In the 2023-24 season, Iwona Sobotka will be the Artist in Residence at the Arthur Rubinstein Philharmonic in Łódź (Poland). In this interview, she talks about her collaboration and friendship with the Arthur Rubinstein Philharmonic, as well as the repertoire they have carefully selected for her recently commenced residency.
What influenced your decision to accept the invitation for an artistic residency at the Łódź Philharmonic? What expectations do you have for this collaboration?
IS: I am very happy to have received the invitation for an artistic residency at the Rubinstein Philharmonic in Łódź. First and foremost, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with your team again and under the baton of Maestro Pawel Przytocki. This is important to me because I value our collaboration.
The residency at the Łódź Philharmonic is a perfect opportunity to showcase the diversity of my repertoire. I will soon celebrate the 20th anniversary of my artistic career, and I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of a uniform repertoire. I am not a fan of limitations, whether in repertoire or interpretation. I don’t have a favourite composer or musical genre. As an artist, I always strive for growth and am not afraid of change. My entire artistic life is based on constant movement and adaptation to the new.
That’s why I hope that during my residency, I will be able to present both pieces that are close to my heart and something entirely new to the Łódź audience. I want to provide the listeners with unforgettable emotions and show that classical music can be incredibly diverse and inspiring.
Your musical activity is remarkably diverse, which we will also witness at the Łódź Philharmonic: oratorios, chamber music, songs, opera roles performed on stage and on the concert stage. Is there a favourite among these forms that brings you the greatest satisfaction?
IS: As an Artist in Residence, I have great freedom in presenting my artistic work, and for this season, we have prepared four diverse concerts, each offering a unique musical experience. I want to showcase myself as a versatile artist, so I will be performing in various vocal genres: opera, songs with orchestra, oratorios, and grand symphonies. We will cover the repertoire of composers such as Mahler (Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”), Verdi (Messa da Requiem), R. Strauss (Four Last Songs), but I will also prepare something new as we will present the first act of Richard Wagner’s opera “Tristan und Isolde.”
Maintaining a balance between different vocal genres has always been important to me. I didn’t want to become a typical opera singer associated only with one form or genre. For me, the most important thing is expressing myself through music, and the diversity of genres gives me a wide range of expression, interpretation, and styles.
Over these 20 years, my voice has undergone a transformation, transitioning from coloratura soprano to spinto-dramatic. I’ve had the opportunity to sing many works spanning a wide range of music history, from Bach to Wagner. I am immensely grateful for this experience because it has given me an extraordinary awareness of my voice’s technique, opening up many new avenues of artistic expression. Equally important, it has brought me inner peace, as most stage fears and stress stem from uncertainty. Thanks to this experience, I am confident that I am ready for various musical challenges and can deliver authentic and emotional performances to the audience.
In June 2020, music lovers were disappointed when the final concert of the Łódź Philharmonic season featuring you was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection,” which was supposed to be performed then, will finally be heard this season. How did you stay artistically active during the pandemic? Did this difficult period bring any fruit?
IS: The pandemic was certainly a challenging period, but it also brought some lessons and new perspectives to my artistic work. I participated in several online initiatives that were available to audiences on the internet. It was a way to stay connected with my audience, although it couldn’t replace traditional live concerts. I am glad that now we can return to concert halls and perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection,” which is a special work for me.
Your international career began with a victory at the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition in Brussels in 2004. Looking back, how do you assess the significance of participating in competitions? Is a career as an artist possible without it at all?
IS: The Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition in Brussels was undoubtedly the beginning of my professional career. Looking back, I believe that participating in music competitions does have some importance for young artists, but it’s not the only way to build a career.
Music competitions can provide an excellent opportunity to showcase one’s skills, gain recognition from the jury and the audience, and secure financial support or contracts with music labels. However, it’s important to remember that success in a competition doesn’t always directly translate into a long-lasting career.
