Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Fourth Salon Maria Szymanowska in Paris on December 3, 2013 (Vol. 4, No. 12)

If you are in Paris next week, do not forget to stop by the Salle des Fêtes of the Fourth District of Paris on December 3, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. to participate in the Fourth Salon of Maria Szymanowska.

This poetic-musical event, subtitled Female Voices, Infinite Dreams (Voix de femmes, rêves inachevés) has been designed and planned by Elżbieta Zapolska, and directed by Ella Jaroszewicz. This is yet another cultural event in the International Project Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831) - The Woman of Europe, realized by the Parisian Société Maria Szymanowska together with many sponsors and cooperating partners.

The Szymanowska Society also manages a website in several languages, noting all events world-wide relating to the Polish composer and pianist, still delighting us with the modernity of her talent. www.maria-szymanowska.eu.

The program of the December 3rd Salon features songs and poetry by female artists of Szymanowska's time: Fanny de Beauharnais, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, Christine Lavant, Louise Labé, Anna de Noailles, Joy Morgan, Christine de Pisan, Catherine Sayn-Wittgenstein, Aviva Shavit-Wladkowska and, of course, Maria Szymanowska.

 The Salon will be presented by Florence Rigollet, Monique Stalens, Elżbieta Zapolska (musicians) as well as actors Katarzyna Wolf, Hye Min Yang and Alexandru Pribeagu – from the theater of Ella Jaroszewicz called Studio MAGENIA.

 The Salon has been produced by the Société Maria Szymanowska with the cooperation of: Mairie du 4 e Arondisement of Paris, Historical Literary Society / and Polish Library in Paris, publishing house Les Editions Noir sur Blanc, the Polish Institute in Paris, Studio Magenia and Gazeta Paryska.


The Szymanowska Society is preparing the Second International Conference on Maria Szymanowska, planned for April 28-29, 2014 in Paris.  Live performances and lectures by scholars will be on the program. Prof. Slawomir Dobrzanski will show detailed relationships between works by Szymanowska and Chopin (Szymanowska's were composed and published at least 10 years earlier). I will focus on Szymanowska's songs to Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz's Spiewy Historyczne and their relationship to other songs from the same volume. Details about the Conference will be announced later.

Szymanowska specialist, pianist Slawomir Dobrzanski recently released a complete recording of all of Szymanowska's piano music, while Elizabeth Zapolska has recorded all of Szymanowska's songs. Both recordings, - two sets of 2 CDs each - are available from Acte Prealable in Poland and online via major booksellers.

Here's a preview of Dobrzanski's performing Szymanowska for the Kansas Public Radio:


Dobrzanski's book on Szymanowska, with a CD Sample of her music is available from Polish Music Center at the University of Southern California and published by Figueroa Press associated with USC.



A mini-reunion happened at the International Conference "The Musical Worlds of Polish Jews, 1920-1960" at the Arizona State University in Tempe, where Prof. Dobrzanski performed some of piano solo pieces by Tadeusz Zygfryd Kassern.

Through October  I worked on my music history project, "Jewish Composers of Polish Music in 1943" -  a paper invited for the conference at the Arizona State University.  It was an amazing gathering of minds, with a keynote address by Prof. Antony Polonsky of Brandeis University, live music by the ART Ensemble of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, and many fascinating lectures by scholars from Poland, U.K., Australia, Canada and the U.S.  

In my project this time I decided to count the names, this time: from 173 composers listed in 1939, 101 were still alive abroad (most of them have emigrated before the war) and 12 in Poland. Looking through the outlines of the composers' lives - destroyed and twisted by absolute evil, tossed around the world by winds of history... It is not an easy topic. We want to hear about the winners, the survivors, the heroes: we do not want this senseless, absurd, pointless death. 

I was not even born then, so what I can do? The only thing - remember: Koffler and Gold who died, Tansman, Palester, Kassern, Laks who survived... And be thankful for their gift of music.

Alexandre Tansman (1895-1986), the most famous Polish composer between the wars, a friend of Stravinsky, Ravel, Koussevitzky, Rodzinski, Mitropoulos, and Segovia, wrote more mazurkas than any other composer after Chopin. His symphonies were toured around the world by major orchestras. In 1940, he composed Rapsodie Polonaise dedicated to the defenders of Warsaw and major performances of the Rapsodie took place in Washington, Baltimore, Cleveland, under the baton of Rodzinski, Mitropoulos and Tansman himself.  

Tansman's love and knowledge of Polish folklore was expressed throughout his life, not only in pieces entitled "mazurka"  but also in in using elements of rhythm and melody from polonaises and mazurkas in various orchestral pieces.  A slow movement could be a kujawiak, a fast one - an oberek.  Seventy years of composing in Polish style! With many direct tributes to Chopin.

