Ice diver and pianist – can these go together? Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman is passionate about remote worlds, and he is as taciturn as he is committed. Interviews, e-mail, and even television interest him little, and he also chooses to do without an agent. A reported assistant in Switzerland never answers the telephone. And yet Zimerman is someone who is capable of speaking at the decisive moment, like in 2009 when he announced, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in the U.S., that he would no longer perform in a country whose military seeks to dominate the world.
“Get your hands off my country.” A perfectionist, he released his last solo album over a decade ago. He continues to make recordings, but usually chooses not to place them on the market since they don’t meet his high personal standards. Zimerman generally performs fewer than fifty concerts per year. He leads a master class at the Academy of Music in Basel, Switzerland, where he has lived with his family since 1996.

© Helmut Jasbar, ORF - Radio Österreich 1


  • 1956 - Krystian Zimerman is born in the Polish city of Zabrze in Silesia

  • 1975 - Zimerman wins the Warsaw Chopin Competition and the special award of the Chopin Society

  • Starting in 1976 - He makes his debut in many European countries and meets Artur Rubinstein in Paris

  • 1977 - Zimerman performs at the Salzburg Festival for the first time. Extensive concert tours follow

  • Starting in 1986 - He dedicates up to 12 concerts per year to various charity causes

  • 1989 - After Leonard Bernstein’s death, Zimerman completes the recording cycle of all five Beethoven concertos without the conductor

  • 1994 - His solo recording of Debussy’s Préludes has won more awards than nearly any recording

  • 1999 - Founds the Polish Festival Orchestra.

  • 2015 - Zimerman creates the Krystian Zimerman Prize for the best performance of a Chopin sonata at the International Chopin Competition. The same year, he receives an honorary doctorate from the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw

Did you know?

  • Before concerts, Krystian Zimerman places a tent over the piano in order to personally prepare the instrument for the evening

  • “Beethoven and Chopin are truly difficult for today’s pianists above all,” is one of Zimerman’s well-known bon mots

  • Zimerman has already lost many recording projects after being told: “Sorry, that’s already in the internet.” “The destruction of music through YouTube is enormous,” he commented during a concert.

  • The smell of glue was the cause of an unusual incident: in 2001, shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Zimerman’s Steinway piano was confiscated and destroyed by customs officials when he entered the U.S.

  • Since then Zimerman has shipped his piano in separate parts, putting them together again himself upon reaching his destination country. He also drives the truck himself that transports the piano from city to city.

  • Rubinstein was looking for a handkerchief. He found it and used it to dab his mouth. Then he remarked, “Look, this was painted by Jean.” Zimerman was perplexed, then was given the paper and told by Rubinstein that he could keep it. The drawing was by Jean Cocteau. Today it is hanging on the wall of Zimerman’s study.