I do not try to sing at all costs
Conversation with Jaroslaw Brek
Jarosław Bręk, bass-baritone, From 7 till he was 19 he sang in the Boys and Men’s Choir Poznań Nightingales conducted by Prof. Stefan Stuligrosz. First he sung soprano, later – bass. He started his solo career at the age of 19 in Poznań when he sang in Bach’s Weihnachtsoratorium with Krystyna Szostek-Radkowa and under direction of Prof. Stuligrosz. At present he is studying at the Frederic Chopin Music Academy in Warsaw in Prof. Jerzy Artysz’s class.
Prize-winner at several vocal competitions, he won the song and oratorio category and was awarded a special prize at the competitions in Duszniki-Zdrój in 1998 and in Barcelona in 1999. He was also a prize-winner at the competition in Vercelli in 1999. He represented the Polish Radio at the European Platform of Young Performers in Lisbon in 2000 and he was the only singer among the eight prize-winners. In 1999 and 2000 he was nominated for the Paszport Polityki award in music and this year he received the Young Art Medal from Głos Wielkopolski.
The singer has worked with well-known orchestras, among them Sinfonia Varsovia, Hamburger Symphoniker, Polish Radio Orchestra and with distinguished conductors – Mirosław Jacek Błaszczyk, Edward Higginbottom and Tadeusz Kozłowski. In 2000 he made his debut at the Warsaw Chamber Opera as Count Almaviva in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. He also performs there the part of Pluto in Peri’s Euridice and Ulisse in Scarlatti’s Tetide in Sciro. He sang in opera gala at the Cracow Opera and Bydgoszcz Opera Nova. Jarosław Bręk took part in oratorio concerts with most Polish Philharmonic Orchestras, among them were those in Białystok, Bydgoszcz, Gdańsk, Katowice, Lublin and Poznań. He has sang abroad – in Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Romania, the Canary Islands and Lebanon. He participated in the world premiere of Heimermann’s Mass of Angels that took place in Rome as pat of 80th birthday of John Paul II. The singer has been working with eminent pianists, among them are Katarzyna Jankowska and Joanna Zaremba. He has presented song recitals in Barcelona, Mies van der Rohe, Museu National George Enescu in Bucharest and in the Lutosławski Concert Studio in Warsaw. He was the fifth Pole in history to have sung at the Gran Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona where presented Mozart’s songs recital. He sang with the Warsaw Chamber Opera at the Mozart Festival in Heerlen (Netherlands) and at the Al Bustan Festival in Beirut. During the Warsaw Symphony Orchestra’s tour of Japan he sang in Tokyo Bunka Kaikan and Kyoto Concert Hall.
His special interest focuses on the music of 17th and 18th century. He performed it with such distinguished musicians as Jaap ter Linden (cellist), Agata Sapiecha and Simon Standage (violinists) and Frank de Bruine (oboist). He has several radio and television broadcasts to his credit (Polish Radio and Television, Radiodifusao Portugesa), he has also recorded 5 albums. Jarosław Bręk is the founder and artistic director of the annual Christmas Carrols for Poznań concert, which takes place in the Poznań Cathedral.
One March evening I talked with the artist in the Frederic Chopin Music Academy Club in Warsaw.
First of all I would like to thank you for accepting my invitation, meeting thus in a way the readers of our magazine. This is also an opportunity to congratulate you on your recent successes. It is difficult to describe you as a promising artist because at the age of 24 and being still a student you are already a mature artist, applauded in Poland and abroad.
Thank you very much.
I would like to come back to the times when you became a chorister in the Poznań Nightingales at the age of 7. How did it start, did you attend a school of music at the same time?
My mother took me to the audition for the choir after having heard my child singing. Singing in the choir had to be combined with going to ordinary school. No allowances were made, on the contrary, everybody had to have very good grades to be allowed to sing in the choir. I have never attended any school of music. First – Stuligrosz' choir is the best school of music you can imagine, and second – I was not seriously interested in music or singing
You sang in the choir for 12 years, till your solo debut. Does it often happen that boys from the choir become later professional singers?
There are three Boys and Men’s Choirs in Poznań, each of them has had 2-3 thousands of pupils so far and about 20 people from each choir have become musicians. They are conductors, instrumentalists and singers, but the singers are few, strangely enough. There are lawyers, doctors, and we still meet each other. But there are very few singers, because when you are 7 years old and you join the choir, you do not think that you come to become a singer. This is not what it was all about, especially in those times when the main reason for joining the choir was an opportunity to travel. Young men are interested in travelling and in those days it was difficult.
