For the August edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Katarzyna Kluczykowska, a second year graduate student in Juilliard’s Historical Performance program. Born in Krakow, Poland, and raised in Warsaw, Katarzyna studied music in Poland and Germany before receiving a Fulbright Scholarship to continue studying the harpsicord at Juilliard. Read on to learn more about Katarzyna’s experience as an early music musician, world traveler, and Juilliard student.
You began studying piano at six years old. When did you begin to play the harpsichord and what made you decide to focus on the harpsichord rather than the piano?
I began to play the harpsichord when I was 19 years old. I decided to focus on the harpsichord because I simply fell in love in its sound and its touch and also it opened up a new world of the early music repertoire for me. I was totally amazed and enchanted by its charm.
For those readers less familiar with the Historical Performance program, can you explain how it compares to programs focused on contemporary classical music?
The Historical Performance program focuses on the early music repertoire, mainly on the 17th and 18th century. It is very intense and extremely fascinating- we have the opportunity to participate in very interesting projects with the biggest experts in the early music world, for instance Masaaki Suzuki, Jordi Savall or William Christie, just to name a few. We play a lot of chamber music, much more than solo repertoire. Nevertheless, as a harpsichordist I have the opportunity and pleasure to work with three great teachers- Peter Sykes, Béatrice Martin and Richard Egarr. It is a big honor to have lessons with such amazing musicians who have very strong opinions about historical performance practice. We also have many symposiums with both performing musicians and musicologists which are inspiring and helpful. Not to mention history of 17th and 18th century music lessons which give us a lot of important information, but also serve as a platform for us to share questions and doubts. All of HP students learn how to deal with basso continuo practice which is essential for baroque chamber music. We play on copies of periodic instruments what enables us to sound lighter and livelier and more authentic.
Do you feel there are any misconceptions about early music? If so, please describe.
I think for some people the early music might be hard to interpret. Most of the time the pieces have no dynamic markings, they are filled with a lot of ornaments, and this is only the beginning of all troubles. Obviously we do not have recordings of musicians from that era so unfortunately we can’t hear how they played then, how they sounded. We can copy their instruments, but it is hard to copy their performance practice. But with help of numerous sources, we can try to imagine how they worked and how they understood their music. I think that nowadays there is more and more musicians interested in the whole context of music-making, not only from renaissance and baroque, but also from classic and romantic period. It is important not to just look at the score and play all the notes, but try to understand deeper layers of the piece and the cultural and historical influences. What I like about playing early music is that sometimes we can perform totally forgotten pieces which beauty and style can transport us a view centuries back.
Even though your studies at Juilliard are focused on early music, you have said that you are also “fascinated” by contemporary music. Can you elaborate?
I started to play harpsichord mainly because I truly love this instrument. After my huge obsession for early music there came a time for the contemporary music. It was my need to discover and play the whole repertoire written for harpsichord in its entirety– contemporary music is very varied and colorful and gives one opportunity to learn contemporary musical language. Musicians in baroque era only played contemporary music, they didn’t perform early music. To understand their attitude I consider playing pieces written today as a must. We always dream to have the chance to ask composers who died a long time ago about their pieces and style. But very often we miss the opportunity to work with living composers which can be a huge adventure. There are around 10,000 pieces written for harpsichord in the 20th and 21st century. I don’t see any reason why we should not play them and focus only on the early repertoire. We can support with all our heart the forgotten music and give its justified place, but still participate in creating new pieces. When I was studying in Hamburg, Germany I organized a concert and workshops focused on modern harpsichord music. It was truly an amazing experience for me. We had the chance to work with our colleague composers and meet Gośka Isphording who is a prominent modern harpsichordist.
You are at Juilliard on a Fulbright scholarship. What is Fulbright and can you tell our readers about the application process for this prestigious scholarship?
The Fulbright Program is a scholarship program of grants for international exchange between Americans and the citizens of other countries. The main goal of it is to increase a mutual understanding between them. It focuses on the educational exchange, but through it the cultural and social exchange is possible as well. The application process takes some time- first one has to do some paperwork and send needed documents, the second step is an interview with the Fulbright commission. Once ready all the documents are sent to Washington DC where the final decision is made.
What is your favorite aspect of being a Juilliard student? What is the most challenging?