Many outstanding artists started their careers without winning competitions, but through their talent and hard work, they achieved significant success. This shows that there are different paths to artistic success.
Ultimately, the key elements of an artist’s career are passion, talent, self-improvement, and perseverance. Music competitions can be one tool on this journey, but they are not the only way to achieve artistic success.
Your first solo album, released in 2004, featured songs by Karol Szymanowski, and you have often turned to his compositions since then. What makes his music special to you? How do non-Polish music enthusiasts perceive Szymanowski’s music?
IS: My love for the music of Karol Szymanowski has been constant for many years. What makes Szymanowski’s music special to me is its depth of emotion and unique expressiveness. I have sung all of his works written for soprano, and I can confidently say that I not only understand him as a composer but also feel that I have, in a way, come to know him as a person. It is this emotional closeness that makes his music so exceptional to me.
Szymanowski’s music is not exclusively understood by Poles. His works transcend national boundaries and touch on universal human emotions. It is this universality that allows music enthusiasts from different countries to perceive his music very positively. After the release of my first album featuring the composer’s music, I began collaborating with the renowned British conductor Sir Simon Rattle. His commitment as an ambassador for Szymanowski contributed to making the composer’s music more widely known and appreciated worldwide. Besides recording albums, we had the opportunity to perform together on various stages and present his music to audiences. Our latest project in the previous season included a performance of “Stabat Mater” with the London Symphony Orchestra at Barbican Hall in London and a guest appearance at the Edinburgh Festival. These concerts received not only high praise from the audience but also positive reviews from music critics. This is a beautiful testament to the power and universality of this composer’s music.
You have performed in major concert halls in many European countries and beyond. How do you perceive the Polish audience in comparison, and how do Poles listen to music? Do you think it’s important for as many people as possible to have contact with classical music, or is it inherently an art for the elite?
IS: Music plays an incredibly important role in our lives and is a source of emotional richness. Therefore, I believe that music should not be considered an elite art form but should be accessible to as many people as possible. It has the ability to reach the hearts and minds of each of us. Personally, music is much more than just sounds to me—it’s an opportunity to enter another dimension where I can experience deep emotions, spiritual clarity, and a connection with the source. This is an incredibly important experience that affects our body’s electromagnetic field.
At the same time, I observe that in today’s world, where we are surrounded by digital tools and noise, music has become increasingly important. Therefore, music education, especially for our children, is crucial. We must strive to give younger generations the opportunity to discover the beauty of music and experience its impact on our emotions. Research shows that music has not only great artistic significance but also a positive impact on our mental and physical health.
What are your plans for the upcoming concert season, apart from the Łódź Philharmonic? What interesting challenges will the next year bring? Where can we see and hear you?
IS: This season, I have received many invitations from Polish orchestras with which I have been collaborating for years. I will commence with the season’s inauguration alongside the Polish Radio Orchestra in Warsaw, where I will perform Richard Strauss’s “Four Last Songs.” Then, still in September, I will participate in the inauguration of the National Philharmonic season, where we will perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Apart from concerts with the Łódź Philharmonic, you will also have the opportunity to hear me with Sinfonia Varsovia, the NFM Wrocław Philharmonic, the Krakow Philharmonic, the Szczecin Philharmonic, and in New Year’s Eve galas with the Baltic Philharmonic in Gdańsk.
Additionally, I am preparing two new opera roles for the Grand Theatre in Poznań: Desdemona in “Otello” and the titular role in “Manon Lescaut.” Beyond the borders, apart from symphonic concerts in Germany, Croatia, and Spain, I am planning my debut as Leonora in “Il Trovatore” for the Estonian National Opera and my debut at the Slovak National Theatre as Rusalka.
My jubilee season promises to be exceptionally intense, full of interesting challenges, and an opportunity for many returns and meetings with the wonderful Polish audience. I warmly invite everyone to my concerts and performances, as well as to my social media channels and website, where you can find the dates of events for this season.