A REPORT ON THE CHOPIN FESTIVITIES IN WARSAW, OCTOBER 2010
In the fall of 2010, fellow performer, Dr. Carolyn Finlay and I went to Poland for two weeks to attend the General Assembly of Chopin Societies in Warsaw and Stage Two of the Chopin International Piano Competition immediately following. This Competition is held every five years and is considered by many to be the most prestigious of all piano competitions.
2010 was of course the two hundredth birthday of pianist-composer Frederic Chopin and the year was celebrated around the world, but nowhere with such passion and imagination as in Chopin's homeland, Poland.
When we arrived at the Warsaw airport in late September, there were huge banners with marvellous portraits of Chopin advertising the major events taking place and the logo of the crowning event, the Chopin Piano Competition. There were concerts, lectures, exhibitions and displays everywhere. The impressive new Chopin Museum downtown had just opened and a newly renovated museum at his birthplace in Zelazowa Wola had also just recently been opened to the public.
In a park in the northern port city of Gdansk, we saw a lake with a moving sculpture of several eighth notes, like black swans swimming, a testament to the variety of tributes possible to Poland's favourite son. In nearby Sopot, a Baltic resort town, Carolyn and I performed as Chopin and George Sand to an audience of enthusiastic young English speaking Poles in a reprise of my play WEEPING MUSE, BROKEN LYRE that was part of Vancouver's Chopin Festival in April 2010. Now that play is being translated into Polish. In Krakow to the far south, we saw pianos in the main square painted with the face and musical notations of Chopin and played by pop, jazz and classical performers throughout the day.
In Warsaw itself, there were stone benches all over the city marking specific sites connected with Chopin's residences, schools, churches, etc. as a young man. Inscriptions nearby told the story of that site in several languages, and you could press a button to hear a complete piano piece emerge from hidden speakers. Progress reports of the Competition's multiple stages, with biographies of contestants and jurors, complete with Cds were printed and handed out by the thousands each day all over the city. It was a banquet of Chopiniana.
The International Federation of Chopin Societies, of which the Vancouver Chopin Society is a member, met over the course of three days in early October to share world-wide experiences and to make plans for the future. It was fascinating to meet members from Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Russia, France, Herzegovina, Taiwan, Japan, the US and Finland among many others, and to learn of their activities. Many of these were distinguished pianists or teachers of prize-winning pupils at the very highest levels.
The Poles have a particular affinity with the French, as of course Chopin had, and the French delegates received continual deference. They were awarded several very handsome medals in elaborate gift cases for contributions to Chopin studies, promotions or celebrations that were never specified or explained. If there had been senate seats available in Poland, they would have been appointed to them. Much of the conversation at the meetings was also in French. English and Polish were also spoken and translated, but the French was allowed to stand unmediated, untranslated and undisturbed. The delegates from Nohant, France, where George Sand had an ancestral estate that she opened up for Chopin to compose in quiet, and the delegate from Majorca where Sand and Chopin spent a disastrous cold winter early in their relationship, never materialized. Quel domage....what a pity! Think of the medals they could have won.
But the unquestionable highlight of this Assembly's agenda included free passes to the Second stage performances of the Piano Competition. Here the judges, including Philippe Entremont, Fou T'Song, Nelson Freire and Martha Argerich and the brilliant young participants from all over the world, were absolutely of the first rank. The music to come from this once in a lifetime Anniversary Competition, for those of us who witnessed it, haunts us still.
Don Mowatt, official delegate, with Iko Bylicki and Carolyn Finlay.