Piano prodigy to perform Chopin concert at Settlement

by Len Lear
Posted 2/15/24

When you hear Antoni Kleczek play music by Chopin on the piano, you simply cannot believe he is 17 years old.

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Piano prodigy to perform Chopin concert at Settlement


When you hear prodigy Antoni Kleczek play music by Chopin on the piano, you simply cannot believe he is 17 years old. The profound sensitivity, the subtle maturity and the sophisticated nuances are more characteristic of a world-class Evgeny Kissin, Martha Argerich or Emanuel Ax than of a fuzzy-faced but prodigious virtuoso who is not yet old enough to vote.

But the wunderkind with familial roots in Philadelphia has been described by Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń, a celebrated Polish pianist, as an artist who plays each piece of music “with deep understanding … natural expression, communicativeness of emotions and all this while playing with apparent ease." 

That talent will be showcased Sunday, Feb. 25, when Antoni plays the music of Chopin in a concert at Settlement Music School, the alma mater of his mother, Marguerite, who was born in Philadelphia. Antoni will perform at the Germantown branch at 2:30 p.m. in a concert sponsored by the Polish Heritage Society of Philadelphia.

The young musician describes the concert as one with an important meaning for his family. It is “a special opportunity for me to connect with my mom’s roots and be a part of a long tradition for Polish-Americans in Philadelphia,” he said.

Antoni, who lives with his family in Vienna, Virginia, has performed in such concert venues as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center In New York, the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music in San Juan, the Kosciuszko Foundations in D.C. and New York, and the Chopin Center in Szafarnia, Poland.

In 2022, Antoni was awarded the Grand Prix in the 29th edition of the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition for Children and Youth in Szafarnia. Antoni was also the first prize winner at the sixth Rosalyn Tureck International Bach Competition in 2019, where he also received the Rosalyn Tureck prize for contemporary works as well as the Olga Kern Aspiration Award. He has studied with several classical piano pedagogues, is currently studying privately with Dr. Martin Labazevitch in Washington, D.C., and is a recipient of the 2023-2024 Chopin Foundation Scholarship.

How is it possible for such a young person to achieve such a Himalayan level of expertise?

Kleczek, who is home-schooled, told us in an interview last week, “I generally practice about eight hours a day. While I was still in high school, I practiced an average of four hours a day during the school week and six hours a day over the weekends … Now that I am out of school, I can focus completely on studying piano, including music theory and history, and build my repertoire in preparation for college and a career in music.”

He says the best advice he ever received from a piano teacher, which at first may have been by Beethoven, was: “To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.”

Antoni's father, Jaroslaw, grew up in Warsaw, Poland. After college, he immigrated to Canada and then to the U.S. He is now a retired system’s engineer. “He does not have a musical background,” Antoni said, “although he is a music enthusiast and tried his hand at the accordion growing up.”

Antoni's mother studied the piano and nearly chose to continue her studies in college, but gave it up to become a lawyer. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Poland. She was born and raised just outside Northeast Philadelphia and studied piano at Settlement. 

“She attended Polish Heritage Society functions growing up and fondly remembers attending the annual Chopin Concerts,” Antoni said.

In another extension of the family’s music pedigree, Antoni’s brother and sister are also studying piano performance. It is hard to believe Antoni could have found the time to do so, but for several years he also swam competitively in Northern Virginia swimming leagues.

In fact, he said, “The hardest thing I ever had to do was to perform in the winners' concert of a competition in Carnegie Hall a couple of weeks after I broke my left-hand during a swim meet by misjudging my last stroke and ramming my hand into a wall. Instead of canceling my concert  performance, the organizer, who also composed the piece that I was to play, decided I should still have the opportunity to perform and that he would play the left-hand part of the piece while I played the right-hand part. 

“A few hours before the concert, I had one rehearsal on stage with the composer. The composer, an amazing, charismatic performer, dropped the surprise that his intentions were to make the performance into more of an improvisation. Miraculously, I was able to keep up with the twists and turns he introduced, but surviving the three or so hours between the rehearsal and concert were probably the longest and most nerve-racking hours of my life!”

A portion of the money raised at the Feb. 25 concert will be used for youth music education programs. Settlement Music School is at 6128 Germantown Ave. For more information, call 215-627-1391 or email dziecko2@comcast.net. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com