Artist Interview: Anna Polonsky, piano

By Jessica Wolford on October 12, 2016

Anna Polonsky returns with her husband, Orion Weiss, piano, marking their duo-recital debut with PCMS on Sunday, October 23rd. Ms. Polonsky is a recipient of a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship in 2003 and the Andrew Wolf Chamber Music Award in 2011. I recently spoke with her about the duo's upcoming program, her experience at Curtis, upcoming collaborations, and what it's like performing alongside her husband.

Jessica Wolford: The program on October 23rd includes the Philadelphia premiere of Stephen Hartke’s Piano Sonata for Four Hands. Could you discuss your process of selecting and organizing the pieces for the recital and your connection with the Hartke Sonata?

Anna Polonsky: In selecting pieces for this program, we simply wanted to include some of our favorites in the repertoire. The Mozart F Major sonata is a monumental work, practically a symphony realized on a piano keyboard. Schumann's Bilder are a collection of colorful impromptus, very characteristic of Schumann's musical language, and rich in moments of bittersweet, arresting beauty. The Mendelssohn piece is a sparkling showpiece, perfect for ending a recital. 

The Sonata by Stephen Hartke is a wonderful contemporary work, written several years ago especially for us. It complements the rest of the recital's repertoire with its complex language and color while remaining entirely "accessible" to the engaged listener. At times it is playful, with driving rhythm, or philosophical, as in the fugue finale, or mesmerizingly lyrical. We truly hope that the audience enjoys hearing it as much as we do playing it. 

JW: Your husband Orion Weiss is joining you for this PCMS duo-recital debut. What is it like working together so closely? How might it compare to your other collaborations?

AP: It is very practical to play four-hand repertoire with one's spouse, since "personal boundaries" are no longer an issue. One can be much less apologetic about driving one's elbow into the other's ribs. In this extremely exacting medium, where even the smallest physical gestures influence everything from synchronization to voicing, it takes many years of playing together to grow, so to speak, into a single, four-handed pianist. I would like to think that we have become very good at guessing each other's musical intentions and fusing our personal styles. 

JW: As an alumna of Curtis, how would you say your experience there and in Philadelphia shaped you as an artist?

AP: I owe so much of my musical development to my time at Curtis. It gave me the freedom to enjoy music not as a career choice but as an art, introduced me to extraordinary, inspired colleagues, and made me fall in love with playing chamber music. For whatever it's worth, I would not be half the musician I am today—if at all!—without my experience at Curtis, and later, at the Marlboro Music Festival. 

JW: Lastly, do you have any upcoming performances and/or collaborations that you are particularly excited about?

AP: I am very much looking forward to my February appearance at PCMS with one of my favorite musicians and people, the very special cellist Peter Wiley. Playing with him is transporting to me—I walk away a better musician. 

And in December, Orion and I are making our Carnegie Hall debut as a duo, playing Mozart's two-piano concerto with Jaime Laredo and the NY String Seminar orchestra. 

Anna Polonsky performs with Orion Weiss, piano on Sunday, October 23rd at the American Philosophical Society. For tickets and information, visit the concert page.

For more information on Ms. Polonsky, visit her website.