Was it Professor Stuligrosz who noticed your vocal talent and persuaded you to study singing?
Professor Stuligrosz did influence my choice, because he told me several times that „it is not bad what you have”, although I was not interested at all because interests were focused on sport journalism. I am a sport fanatic. The turning point was the premiere of Nowowiejski’s oratorio Quo Vadis at the Grand Theatre 7 years ago. Professor Stuligrosz conducted it and 7-8 persons, myself included, were added to the Chorus of the National Opera. We lived in the Grand Theatre for 4 weeks and for those four weeks the theatre was our life. But I was still only „mildly” interested. And after that experience, after participating in the creation of the performance, from the first rehearsal till the last one, after the return to Poznań, I suddenly decided – I will stay. I was 17 years old. Quo Vadis was directed by Mr Ryszard Peryt in whose production of Le Nozze di Figaro I have recently made my debut at the Warsaw Chamber Opera, this is such a beautiful link. And on 26th June in Lublin I will sing the part of St. Peter in Nowowiejski’s oratorio. It will be a great dream come true for me.
How did it happen that you became Professor Artysz' student?
This is also one of interesting stories my still young life abounds in. I started to study singing at the Music Academy in Poznań. Poznań is my home city, so it was a pretty obvious choice. I spent one year there and already after this first year I realised it wasn’t what I wanted, that I was not developing as fast I expected, that somehow things should go wider. That is why I decided, it’s now or never, and I moved to Warsaw. The choice was simple because there is only one man here I was prepared to trust, it’s Professor Artysz.
One may say that you have been very lucky meeting on your way such artists as Professors Stuligrosz and Artysz. We know very well the results of Professor Stuligrosz' work with the Poznań Nightingales, Jerzy Artysz is an excellent teacher and during his recent recital in the Lutosławski Concert Studio we have had an opportunity to hear what a great singer, especially lieder singer he is. Both Gentlemen must be very proud of your successes and very happy because of them.
Well, yes, they are. But being associated with those two illustrious names does not make things easier.
Your achievements show that you are a versatile artist – you sing in the opera and on the concert stage. Do you have a preference for either of these kinds of singing or do both give you equal pleasure?
Let’s distinguish here between three things – opera, oratorio and lieder. All three complement each other and, in my opinion, no singer could omit one of them. Singing opera improves my singing of songs, it adds some new elements. I always perform songs with the greatest pleasure but nowadays songs are performed less and less frequently in Poland, and the only possibility is to perform them abroad. I think that songs give the best opportunity to show all your assets. In opera you may make up a lot with other elements, in oratorio it is only the voice that matters, but there is everything in lieder and lieder singing involves the greatest amount of work and the greatest sensitivity.
We may find out from your biography that you are particularly interested in music of 17th and 18th centuries, hence Bach’s cantatas and operas by Peri, Scarlatti and Mozart in your repertoire. But you also sing songs by German romantics and in soon there will Orff’s Carmina Burana at the National Philharmonic. So music of different periods is close to your heart. Could you say anything more about your concert repertoire?
Carmina Burana is now off, I have cancelled that performance. I am not ready yet to sing the work in the way that would satisfy me. In April I will sing the bass part in Beethowen’s 9th Symphony in Spain with the Dolnośląska Philharmonic Orchestra.
Where can we hear you without flying to Barcelona or Tokyo? I think about opera and concerts.
In the immediate future – on 17 May at the National Philharmonics there will be Haendel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus conducted by Marek Toporowski. To celebrate the Paderewski year the Paderewski Pomorska Philharmonics in Bydgoszcz organises three performances of Mozart’s Requiem, in which I am going to sing – 28 June in Poznań, 29 June in Bydgoszcz and 30 June in Warsaw in the St. John Cathedral in the Old Town. At the Warsaw Chamber Opera I will take part in the 11th Mozart Festival, I will sing in Don Giovanni for the first time on 15 June and in July (7th, 8th, 25th and 26th) and in Le Nozze di Figaro on 17 and 22 June and 11 July.
I know you have recorded several CDs. What have you recorded and where can we buy those CDs?
This is a problem because I do not know myself where they can be bought. One of them is entitled Ave Maria and was recorded with soprano Katarzyna Trylnik in the Basilica in Trzebnica. The recording of Peri’s Euridice made at the Warsaw Chamber Opera should be already available, another one contains works by Marcin Mielczewski and the next one – nominated to the Fryderyk Award – Scarlatti’s oratorio Saint Casimiro Re di Polonia. In this last work bass participates only in one quartet and the whole part lasts about 2 minutes. On my last CD, published in Białystok, Mozart’s Mass F-Major was recorded. There are also many recordings made during concerts, which include songs by Schubert, Schumann and Brahms performed in Autumn 1999 at a recital in the Lutosławski Concert Studio in Warsaw and Bach’s cantata Ich habe genug performed during a concert in Wilanów. But those recordings can be found only in the Polish Radio archives.
