From the Winter 2017 issue of Classical Guitar | BY STEVE MANN | PHOTOS BY KAMIL STRUDZINSKI
Lukasz Kuropaczewski is well on his way to becoming a major figure on the worldwide classical guitar scene. Born in 1981 in the small Polish town of Gniezno, Kuropaczewski (pronounced koo-ro-pa-shev-ski) began studying guitar at the age of ten. At 13, his early talent brought him to the attention of the distinguished guitar teacher Piotr Zaleski, with whom he studied from 1994 to 2003.
Upon receiving a master’s degree from the Academy of Music in Wroclaw, Poland, he travelled to the USA on a full scholarship to study with Manuel Barrueco at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, where he was awarded an Artist Diploma in 2008. During this time, he performed concerts in his native Poland and around the world.
By now, Lukasz has performed in North America, Europe, Asia, and Latin America, including such prestigious venues as London’s Royal Festival Hall, the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and New York’s Carnegie Hall. He has premiered works by Angelo Gilardino and by Polish composers Krzysztof Meyer, Mikolaj Gorecki, Alexandre Tansman, and Krzysztof Penderecki, among others. As an avid performer of chamber music, he frequently works with musicians from around the world.
Lukasz is currently on the faculty of the Academy of Music in Poznan, Poland, holding a doctorate degree in performance. He is also the artistic director of the Polish Guitar Academy Festival held in Poznan every year. He has recorded six CDs to date, including his latest, Lukasz, which came out in September on Manuel Barrueco’s Tonar Music label, and includes large works by Tansman (two), Antonio José, and Witold Lutoslawski.
Classical Guitar: Tell us about your experience learning guitar with Piotr Zaleski before you came to the USA and then after, with Manuel Barrueco.
Lukasz Kuropaczewski: Mr. Zaleski is in my opinion the best teacher in Poland. I was lucky to have him as a mentor since I was 12 until I finished studies when I was 23. He is a musician who teaches guitar. He was always about music. He gave me recordings, books to read, he took me to concerts, made me see amazing pianists and violinists. He wanted for me to be a musician. He gave me lessons at his home that took three to four hours sometimes. He was extremely dedicated.
And maestro Barrueco was the best thing that happened in my musical life. He is a genius musician and a genius teacher; to me absolutely the best. I could not imagine studying with anybody else after I had lessons with him. I cannot even express my feeling and how blessed I feel that I met him in my life.
CG: What were the biggest differences between learning guitar in Poland with Mr. Zaleski and then in America with Manuel Barrueco?
Kuropaczewski: Well, I was a child when I started with Professor Zaleski. He was like a father to me. He shaped me, he taught me everything. Then, with Maestro Barrueco, it was more like a master class; he became my mentor and biggest inspiration!
Studying with Maestro Barrueco changed me forever and made me who I am today. Every lesson with him was something I had been looking forward to for a whole week. In one hour he could inspire me to search for more and more. He taught me about the importance of structure, lines, sound, color, and vibrato. Sometimes it would be just that moment when he took a guitar and played three notes with his most amazing, seductive sound and I would understand exactly what he meant and then try to do it at home. It has been seven years since I finished studies with him, but he keeps being my biggest mentor. I look forward to each of his new CDs. Whenever I meet with him I always ask him questions. He is now also my friend. He is so good to me, so helpful. He gives me ideas for new pieces, great career advice. I know I can always call him. Also, maestro Barrueco’s wife—Asgerdur Sigurdadottir—is like my angel. They are both like parents to me, and best friends.
CG: I know you perform some really difficult pieces in concert. How do you keep your focus when performing these pieces?
Kuropaczewski: The key is proper practice! I only practice slowly at home. I never play a whole piece in tempo. I use a metronome for practice and repeat every single phrase three to five times. I write a weekly plan of practice. I focus on preparing every single movement in both hands. I learned to be patient. I am a “control freak.” I hate buzzes on guitar. I do everything it takes to eliminate dirt in my playing. Mistakes on stage are a normal thing—we are human beings—but buzzes I can’t take!
It is important to know exactly what the difference is between practicing and playing. Many people tell me they practice slowly, but what they really do is play slowly. That is a completely different thing. You practice when you control every movement in your hands, when you take time for every shift, for every hand position change. You practice when you are in control of everything that is happening with your hands.
CG: What tactics do you use for mitigating stress when performing?
Kuropaczewski: There is no key to that. You have to get used to stress. It is part of your job.
CG: What can you tell us about your new album?
Kuropaczewski: The album is called Lukasz and it is a compilation of recordings I have done in the past. We chose some Polish music by Tansman and Lutoslawski and a famous sonata by Antonio José. We decided to release this record because the recordings I did were only released in Poland by Polish National Radio and were never available abroad, so the only chance people had to buy them was after my concerts. Tonar is making the recording available worldwide in stores as well as online.
CG: To date, which is your favorite album that you have recorded?
Kuropaczewski: Actually, each of the albums means something to me. The only one I am not happy with is the Portrait CD. It was recorded in a difficult time of my life and I was very unhappy. You can hear it in the recording. I don’t listen to the CDs I have recorded, but I always record because I love the music I play at that moment. For example I love Tansman and Lutoslawski. And because of that I like the album of Polish music. I also recorded it while I was living in the States and Maestro Barrueco told me I should record Polish music, since I live away from my homeland. The CD also includes beautiful drawings that my wife did. She was listening to the recording and drawing. Those were beautiful times. We were living in a small apartment on Charles Street in Baltimore; we were newly married and extremely happy.
Aqua e Vinho is a good album, I think. It is good because of the most amazing musicians I was lucky to invite to play with me. It is a full chamber music CD. My last album, Nocturnal, is probably the most mature one. I remember being very proud of it when it came out. These albums were nominated for a Fryderyk Award in Poland for “Best Polish Music Record,” “Best Chamber Music Record,” and “Solo Album of the Year.”
CG: What musical plans and goals do you have for the future?
Kuropaczewski: I am working nonstop on commissioning new music for guitar and working with composers to do new things. I will be performing a new version of Tansman’s Homage a de Falla Concerto in Berlin soon, rescored by Maestro Gilardino. I will be playing new pieces by Gilardino, [Polish composer] Aleksander Nowak, and [American composer/pianist] Marc Neikrug. I am also going to perform a set of recitals as an homage to Frederic Chopin, with music by Chopin, Ponce, Tansman, and Gilardino, among others.
I also have two projects with fantastic players. First is “Ponte Vecchio,” with Avi Avital on mandolin, Chen Reiss soprano, and David Adorjan, cello. We are doing a tour this year with a recital of songs by Ravel, Donizetti, Schubert, and Rimsky-Korsakov. I also have another project with Avi on mandolin as well as a Theorbo [a long-necked lute-type instrument] player, a harpsichordist, and a harpist. We are doing a series of special concerts in Germany.
My biggest dream would be to play a duet with my hero—cellist Mischa Maisky. I believe it will happen in the future!