Yeoman of the Month – Anna Szalucka
One sunny afternoon 20 years ago, a pretty lady showed up in my nursery school asking the children to sing, clap and dance while she accompanied us on piano – great fun! Little did I know that this ‘secret audition’ was about to change everything and from that day the course of my life was to change forever.
Coming from a completely non-musical (or as I like to call it, atonal) family I would probably never have discovered classical musical in its present form if not for this old, effective educational system in Poland. With a wide range of specialist music schools across the country (free of charge!) all you need to do is have a talented child find its way to one of them. Before I knew it, summer was gone, the school year was on and suddenly a beautiful upright ‘Calisia’ appeared in my room. That was it – the beginning of the most difficult and exciting journey. My mother didn’t want to entirely determine my life by sending me to a boarding music school so I attended one in the afternoon, three-to-four times a week. This system, although very tiring for a young child, enabled me to focus on other school subjects that I loved and that’s how I continued my musical education for the next 12 years.
I wouldn’t have been able to finish both primary and secondary music schools without the help and support of the most incredible people – above all my family, piano teachers sometimes acting like my parents or guardians, friends and staff. There were multiple (countless, even) occasions in which I wanted to give up music. Life as a musician – hours of practice and blind dedication – seemed to me too much of a sacrifice. But my heart couldn’t give up and whenever there was an obstacle in my way there was also a kind and supportive person to help me through it. That’s how, despite all the odds, I applied to the Stanisław Moniuszko Academy of Music in Gdańsk (my home city) and started my studies under the supervision of Waldemar Wojtal. The turning point came in 2011 when I participated in the Arthur Rubinstein in Memoriam Piano Competition in Bydgoszcz. This international competition for young pianists opened some very important doors for me in the musical world. I was awarded 2nd Prize and special prizes including concerts and recitals. I could taste the life of a professional pianist and that left me craving for more. It was the first time I had to admit I wanted to be a pianist; something I was trying very hard to deny until that very moment.
Having realised my dreams, I felt an urge to leave the country, try something new and spread my wings so I made my way to Vienna and spent a year studying with Stefan Vladar at the University of Music and Performing Arts. It was an amazing adventure! Vienna for musicians is one of those cities that represent mecca, a place you need to experience at least once in your life. But it was coming to London that really enabled me to establish myself as a pianist and collaborative artist. I was lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music and was admitted into the piano class of Ian Fountain. With generous help and support from the Academy, the rest came very quickly – numerous prizes and competitions including The Jacob Barnes Piano Scholarship, Musicians’ Company Harriet Cohen Bach Prize, Kenneth Loveland Gift award, 3rd Prize in the International Sussex Piano Competition, Janet Duff Greet Piano Recital Prize as well as 2nd Prize and the Audience Prize at the Sheepdrove Intercollegiate Piano Competition. Soon after arriving in London, I was selected by The Musicians’ Company to give my Wigmore Hall debut recital in February 2016. Last November, I was lucky enough to win the 1st Prize together with the Eller, Recital and Orchestra Awards at the 3rd International Tallinn Piano Competition in Estonia – the best example that hard work always pays off eventually!
In the next few months, I’m looking forward to some exciting projects including solo recitals and concerts with my ensemble Bukolika Piano Trio. I’m back in Tallinn to perform in Estonia Concert Hall, St David’s Hall in Cardiff and the Bloomsbury Festival. With the trio I’ll be playing at Wigmore Hall, Philharmonic Hall in Cracow as well as St John’s Smith Square as part of the SJSS Young Artists’ Scheme 2017/18. We will also perform for BBC Radio 3 and take part in Dartington Summer School & Festival where we’ll have the pleasure of coaching chamber ensembles.