Many years of performing with the choir made you familiar with the stage. Do you have a stage fright before your solo performances?
I must say that this is a problem because I have no stage fright. Stage fright is often necessary and I haven’t got it.
Which of the Polish and foreign singers you appreciate and like most?
First of all my professor; the teacher should be the ideal he is my Polish ideal. As far as foreign singers are concerned, my favourites include Samuel Ramey and Jose van Dam.
In my opinion your voice even resembles van Dam’s.
I often hear people saying so.
Would you like to say anything more about yourself to our readers?
I do not know what could be interesting to the readers. I would like to say that as a representative of the young generation I am definitely against some of the things happening in Poland at the moment. I do not try to sing at all costs, in places where there are conflicts, where is something is placed before the music, then I do not participate in it. I do not play such games. There are people who are passionately fond of quarrels and intrigues at the backstage of great music and I never take part in something like this, I do not get involved. I think that music should not fill one’s whole life. There is something else, this is just a profession, there must be time and margin for other things. I have a very big margin, a very big distance to what I am doing and I try not to think that I have to do something. I do not have to do anything, everything has its time. If I am to have a concert that would involve a lot of quarrels then I politely say „no, thanks”. You cannot let yourself be dragged into a daily routine that will make you get up angry every morning. That is why I started my involvement with opera at the Warsaw Chamber Opera although I am not on the books there. Many Poles do not know the value of the Warsaw Chamber Opera and if they are told, they do not believe. Our director, Stefan Sutkowski, silently does his job, does not announce to everybody where his company goes on a tour and they do travel quite a lot. A year ago the company spent 2 months in Japan, performed in all the greatest hall and was enthusiastically received. Does anybody know about it? Nobody does. When I look at the director I can see that he acts consequently and, I think, in a way he dreamed 40 years ago. Everything is neatly arranged, settled, everybody knows what he or she is supposed to do. There is a lot of work and there are no one complains if he or she has a little less work to do. There is a lot of wonderful tours, two weeks ago we came back from Beirut, Il Barbiere di Siviglia has recently shown in Lisbon, now the theatre is going to France, then we go to Spain for 16 performances of Die Zauberflote. Which theatre travels so much? None. This theatre holds on to a conviction I agree with -no updating of early operas, no modern costumes.
I would like go back to April 2000 to a recital the late Andrzej Hiolski was to have presented in Opole with the organist, Professor Józef Serafin. I went with His programme to replace Him. It was such a experience that we did not know how to do it. We managed to create an unforgettable atmosphere. After the recital I received flowers and said a few words that it was a great honour for me to replace Andrzej Hiolski. We left those flowers between us, I sang the encore and left the room leaving the flowers as a symbol of our memory of Mr Hiolski.
The most important concert that will take place is „my child”, a concert entitled Christmas Carrols for Poznań. This is, for today, the work of my life. No performance or recital could be compared to it. This is not an ordinary concert. There are plenty of the so-called charity concerts in Poland when the point is that the artists take their fees and some income goes to charity – what kind of charity concert is it? That is why I had an idea to invite children from orphanages to a concert which would be a gift for them. I managed to engage two actors from the TV series Złotopolscy, Magda Stużyńska who is a friend of mine and Adam Dzienis, as well as the Poznań Cathedral Choir and a string quartet. The invited children received presents, they also sang Christmas Carrols with us on stage. There was a crowd of people at the concert, some 2 thousand of them. I want to continue this cycle as a kind of thank-you for what I have achieved. A lot of work has to be done, I do everything myself, from the original idea to arranging chairs in the church and in addition I also sing. Everything has also to be organised – the soloists, choir, organs, string quartet, actors. And it does not matter what will take place on that day, recording session or some foreign engagement, nothing matters and on 12th January 2002 there will be Christmas Carrols for Poznań. For me it is a great event.
Every three months or so we organise club meetings during which we have the pleasure of talking with special guests – people connected with opera one way or another – singers, conductors, directors, coaches. Would you like to be our guest in the future so that our club members could meet you personally?
Of course, with pleasure.
It has been a pleasure meeting you. Thank you for the conversation and let me wish you many successes.
Thank you very much.