The marimba, as played by Katarzyna Myćka, has only existed as a solo and concert instrument since the mid-1980s. At the same time the marimbaphone is one of the oldest instruments known to mankind. Predecessors of the instrument were already known in Vietnam and Indonesia 5000 years ago. The instrument is then supposed to have arrived in Africa, where its presence was documented in writings in the Kingdom of Mali in the 14th century. What makes it different from the xylophone is its gourd-shaped (or tube-like) resonators mounted beneath wooden sound bars. The marimba came to South America with the slave trade and here it is still traditionally played in a huge number of countries. Its modern form as a chromatic two-row instrument with sound bars arranged as on a piano, was developed around 1880 in Guatemala and Mexico. The first concerts with the instrument were given in the 1930s. In 1947 Darius Milhaud wrote a concerto for Marimbaphone, Vibraphone and Orchestra. At the start of the 80s Ron Samuels began developing the Marimba One with five octaves in Arcata, California. The instrument has continued to be made by hand and is played all over the world by marimba soloists like Katarzyna Myćka.
Katarzyna Myćka was born in 1972 in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and grew up in Danzig/Gdańsk. At the age of sixteen, whilst she was at the music school in Danzig she changed from the piano to the drums. Two years later she began her studies at the Danzig College of Music, where she first came into contact with the marimba. In 1992, despite being the youngest participant in the Concours des Genève (CIEM), she was awarded a grant to study abroad, following which she continued her studies in 1993 in Stuttgart and at the Mozarteum in Salzburg under the drummer Peter Sadlo. Around this time she discovered the Marimba One, and was fascinated not only by the sound of the instrument but also by its lovingly handmade construction and design. She recognised the virtuoso quality of the instrument and chose it as her “ideal medium for musical expression”. In 1995 she won the first prize and audience prize for marimba solo at the International Percussion Competition in Luxemburg; and in the following year she was declared the victor at the First World Marimba Competition in Stuttgart. Myćka then ended her studies in Danzig, and her soloist class in Stuttgart. There followed further grants and invitations to master classes in the USA, Asia and several different European countries. These helped the young musician to build up a network of contacts very quickly. Today specialists and critics alike bear witness to the extraordinary richness of her tone quality, her “fascinatingly broad palette of musical effects” and, given the way she handles the dancing swirling mallets, her “supreme fluidity”, “perfect mallet technique” and a “dreamlike rhythmic precision”.
Because the modern marimba only goes back around thirty years compositions are limited. Adaptations of classical compositions like Mussorgsky’s “Pictures from an Exhibition”, pieces by Bach, Vivaldi and Ravel are all popular with music promoters and audiences alike. Bach’s cello suites are particularly appreciated by Myćka. She is increasingly working with young composers, with the result that around ten quality contemporary concertos for marimba have now been created within the space of a few years. Because of the sound created by the mallets the instrument is part of the drum family. That said, Myćka considers that the instrument is nearer the piano because of its melodic qualities. But since its upper tones do not sound good in every pitch in all intervals, the marimba presents great challenges to both adapters and composers.
Myćka’s solo repertoire includes Bach’s Cello Suites 2 and 3, the Toccata and Fuge in D minor, Chopin’s “Revolutions Étude“ and Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet”, alongside contemporary compositions by the Japanese marimba virtuoso and composer, Abe Keiko, and pieces by Jacob Druckman, David Friedman, Arkadiusz Kątny, Igmar Alderete Acosta and Emmanuel Séjourné. Furthermore her orchestral repertoire includes cembalo and violin concertos by Bach, pieces for marimba duets, including tangos by Astor Piazzolla, as well as works for the marimba with drum ensembles, the organ and choirs written by contemporary composers. One of her particularly memorable performances was the Concerto for Marimba, Trumpet and String Orchestra in two movements by Anna Ignatowicz-Glińska (born 1968 in Warsaw), with the Prague Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Matthias Kuhn, which had its German premiere in the Stuttgart Liederhalle.
Solo appearances at leading marimba festivals in Osaka (1998), Linz (2004) and Minneapolis (2010) have given Myćka an international reputation as a pioneer of her instrument. In 1997 she gave her debut in the USA in Anaheim near Los Angeles at the International Drum Festival of the Percussive Arts Society (PASIC). Since 2005 she has been the head of its German chapter. She has been a guest soloist, amongst others, with the Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra, the Bochum Philharmonic Orchestra, the Symphony Orchestra of Bogotá, the Orchestra of the Kassel State Theatre, the Schleswig-Holstein Symphony Orchestra in Flensburg, the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn, the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, the New Brandenburg Philharmonic Orchestra, the Slovakian Philharmonic Orchestra in Bratislava and the Polish Philharmonic Orchestra in Danzig, Łódź, Stettin/Szczecin, Oppeln and Wałbrzych.
Katarzyna Myćka places particular value on training young artists. In 2003 she set up the International Katarzyna Myćka Marimba Academy (IKMMA), since when it has been repeated every two years over a period of eight days during the summer holidays featuring other international teachers. During this time all the participants receive solo lessons for forty minutes every day. Daily concerts also give the students the opportunity for ensemble playing and solo performances. Between 2003 and 2007 the Academy took place at the Karol Lipinski University for Music in Breslau/Wrocław (Akademia Muzyczna im. Karola Lipińskiego we Wrocławiu); in 2009 at the College of Music and Performing Arts in Frankfurt am Main; in 2011 at the College of Music in Nuremberg; and in 2013 at the Conservatorium of the City of Luxemburg. On the occasion of the Academy meeting in Hannover in 2015 the teachers gave an opening concert in the Richard-Jacoby-Saal of the Music College. There was also a concert with works by the Greek composer Christos Hatzis, and a closing concert given by the participants featuring chamber music by Mussorgsky, Jarrod Cagwin and Eric Sammut. From 2006 to 2009 Myćka taught at the Ignacy Jan Paderewski Music Academy in Posen/Poznań (Akademia Muzyczna im. Ignacego Jana Paderewskiego w Poznaniu), the first music college in Poland to offer a Masters course in Marimba Studies. In Germany Myćka is fighting to separate marimba studies from drum departments in order to establish independent courses in the instrument for students in music colleges.
Between 1997 and 2008 she recorded six CDs. The majority of these contain compositions by contemporary composers and were recorded by the Südwestrundfunk broadcasting company in Stuttgart. She has also recorded concerts with the Radio Symphony Orchestra Saarbrücken (2001) and a cembalo/marimba concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach with the Bucharest National Radio Orchestra (2005). For November 2015 she is planning a new CD recording, this time with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, the virtuoso trumpeter Gábor Boldoczki and the conductor Matthias Kuhn, featuring concertos by Ignatowicz, Séjourné, Sammut and Ney Rosauro.
2006: Interview with Evgeniya Kavaldzhieva on marimba-portal.de
2009: Interview with Tobias W. Pfleger on klassik.com
The artist’s website: marimbasolo.com
Instrument Marimba One: marimbaone.com
Anna Ignatowicz-Glińska: Concerto for Marimba, Trumpet and String Orchestra. Katarzyna Myćka with the Prague Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Matthias Kuhn, in the Liederhalle Stuttgart, 2011 (youtube.com)
Information given by the artist