A class of his own

Pianist Piotr Anderszewski does not like trying to pin down his own style. He is an artist who doesn’t fit neatly into categorization, who plays music that moves him, regardless of era or style.

“Don’t try to define the indefinable,” Anderszewski said from his hotel in Rome when pressed on the matter. “Good art defies the rules, and good art is an exception.”

At 33, the Polish-Hungarian pianist is already defying the rules. He is a rising star on the piano, already a well-known name in Europe. But he acknowledges that he is still young and perfecting his own style. He is the most recent winner of the Gilmore Artist Award — a prestigious prize handed out every four years by the Gilmore Keyboard Festival in Michigan. What makes the prize special is that it is awarded not for a single competition but for the evaluated pianism and musicianship over an extended period of time. Anderszewski won for his power and refinement. He uses dynamics, especially those softer and subtler, to great effect, and his technical proficiency on the keyboard is startlingly original and mature. He felt pleased and validated by the award.

“It was such a wonderful surprise . . . it encourages you,” he says. “I’m so self-critical anyway.”

Anderszewski doesn’t like listening to his own recordings after making them. In fact, he doesn’t listen to music much at all. He would rather be moved by other art forms.

He plays artists as diverse as Bach, Mozart, Webern and Janacek but says Beethoven is closest to his heart.

“There is incredible joy in Beethoven . . . the rhythmic power and invention, and in his early music, a happiness,” he says.

He has favorites from the 20th century, though he doesn’t care for contemporary composers: “What can you write today after all that has been written? We are at a dead end in terms of new composition. Nobody listens to contemporary compositions.”

So Anderszewski plays pieces that speak the most to him. He is a perfectionist but knows that true perfection doesn’t exist. He is constantly pushing himself. His playing is conscious of the past, but he approaches each piece with his own elements of style.

“You shouldn’t try to play what you think the composer wanted,” he says, “because you’ll never know.”

So he comes from a different angle, constantly searching and growing. Listening to him, one hears an exacting pianist. His fingers are nimble; his inflections — both rhythmic and tonal — are subtle and full of passion, intensity and knowledge.

Anderszewski was born in Poland and resides in Paris when not on the road. He is fairly new to American audiences, but through touring he hopes to attract greater attention.

Anderszewski makes his second swing through Portland beginning Saturday, March 1, playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major with the Oregon Symphony and guest conductor Yakov Kreizberg. The program also features Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D major. It’s Anderszewski’s debut with the symphony and his first time working with Kreizberg. He admits that playing with an orchestra is not his favorite setup, preferring recitals instead.

“Recitals give you more freedom and time. A recital builds an evening,” he said.

While playing solo is freer and more expressive for him, he does enjoy playing in all formats.

“It all depends on who you work with,” he says.

KYLE O’BRIEN, The Oregonian