Words: Jonna Hunt Photography: Christopher Hunt
Meet Stella Tjajkovski, classical pianist, music professor and a Holocaust survivor. She has lived to tell her story, and continues to inspire people around her. She even has a pop song dedicated to her.
YOU ARE A CLASSICAL CONCERT PIANIST. HOW DID YOU START YOUR CAREER?
If you refer to my youth then it was a long time ago. I started quite early and I was a technical skilled child. It went quite fast. I had good professors at the Danzig Conservatory, received many awards and toured in Poland, Denmark and Germany with great reviews. But then came the war.
YOU WERE A TRUE CHILD PRODIGY, DO YOU HAVE ANY MEMORIES FROM WHEN YOU WERE DISCOVERED AS A PIANIST?
It went very fast. We had a piano and one day I sat and played. Mother heard me and was surprised I could play because I had never touched the instrument before. She signed me up to the conservatory and I gave many small concerts. Then everything came about by itself.
YOU ARE ONE OF FEW HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS. HOW DID THIS AFFECT YOUR LIFE AND ARTISTRY?
Massively. I live with this until today. I don’t go around and give speeches anymore, but it’s very deep in my heart in some way. It didn’t affect my knowledge but later contributed to the fact that I wanted to be an artist.
STELLA IN OH-06
HOW DO YOU COME BACK TO LIFE AGAIN?
You don’t really want to at start, but you do it anyway. Not from one day to another. It wasn’t that I decided to return to life but I wanted to forget. Sometimes you manage to forget, but it always comes back. It’s constantly in the body.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WANT TO REMIND YOUNG PEOPLE ABOUT TODAY, 2018?
If I see that they can handle it and understand, I tell them about my experiences, so that they feel a part of the horror. I tell them that I was in the gas chamber in Auschwitz and that it miraculously stopped working. You have to start telling the story from an early age. It’s part of the upbringing to describe that these terrible events took place, and the amount of people who lost their lives.
WHAT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PIECE OF MUSIC YOU HAVE EVER HEARD?
I don’t have an answer to that. There is too much to choose from. I’m trying to play music that I’m able to love. Otherwise, it’s useless. It doesn’t matter if it’s Beethoven or Chopin. Just relying on technology is not enough.
STELLA IN OH-06
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST MUSIC EXPERIENCE?
One of my biggest experiences was when my conservatory sent me to America and I listened to Horowitz for the first time. I also met Rubinstein several times and he always brought joy when he was playing.
YOU ARE BORN IN FREISTADT DANIZIG, WHICH TODAY IS GDANSK, POLAND IN 1923, BUT LIVE IN STOCKHOLM. WHAT DOES THE CITY MEAN TO YOU? DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE PLACE YOU ALWAYS RETURN TO?
I came here in the late 1950’s and have experienced many joyful moments. The city is full of great spots, I can’t possibly choose one.
YOU ARE FEATURED IN THE SONG STELLA BY THE ARTIST LJUS, AKA DANIEL FILIPSSON, HOW DID YOUR FRIENDSHIP START?
Daniel started playing the piano for me. He was my favorite student, not only as a pianist but also as a human being, and I stick with that until today. He is a reliable friend. It should be written here.
WHAT IS YOUR MAIN CHARACTERISTIC?
I’m the wrong person to answer, Daniel is more suited…
Daniel: Stella knows what she wants and gets what she wants. She lets no one else decide. If she wants to drive her big merca on the sidewalk, she does.
Stella: That’s right (haha) I actually did. If there is something I love besides playing the piano, it’s driving a car. I’ve driven the whole of America. Both the west coast and the east coast. I sat at the wheel all the time. My husband just sat and looked at the map.
Further reading: Interview with Ljus