Artist Interview: Lydia Artymiw, piano

By Jessica Wolford on October 31, 2016

Pianist Lydia Artymiw is no stranger to the PCMS family. After growing up and studying in Philadelphia, she has had an exceptional career performing all over the world. Ms. Artymiw is a Distinguished McKnight Professor of Piano at the University of Minnesota, where she was granted the 2015 "Excellence in Graduate Teaching" Award. Amidst her teaching and performance schedule, Ms. Artymiw was also prescreening 279 pianists who entered the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition when I contacted her. She graciously found the time to answer my questions about the unique concert on November 21, her memories of Philadelphia, the importance of education, and her upcoming projects. 

Jessica Wolford: Could you discuss how this collaboration with Charles Abramovic, Cynthia Raim, and Natalie Zhu came about? What is your relationship with them?

Lydia Artymiw: The idea for this concert originated with PCMS founder and Artistic Director, Anthony Checchia, and was implemented by PCMS’ current Artistic Director, Miles Cohen.  The two Smetana works (for two pianos, eight hands) were favorites of legendary pianist Rudolf Serkin. Mr. Serkin used to program both the Smetana Sonata and the Rondo at Marlboro (where he would perform both works with three different young pianists), and I’m certain that Tony Checchia still has vivid memories of some of those performances.  Since both the Mozart and Bartók Sonatas are written for two pianos, it made perfect sense for those two “staples” of the two-piano repertoire to be included in a program with the lesser known Smetana two-piano (eight hand) works. And since the Smetana pieces involve all four pianists, they are ideal in a chamber music program featuring two pianos. Having the marvelous Philadelphia Orchestra percussionists, Don Liuzzi and Chris Deviney, playing in the Bartók truly makes a splendid ending to a very unusual program.

Cynthia and I have been good friends and colleagues for many years (since the 80’s), and she and I have performed several two-piano concerts for PCMS in the past 20 years. I’ve known Charlie and Natalie for a long time too, but this will be the first time that we are all working together. I can’t wait!

JW: This program features four pianists with relationships with PCMS and close ties to Philadelphia. Artistically and/or personally, what are your favorite things/memories about this city?

LA: I was born and grew up in Philadelphia, so I have many happy memories. Hearing the Philadelphia Orchestra practically every weekend from 1962 through 1975 or so (after I left Philadelphia) was extremely important for my musical education and had a huge impact on me for the rest of my life. I always love walking through Rittenhouse Square and occasionally enjoy a soft Philadelphia pretzel! The Philadelphia Art Museum and the Barnes Collection are two of my favorite museums in the world, and I go back to both frequently.  I always enjoyed visiting Wanamaker’s and would often listen to the fabulous organ concerts there (yes, I know that it’s Macy’s now!).

JW: You are a professor at the University of Minnesota and, prior to the performance, you will be hosting a masterclass with students at the Curtis Institute. What excites you about education? What do you hope to pass on to your students at UM and those you will meet at Curtis?

LA: I was so fortunate to have had exceptional teachers and mentors, most notably, Gary Graffman, with whom I studied from 1967-1979. In addition to teaching at Curtis for many years, Mr. Graffman was also Director and President of Curtis for more than 30 years. My childhood teacher, Freda Pastor Berkowitz, taught secondary piano at Curtis for nearly 50 years. I have always felt that it is extremely important to pass on so much that I learned from my great teachers to the next generation of students. Teaching has been an important part of my life and career for 30 years, and I aspire to be a good role model and mentor to my students. The most important aspect of teaching is not only to share information but also to share the love and passion I feel for the music with the students. It’s also important for the students to invest time in studying historical and musicological aspects of the repertoire they are playing in order to know all aspects of the music. A master class should be educational but also inspiring, and that is my ultimate goal.

JW: Is there a piece from the November 21 recital that you are particularly looking forward to presenting?

LA: I love all of the music in this program, but I especially look forward to performing the Mozart Sonata for Two Pianos, K. 448 with Cynthia Raim. Cynthia and I performed the Mozart nearly 20 years ago for another PCMS concert in which we did an entire two-piano concert. But this time, we are playing different parts, so it will be like a new experience!

JW: Do you have any upcoming projects or collaborations that you’d like to share?

LA: My dear friend and wonderful colleague, cellist Marcy Rosen and I are preparing the complete cello/piano repertoire by Felix Mendelssohn for an upcoming recording project for the Bridge label. We’ll be recording the two cello sonatas, variations, and the “Song without Words” and Andante in January 2017. Judith Sherman will be the producer. I love Mendelssohn’s music and am very excited to be part of this recording.

Lydia Artymiw performs with Charles Abramovic, Cynthia Raim, and Natalie Zhu on Monday, November 21 at the Perelman Theater in the Kimmel Center. For tickets and information, visit the concert page.

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