Being a Juilliard student is like participating in a special mission. It is very intense and demanding, but also very adventurous and rewarding. People studying and working here are fascinating and the kind of energy one experiences here is very specific. Juilliard is like New York – diverse, charismatic, but not always easy to be in.
Juilliard students are very busy. What do you like to do or where do you like to go to relax and de-stress?
I love discovering New York every free moment I’m given. I take long walks simply wandering around. I like to observe people and birds in Central Park. I go to Polish restaurants in Brooklyn. I write songs. And I try spend as much time as I can with my beloved boyfriend.
You recently went on a tour in India with Juilliard415. Can you describe your experience? What were your impressions of India?
The tour in India was a very interesting experience for me. I always dreamed about going there so I couldn’t believe my luck. We visited Delhi, Mumbai, Agra and Chennai– cities very different from each other which gave us a wider picture of this country. It is colorful and rich in tradition and monuments. We had the chance to see a world miracle – Taj Mahal which is breathtaking and hard to describe with words. Indian people are very open and warm – we had the opportunity to participate in “Holi” which is a spring festival also called “festival of colors” where people smear each other with colours and celebrate on the streets. The moments I enjoyed the most was our short cooperation with the Songbound children choir and our concerts which were very warmly welcomed. I also have to admit that Reena Esmail‘s piece “This Love Between Us” which was a newly commissioned piece performed during that tour, will stay in my ears forever.
You were born and raised in Poland, studied music in Hamburg, Germany and New York City, and recently toured in India. Have you had the chance to travel to any other countries for professional or personal reasons? If so, do you have a favorite destination?
When I was younger I used to travel with my family during summer vacation, mainly to Italy and France. I adored all the little cities full of sun and cicadas, the landscape with olive trees and vineyards. My favourite were two islands – French Corsica and Italian Sicily, the cultural mix and temperament of the native people there intrigued me a lot. My family and I spent also some time in Austria and the Czech Republic.
Can you tell our readers a little bit about your home city of Krakow, Poland?
I was born in Krakow, but my parents and I moved to Warsaw shortly after my birth. So my heart belongs to Warsaw more although Krakow is a very important place for me too. It is a cozy city with an amazing Old Town, many nice cafes and bars, little cinemas and theaters. It was formally the capital of Poland so there is a beautiful royal castle called Wawel. As a young girl I was very much influenced of Krakow’s legends. Warsaw was totally destroyed by the Germans during World War II, its reconstruction was almost a miracle. Warsaw has a very charming Old Town, but its more modern places are very nice too. My favourite spot is Lazienki Park – a royal, big park where I spent many sunny afternoons of my childhood. I love my district too – Stary Mokotow which is very calm, green and picturesque. Near the place I live there is a little cinema “Iluzjon” where I saw my first movie- “The Lion King”.
Do you feel there are significant cultural differences between Polish and American culture? In your opinion, what are some of these differences? What are some of the similarities?
Both Polish and American people are very warm and spontaneous. We are also both courageous and ready to defend our opinions. The only difference I noticed is that Polish people are much more openly critical towards themselves and others than Americans. We usually don’t hide our emotions, no matter if they are positive or negative, which makes us very easy to understand.
Other than family and friends, what do you miss most about Poland?
I have the ability to visit places I love mentally, so I don’t miss Poland because I spend there a lot of my “inner” time there. I’m under the impression that I never really left it and it is always with me. There is some poetic charm about Poland that is much more spiritual then physical.
Where do you see yourself this time next year after you graduate from Juilliard?
It think I will be in Poland attending doctoral studies, developing my performing skills and travelling around the world looking for inspiration and people to make music with.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
I would like to express my gratitude to all the people who helped me throughout my education – my family, my boyfriend, my friends, my dear teachers. Without them I would never achieve my goals and probably would never have the chance to study at Juilliard. I would like to thank also the Fulbright Program – it is a big honor for me to be a Fulbright Scholar and I will never forget their support. And finally I would like to express my gratitude to Bruce and Suzie Kovner who sponsor Historical Performance studies at Juilliard. I would like also to highly recommend to everyone who is eager to gain more knowledge and skill in early music performance to join the Historical Performance program, which is very unique and valuable.