Classical pianist with a paralysed arm wins BBC Music Magazine Award

 

Just over a decade ago, acclaimed classical pianist Janina Fialkowska discovered a tumour that would leave her left arm paralysed.

After fears she would never play again, innovative surgery to take a muscle from her back allowed the 61-year old to rebuild her career. Yesterday she was in London to pick up an award for her latest album.

Ms Fialkowska, who has built a reputation as one of the leading Chopin interpreters in the world, told The Independent: “I am an extraordinary lucky person”.

Yesterday, she was awarded best instrumental CD of 2012 at the BBC Music Magazine Awards for her disc Chopin Recital 2. Her one-time mentor Arthur Rubinstein called here a “born Chopin interpreter”.

“I’m overwhelmed by the prize,” she said. “I’ve devoted most of my professional life to the music of Chopin and it’s nice to have my playing recognised in this way.”

Ms Fialkowska, who is part Canadian, part Polish was “pushed into” playing the piano by her mother at the age of four “but I took to it right away.”

She discovered the music of Polish composer Chopin at the age of 11. “I was so blown away at that age, my heart practically stopped. I couldn’t believe anything could be so beautiful. I said, right, that’s what I want to do.” She added that the composer runs in Polish blood.

She has played with orchestras around the world including the Royal Philharmonic, The Scottish National Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

“This is a profession where one improves through years of experience,” Ms Fialkowska said. “When you start it’s all instinct and talent and athleticism. Then you dig deeper and deeper. The deeper you delve into it the more you find.”

On the eve of a European tour in 2002, she discovered a large swelling on her left arm that became too big to ignore. Within 10 days later she was in one of the preeminent cancer centres in the US, and an MRI scan had confirmed the worst.

She said: “When I woke up and they said it was cancer and it would have to come out, I didn’t ask about my lifespan, I asked about whether I could play the piano again.”

Cancer of the arm was so rare that the centre had only seen 16 cases in its history. After the malignant mass was removed, her arm was left paralysed. Two months later, she underwent surgery to reconstruct it, using a muscle taken from her back. 

While Ms Fialkowska had thought she would play again “the only difficult part was after the muscle transfer surgery I was not allowed to move my arm for two months. Then I thought: ‘Did this surgery work?’.”

While her arm remains handicapped, there is enough movement to play the piano. It took five months after the surgery to recover, and seven more to play a concert again. “I had to build up the muscle and teach it what to do. This was a muscle that had been sitting in my back not doing anything,” she said.

While the slightly restricted movement has forced her to reduce the repertoire she plays – “there’s some I won’t touch particularly some Brahms and Liszt” – her style, she said, has actually improved.

“Now I have to give orders to my left hand, which is a result of the surgery I have to rethink all those pieces I played all my life. I’m finding all sorts of wonderful things because I have to concentrate on them. I hope it has brought a new element.”

She is moving to Germany with her husband after 30 years in Connecticut and after an “insanely busy” six months she will scale back her touring.

The cancer returned three times, but after six years free of the disease Ms Fialkowska can plan long term again. “You stop thinking more than one day ahead. Six years free is when you start making plans,” she said.

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power