Don't call him a prodigy. Fifteen-year-old Jan Lisiecki hates the term, often leveled at him when classical music lovers hear his passionate performances live or on his debut CD.
"I might be lucky to have talent but this also takes a lot of hard work," he told DigitalJournal.com in a phone interview from his Calgary home. Lisiecki speaks maturely, like he's a man twice his age. "You can say Mozart was a prodigy but for me that term comes after death. With talent comes hard work, and to me 'prodigy' means success comes easy to someone."
To the casual observer, it would seem success has been Lisieck's sidekick since he was seven and competing at Kiwanis Music Festival competitions. Early news reports praised his talent, his composure, his steady hands. He was compared to Mozart. He made his orchestral debut at nine, playing [PDF] with the Calgary Civic Symphony. At that age, Lisiecki became the youngest musician to ever win the Mozart competition at the Calgary Kiwanis Music Festival. He has since performed as a soloist more than 50 times with orchestras in Canada and across the world.
In 2009, CBC TV profiled Lisiecki in a documentary titled The Reluctant Prodigy, publicizing his name from coast to coast. He's also performed numerous times on CBC Radio. Montreal honoured him with the OSM Standard Life Grand Prize, earning him a $10,000 scholarship.
This year, his travel calendar might as well be that of a veteran professional. He has performances scheduled on Aug. 12 to 15 with the Tokai String Quartet at Stratford Summer Music in Ontario, where he'll play a selection of Chopin's music. Later in the month he'll travel once again to Warsaw, Poland (home of his parents) to play at the 6th International Music Festival titled "Chopin and His Europe". He'll delight audiences with Chopin's Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante, and the Introduction and Rondo à la Krakowiak.
Jan Lisiecki, a 15-year-old piano sensation, poses for photographs during a practice session at The Royal Conservatory in Toronto
In September, he'll be gigging all across Atlantic Canada, as he begins his final semester at Western Canada High School. Wait, isn't this schedule too hectic for a 15-year-old?
"If I'm home for more than week, I get restless," he admits. "It’s all about sharing my music, because I don't just play for myself – I play for people. It's such a pleasure to share my music to show audiences how beautiful this music can be."
He's already played in some of the most prestigious classical music venues, such as Carnegie Hall ("wow, Rubinstein played there!"), the Seoul Arts Centre, the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall and many more.
But Lisiecki fans don't just need to see him live to enjoy his talent. The Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Poland released a disc of the teen playing two Chopin concertos with Sinfonia Varsovia and conductor Howard Shelley. The praise poured in: In a four-star review of the CD, BBC Music Magazine called Lisiecki a “remarkable young soloist (who) is perhaps the most ‘complete’ pianist of his age I have encountered.”
Digital Journal staffers are quick to appreciate Lisiecki's talent: "Jan Lisiecki is one of the most incredible pianists I've ever heard," said DigitalJournal.com publisher Janusz Überall. "His interpretation of Frédéric Chopin's Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 offer warmth, lyricism and total confidence. His depth of expression and piano technique put him in the league of the best modern-day pianists. He's young, but I can see why he's being compared to legends such as Maurizio Pollini, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Krystian Zimerman."
The CD (available on iTunes as well) may be Lisiecki's debut but it isn't an album he would wholly call his own. In fact, a major recording company may soon be signing the Calgary pianist but Lisiecki is cautious about revealing any details before a press release has been issued.
Teen boys talking about press releases? Is Lisiecki growing up too fast?
"I still feel like a kid," he says, mentioning his musical influences range from Glenn Gould to jazz to Pink Floyd. "But some say I have an old soul." Indeed, Lisiecki's friends range from his classmates at school to conductors such as Shelley and Boris Brott. He says he befriends not only fellow musicians but festival organizers and concert hosts.
Jan Lisiecki, chatting with an admiring fan outside The Royal Conservatory in Toronto.
Before you think he's too old for his own Daniel Radcliffe looks, he says his hobbies don't just revolve around music. He loves math (his grandmother is a mathematician) and he's got a thing for skiing in Banff with his father. Aviation has always been of interest, and before 9/11 he used to ask to see a pilot's cockpit whenever he could.
He's also a tech enthusiast, already purchasing the iPhone 4 and iPad, and creating his own YouTube channel. "I think putting my concerts on YouTube is important because sometimes people want to book me who haven't heard my music, so this lets them do that," he says.
Lisiecki lives in cowboy country, as Calgary is often called in Canada, and it isn't the kind of city that embraces classical musicians. It's no Vienna. But he says he enjoys the mountainous environment and way of life in Alberta. Granted, his bookings often emerge out of province. "And when I come home, it truly feels like home," he adds.
When it comes to handling media and talking to bookers, Lisiecki's mom helps out. The boy's voice practically glows when he talks about his mother/agent. "It's not easy doing this alone, and she gives me advice about the business side of this life," he says.
One of his highlights of 2010 so far? Lisiecki played for the Queen on Parliament Hill, performing a Bach aria from the Goldberg Variations. "She has this incredible wisdom I admire," Lisiecki gushes.
While most kids might be screaming to meet Lady Gaga or Jay-Z, Lisiecki's stars hail from a different generation, just like his musical inspirations. If this early glimpse into Lisiecki's prowess is any indication, his legacy is just about to begin.
Jan Lisiecki, a young Canadian pianist, during an intense practice session at The Royal Conservatory in Toronto.