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Krystian Zimerman's shocking Disney Hall debut

April 27, 2009 | 12:24 am

Getprev Poland's Krystian Zimerman, widely regarded as one of the finest pianists in the world, created a furor Sunday night in his debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall when he announced this would be his last performance in America because of the nation's military policies overseas.

Before playing the final work on his recital, Karol Szymanowski’s "Variations on a Polish Folk Theme," Zimerman sat silently at the piano for a moment, almost began to play, but then turned to the audience. In a quiet but angry voice that did not project well, he indicated that he could no longer play in a country whose military wants to control the whole world. 

“Get your hands off of my country,” he said.  He also made reference to the U.S. military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  

About 30 or 40 people in the audience walked out, some shouting obscenities.  “Yes,” he answered, “some people when they hear the word military start marching.”

Others remained but booed or yelled for him to shut up and play the piano.  But many more cheered.  Zimerman responded by saying that America has far finer things to export than the military, and he thanked those who support democracy.

For the first half of the recital, Zimerman had played a Bach Partita and Beethoven’s last piano sonata, Opus 111, with firm determination.  After intermission he made a last minute substitution, exchanging late Brahms works for a 1953 sonata by Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz.  The Szymanowski variations, which closed the program, was played with an astonishing ferocity that brought nothing but tumultuous cheers.  There was no encore.

The pianist was not available after the concert for further comment.

Zimerman has had problems in the United States in recent years.  He travels with his own Steinway piano, which he has altered himself.  But shortly after 9/11, the instrument was confiscated at JFK Airport when he landed in New York to give a recital at Carnegie Hall.  Thinking the glue smelled funny, the TSA decided to take no chances and destroyed the instrument.  Since then he has shipped his pianos in parts, which he reassembles by hand after he lands.  He also drives the truck himself when he carries his instrument from city to city over land, as he did after playing a recital in Berkeley on Friday.

MONDAY UPDATE: Review: Krystian Zimerman's controversial appearance at Disney Hall 

TUESDAY UPDATE: What led to Krystian Zimerman's surprising comments, walkouts

-- Mark Swed

Photo: Krystian Zimerman in 2005. Credit: Kasslara.

Comments () | Archives (584)

OK Mr. Zimmerman - My life will not be affected by you not coming back to America. For some reason you think I care, I don't. Have a good day.

Who cares what Krystian says?

If he needs the money he'll come back!

Too bad those who left didn't instead stand together to sing America the Beautiful while the fool played. That would have been a classic response!

I don't blame him.

We don't need US Military bases in Germany anymore. Nor do we need them in other countries. It costs taxpayers money and pisses off the country's citizens.

At last someone told the true about USA

maestro, thanks you very much.

to the american citizens: there were not "polish nazi death camp" as your journalists wrote. but still there is guantanamo, cuba.

Perhaps Mr. Zimerman had yet another snafu with the TSA regarding importing his piano, and because of that, decided not to perform in this country again? Then he decided to go out with a bang and air his political opinions simultaneously. They destroyed the first Steinway in 2001 and impounded another for 5 days in 2006, preventing him from practicing before a performance. I can't say I blame him for going bonkers over that.

The glue smelled funny ???

Based on true story.....

Go Zimerman, and take the Dixie Chicks with you! In June 2008 Zimerman said he would no longer perform in the USA, due to the Iraq War. Hopefully Comrade Zimerman will keep his promise this time.

What a jerk. Hates the USA, but is still here to take our money. Let's be sure to leave him stay in his country. Please, let's not invite him back.

American people wake up! Zimmerman's done the good job !!
Im waiting for somebody who tells the same or even more !
Who is responsible for 9/11 ?? Why there is more and more military troops in Iraq, Pakistan, Afganistan?? What about Patriot Act????

Thank you, Krystian Zimerman. I support everyone who says NO to the US militarism. Think fellow Americans, today your army stays mostly abroad. Some day it will be used interim against you. Take care and don't let the goverment to impose the martial law. Then every one of you will be suspected! Ant that will be in the name of fighting terrorism.

All I can say is "Bravo!"

He was right. The truth hurts. Go Usa, the land of hypocrisy.

Dosen't like our country but hes willing to take our money. If you dont like our Country stay out and dont come back. He's obviously a talented pianist so do what any good Pianist would do shut up and play. Everyone is taking shots at the US when are we as american stop cherring and stand up and say im proud to live in the best country in the world.



He's protesting Guantanamo Bay and US military policy now? After a new President has vowed to close the facility and 7 years after our forays overseas? He's a bit Charlie-come-lately, especially if he's spent the last 7 years touring the US (as you report) raising his profile and accepting payment for his concerts. I guess he has no problem accepting American dollars from his US fans.

Frankly, I'm as incensed at our previous government as he apparently is, but he's come to our country as a guest, so it seems the height of rudeness to badmouth his hosts while happily profiting from it. I would be less skeptical if he had made his comments from Poland. Or making them right before a concert (after people have paid for the tickets). So forgive me if I think his 'outrage' sounds a bit disingenuous.

If it wasn't for our military, Mr. Zimerman, your country would still be under the iron fist of the Soviet Union.

He said the USA " has far finer things to export than the military, and he thanked those who support democracy"

Maybe he should thank the US military for bringing democracy to Poland. Without our military (and Ronald Reagan) he'd still be living behind the Iron Curtain and probably be making much less money with his talent.

Hey Hugh Grant: if you are truly an American, go back to school and learn proper grammar and spelling.

It's really funny, most of you tell if you hate USA don't come here. I agree completely with you, just you're pleased to do the same with your army and offensive politic. But I'm quite sure, that one of those days you will fill even on your territory how it hurts,
To Guy Thompto : you're wrong on whole line ! There were no one single GI in Poland those years, I can insure you, I were there at this period... And if your military could be in Berlin at time as Mr Churchill precognized, you could maybe save some millions of lives. But it's almost better to do business to sell the guns to outside isn't ?

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