Meet Theresia: Anna KrzyżakBy Emilia Campagna
January 27, 2022
Let’s meet another new member of Theresia: Anna Krzyżak, viola player from Poland, joined the orchestra after the Salzburg auditions and participated in her first orchestral residency.
Anna, tell us about your musical history: when and how did you start to play the viola?
I started to play the violin when I was 7. My father’s sisters are violinists, so I remember music around me all the time. There is this photo with me and my aunt when I was one year old, taken during Christmastime. In the picture, I am just sitting next to her legs and listening to her playing (no idea what) with my eyes and head directed up. Just a few months before graduation from primary music school, I decided I didn’t want to play any more and I wanted to ski, as I used to take part in some skiing youth contests. And I thought that was it, but no! I took part in a violin competition which my parents recorded. When I listened to myself, I felt like the music was inside me, and I simply couldn’t live without it. It was just a few weeks before the entrance exam to the secondary music school. In the last year of primary music school, I was also a private student of Szymon Krzeszowiec (Silesian String Quartet), and he suggested that I switched to viola. So I went to a viola teacher to see what that was about. It was like a true love’s kiss. He gave me his viola and told me to play whatever I wanted. So I played one of Telemann’s Phantasies for violin solo. I remember I had shivers, and it was unforgettable. Łukasz Syrnicki (also a member of Silesian String Quartet) was my viola teacher for six years, and he’s been my mentor since then.
When and why did you decide to focus on historical performance?
I owe it all to my first viola teacher – Łukasz Syrnicki. Bach’s Cello Suites are obligatory pieces for violists as well, and my teacher always encouraged me to look for something deeper than just notes. I remember that he kept sending me recordings of amazing artists such as Paolo Pandolfo to get inspired. And I did! Initially, I had no idea what to do with that and how to play early music, but I was trying to get closer to what I heard. When I went to Berlin for an Erasmus exchange, I studied with Simone Jandl, who plays in the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. She showed me some basics and that was in 2019. During my studies at the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music, I also had a baroque course with Bernhard Forck and that’s when I decided I wanted to focus on performing early music. I bought my very first baroque bow that year, as well as the viola, which I got a few months later. Then I met stunning musicians in Poland – Martyna Pastuszka, Marcin Świątkiewicz, Aureliusz Goliński and many more who introduced me to the world of historically informed performance. I am so grateful to each of them, they helped me to understand and to perform early music the way I always wanted to.
How do you balance the fact of playing both modern and period instrument?
It’s tricky, but I’m getting used to it! The biggest difficulty is tuning. When I play the modern instrument one week and the next week the period one, it’s totally fine, as I need one or two days to be comfortable on these violas. But when I have a rehearsal in the morning playing the modern viola and then in the afternoon playing the baroque instrument, that’s crazy. Apart from that, I reckon I became a better modern instrumentalist when I learned how to play the period instrument. The sound production is so much easier on metal strings than the gut strings. Now I can feel the instrument itself, not just the strings. It is very inspiring for me to adjust to two instruments and to see how much I can affect them both with my right and my left hand. I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t played the period instrument.
How did you know about Theresia, and why did you decide to join it?
I saw one of my friends on tour with an orchestra I had no idea about. It was before I started playing the baroque viola. Since then, I kept an eye on Theresia’s Facebook page and when I saw there was an audition, I thought: why shouldn’t I try? And I am more than happy that I did!
Your first experience was an orchestral project: how was it? Had you already worked with Alfredo Bernardini?
It was my very first time working with Alfredo Bernardini, and I was amazed by his knowledge and attitude. I met new friends during my first residency, with whom I am still in touch. I have to admit that my favourite moment of that project was the chamber music jam session. Likewise, I loved it! Playing in the orchestra is fantastic, but I feel like chamber music is something that suits me most. And that’s another thing I like about period music – we perform in smaller groups than a big symphony orchestra, and I feel it’s more like chamber music.
You made your solo debut with an orchestra at the age of 13: what did this experience mean to you? Are you more a soloist, an orchestral player or a chamber music one?
It was one of the most amazing moments of my life, on that day I realized I have the soloist’s attitude. Playing as a soloist is something I like most, but I don’t want to be labelled as a soloist or a chamber musician or an orchestra player, as I do love performing: music is the most important thing. It’s remarkable how different those positions are and how much I can explore and learn from playing as a soloist or in the orchestra and chamber music.
You have studied mostly in Poland, your country, but also spent a year in Berlin thanks to the Erasmus project: what is in your opinion the importance of studying abroad for a young musician?
I encourage everyone to study abroad. Music is an international language, but people differ one from another and music is somehow affected by the culture we belong to. That is why it’s essential to see the point of view of someone who didn’t grow up where we did. Moreover, the different teaching attitude also matters, it’s good to experience different sorts of lessons. I learned a lot in Berlin, not only from my teachers but also from my friends. I’m aware of many things I couldn’t have done if I had stayed in Poland.
During a residency like Theresia’s one, you find yourself working with musicians from many countries, how is it like? Do you think this fact enhances your experience?
As I said, meeting people from around the world is one of the most beautiful experiences. When we get to know each other, we can see something from another point of view. That’s very beautiful because then you can notice things you couldn’t see. You become a more conscious person and musician at the same time. It makes you understand the music and the world better.
How important is music and music education in Poland?
Unfortunately, classical music in Poland is not connected to our culture. Music education in random schools doesn’t encourage children and teenagers to listen to it; I would say it’s the opposite, unfortunately. People who are not classical musicians show almost no interest in classical music: not everyone, of course, but in general. I’d love it to change, but I am not sure if it’s possible. But higher musical education is on a pretty high level. It depends on the school, of course, but I can see many more young musicians getting better and better both at playing and understanding the music.
What do you like more about your country, regarding music and generally speaking?
What I like about my country is the Baltic Sea. I love the sea! I live quite far away from it, but it’s not a problem to get on a train and be there in around seven hours.
How is a typical day of yours? What do you like to do when you are not studying/playing?
In the morning I have to have breakfast, always salty! I wish I did more jogging, but I stretch at least. Then it depends on the day: I may have lessons, rehearsals, or I may teach. When my husband and I are back from our duties, we have dinner at home – my husband cooks great, so it’s always super tasty! Evenings are ours. We sit on one sofa and watch a film or talk about music, inspiring each other. I knit, and it relaxes me. I do it whenever I can but mostly in the evenings. And then we can all stay warm in winter thanks to my hand-knitted beanies, scarfs and sweaters.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Musically speaking, I would love to be a mentor to someone, but I’m not sure if 10 years is enough to be in this place. I see myself on stage. I dream of becoming a soloist, and who knows what is going to happen. For now, I don’t want to say if I want to be more into modern or baroque viola, and I don’t have to choose. That’s wonderful! Apart from music, I want to be a mum. Having kids is the most amazing thing in the world, and I look forward to becoming one.