01604 624811.