The outstanding Polish pianist, Krystian Zimerman, began to study piano at age 5 with his father, also a pianist. Two years later he became a student of Andrzej Jasiński, with him he later studied at the Katowice Conservatory until his training was completed. In 1973 he won top honors at the Ludwig van Beethoven International Piano Competition in Hradec Kralove. In 1975 he won 1st prize at the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warasaw, which launched his international career. Artur Rubinstein invited Zimerman to Paris in 1976, and this would prove very significant to the development of the young artist.
Krystian Zimerman then played with great success in Munich, London, Paris and Vienna. In 1976 he was soloist with the Berliner Philharmoniker. He made his first American appearance in 1978, and subsequently toured throughout the world to great critical acclaim. He has performed with many exceptional orchestras and worked with some of the world's most outstanding conductors, including Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Herbert von Karajan, Bernard Haitink, Seiji Ozawa, Lorin Maazel, Riccardo Muti, Zubin Mehta, André Previn, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, and Simon Rattle. He has worked many times with Kaja Danczowska, Kyung-Wha Chung, and Gidon Kremer.
Krystian Zimerman's recording career is based on an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, a label for which he has recorded 22 albums that have brought him a number of prestigious awards. His repertoire encompasses the works of Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Edvard Grieg, Béla Bartók, and the chamber music of César Franck and Karol Szymanowski. His performances of the Romantic repertory are remarkable for their discerning spontaneity. He has also played contemporary works, including Lutosŀawski's piano concerto (1988), which is dedicated to him. In 1985 he received the award of the Accademia Chigiana in Siena for best young musician of the year, while in 1994 he was recognized by the Leonie Sopnning Music Foundation in Copenhagen. Since 1984 he has been living in Basel, where he leads master-classes in piano. In 1999 Zimerman created the Polish Festival Orchestra, a chamber orchestra that proved immensely successful during a vast tour organized to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Frédéric Chopin's death.
Krystian Zimerman provides perhaps what is the most spectacular example of success experienced by a winner of the Chopin Competition. Victory in a significant competition does not always guarantee a blooming professional career. In fact, as the number of competitions constantly expands, instances of this are becoming increasingly rare. Amongst winners of the first prize at the Chopin Competition, solely the career of Martha Argerich matched Krystian Zimerman's in terms of rank, though it should be said that they developed differently, probably due to the diverse characters of these two great artists. To a great degree, Martha Argerich acts spontaneously and generally refrains from calculating the consequences of her every decision. Krystian Zimerman's actions on the other hand seem deeply thought out and carefully planned. As a result, they are fewer and farther between. Zimerman generally avoids the limelight, limits the number of live performances he gives, records relatively infrequently. As a result, each artistic endeavor he decides upon is awaited eagerly and closely watched.
This was very much the case with Krystian Zimerman's idea for celebrating the 150th anniversary of the death of Frédéric Chopin, celebrated in 1999. "I have decided that next year I will give a series of concerts in Western Europe, Poland, and in the USA. During these, I will perform both of Frédéric Chopin's piano concertos," said Krystian Zimerman at a news conference held on October 29, 1998, for which the artist came to Warsaw especially after being away from Poland for many years. "I have had the honor of performing these works with some of the greatest conductors from Poland and other countries. I learned something from each one of them and with time, assimilating various ideas and combining them with my own maturing vision of Chopin's concertos, I developed the conviction that I would like to do them on my own 'from a to z,' starting with 'making' the orchestra itself. I do not know if you have noticed that all orchestras today play the same way. Relying on one's ears alone, it is impossible to tell if one is listening to a London orchestra, one that is Parisian, New York-based, or from Tokyo. The recording industry has succeeded in 'globalizing' interpretation. I have trouble finding unique performance characteristics in existing orchestras. In addition, orchestras dislike rehearsing and I love to rehearse, for weeks at a time even. I came to the conclusion that I would have to find a group of people who would share my passion for experimentation and work with them to try to create something that would be a blend of my experiences of the last twenty years."
This, in fact, is precisely what happened. The Polish Festival Orchestra, composed of young Polish musicians, was assembled through extensive auditions over which Zimerman personally presided. The great pianist held innumerable rehearsals with the young musicians and together they embarked on a tour during which they gave over thirty concerts in some of Europe's most significant music institutions, in four Polish cities, and in the United States, among other places at Carnegie Hall. Wherever they want, Krystian Zimerman's appearance was the source of sensation. In Paris an additional concert date was added at the Salle Pleyel. In August 1999, at the Giovanni Agnelli Auditorium in Torino, Deutsche Grammophon recorded both of F. Chopin's concertos in the Polish Festival Orchestra rendition. Within a few weeks the album was published and immediately sold out throughout the world. Krystian Zimerman's concept for the interpretation of the concertos met with extremely varied reactions, which ranged from exuberance on one hand, to accusations of blasphemy on the other.