by Rita Charleston
Born in Germantown in 1954 to parents who had migrated from the Ukraine, Lydia Artymiw and her family lived in a small apartment above a drug store near the Wayne Avenue Junction Station, where her father worked as a pharmacist.
Artymiw explained that her father had been in the Polish Army during World War II and had played the violin before the war.
“He was taken prisoner and sent to Germany, where he severely injured his left shoulder blade,” she recalled. “And that was pretty much the end of his violin playing.”
But he obviously passed along his musicianship to his daughter, and the little girl began studying the piano at the age of four with George Oransky at the Ukrainian Music Institute.
“At the same time I studied ballet, but, in the end, the piano won out,” she said.
When Artymiw was 5, the family moved to Denver, Colorado, but on the recommendation of the little girl’s piano teacher, they soon moved back to Philadelphia. Eventually, Artymiw went off to study at the Stevens School in Chestnut Hill. Though her studies were hard, the beautiful landscapes of Chestnut Hill were a magnet.
“In fact, even though I travel a lot, whenever I come back to Philadelphia, I try to visit this area as much as possible. The area is beautiful, and I love walking along Germantown Avenue looking in the shops. It’s just a wonderful part of the city.”
Artymiw graduated early from the Stevens School when she was just 15.
“That’s because all I did was study and play the piano. I had to do well in school because I had a scholarship and didn’t want to lose it. But that’s the life of someone who wants to pursue a career in music. It takes a lot of sacrifices.”
Sadly, Artymiw said her life in those days was essentially without friends — until she attended the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont and met musicologist Dt. David Grayson, who was to become her husband.
Today, Artymiw, who has been on the faculty of the University of Minnesota since 1989, is the recipient of the distinguished McKnight Professorship, the Dean’s Medal, and the “Excellence in Graduate Teaching” Award. Since 2015 she has been an occasional guest speaker at Juilliard, which is what sometimes brings her back to the East Coast.
But now, the renowned pianist, described by The New York Times as “a lovely Mozart and an appealing Schumann player. Ms. Artymiw has such a satisfying musical soul, she is a pleasure to hear,” will be back in our town Aug. 2-11 as part of the Philadelphia Young Pianists’ Academy Festival, held for the first time at the Kimmel Center. On the first day of the Festival, Artymiw will be holding a Master Class, an event she holds particularly close to her heart.
“I explain a Master Class as a lesson, except it is a pubic lesson,” she said. “Three or four students play a selection of their choice, and then I have to give them specific pointers. I may ask many questions about the piece, and I have to see how much they know about the music and the composer. At the same time I turn to the audience for their input, and personally I enjoy getting the audience involved.”
Antymiw confessed that she’s been in love with and involved with music her whole life. She’s also received so many honors and awards it is impossible to list them all. As much pleasure as that brings her, however, she insists the thing that brings her the greatest joy is producing successful students.
“And over the years I’ve had five or six students who have been extremely successful. And that is one of the biggest rewards about what I do. I have a true passion for music and try to express that in my playing as well as in my teaching. I think the passion and the love are the keys to a job well done.”
For ticket information on the master class, call 215-893-1999.