Here is Hommage a Chopin for guitar by Alexandre Tansman performed by Frederic Zigante: 


That's definitely something to be thankful for! Tansman's friendship with Andre Segovia, the master of classical guitar, and his intense musicality, resulted in creating the most important body of music for this instrument, beloved by guitarists world-wide, as can be witnessed on youtube.


Szymanowska and Tansman. Two musicians, two approaches to Chopin - before his time and long after. A predecessor who influenced Chopin's musical ideas and artistic aspirations, and a disciple, breathing a thorough knowledge of his oeuvre. Two musicians, two expressions of talent - a romantic virtuoso, a neoclassical master. Both were composer-pianists. Both toured internationally and had their music published throughout Europe.  Both are vital to the history of Polish music. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Long Live the Mazurka! Dancing with the Prusinowski Trio (Vol. 4, No. 11)

The mazurka is not dead! I was thrilled to say it, again and again, after attending a concert of Janusz Prusinowski Trio at EUropean Jazz @ UCLA on October 10, 2013 at Schoenberg Hall in Los Angeles. The fact that the performance was included in a jazz series was interesting, because of the question of genre or style that arises when listening to the music that is perfectly suited for dancing, yet modern and original. The CD, with its cover reproduced above, includes music and some Mazurka recipes, linking the dance to the Easter cake, just like I have done in my poem "How to make a mazurka" that commemorates my grandparents' talents - my grandma's cooking the mazurkas and my grandpa's playing them. I loved dancing around in a darkening room, with my shadow on the walls, while my grandpa played obereks and mazurkas on his violin, still with ribbons after playing at a wedding...

How to Make a Mazurka

Maja Trochimczyk

                           After Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4,
                        for my Grandparents, Stanisław and Marianna Wajszczuk,
                        who could play and bake their mazurkas like no one else

           Take one cup of longing
for the distant home that never was,
one cup of happiness that danced
with your shadows on the walls

of Grandpa’s house, while he played
a rainbow of folk tunes
on his fiddle, still adorned
with last wedding’s ribbons

            mix it – round and round to dizziness

stir in some golden buzz of the bees
in old linden tree, add the ascent
of skylark above spring rye fields,
singing praises to the vastness of blue

            mix it – round and round to dizziness

add chopped walnuts, figs, dates
and raisins, pour in some juice
from bittersweet grapefruit
freshly picked in your garden

            mix it – round and round to dizziness
add dark grey of rainclouds in Paris
that took Chopin back to the glimmer
of candles in an old cemetery
on the evening of All Souls’ Day

            mix it – round and round to dizziness

bake it in the cloudless heat
of your exile, do not forget to sprinkle
with a dollop of sparkling crystals,
first winter’s snowflakes at midnight 

 Here's more information about this astounding group from their website:

"Janusz Prusinowski Trio is a group of musicians who follow in traditions of village masters they have learned from: Jan Lewandowski, Kazimierz Meto, Józef Zaraś, Piotr and Jan Gaca, Tadeusz Kubiak and many others – but they are also an avant-garde band with their own characteristic sound and language of improvisation. They combine music with dance and the archaic with the modern."

 "The Trio’s unique style is the result of their attempt to find new ways of interpreting the most important elements of village music from central Poland. It brings together mazurkas – sung, played, danced to, improvised live – and modern man. What new quality can be given to archaic and seemingly simple melodies and rhythms without resorting to trendy sample mixing? It turns out that traditional music of Polish villages can be a reference point for a variety of genres: reminiscent of Chopin in its melodic pattern and the use of rubato, sharing a love of improvisation with blues and jazz, evocative of contemporary music in its tone, and possessing the expressiveness of rock music."

"Besides playing concerts with traditional Polish music the band prepared a special programme of performances “The village roots of Frédéric Chopin’s music” with pianist Janusz Olejniczak. In 2012 Trio begun a unique project "Kujawy” with three masters of Polish music: Tadeusz Kubiak, Tomasz Stańko, Janusz Olejniczak, and a group of singers led by Ewa Grochowska.The group also performed with Michał Urbaniak, Artur Dutkiewicz and Alim Qasimov. Apart of concerts, Trio’s music can be heard at the parties of village and urban Dance Clubs or theatrical performances at the Polish National Theatre and the Polish Radio Theatre. They also run musical and dance workshops. In 2008 the band released “Mazurkas”, an album which received rave reviews. This was followed in 2010 by their second album “Heart”. 

This information, copied from the website www.januszprusinowskitrio.pl offers just a glimpse of the allure and impact of the Prusinowski Trio. They were a part of the Chopin Year 2010, and here's one Mazurka they played for the year that also saw the publication of Chopin with Cherries. 

What I found most fascinating about the Prusinowski Trio (apart from the fact that it is not a Trio, but has up to five or more members), after attending the UCLA concert, was their ability to bring folklore and Polish national dances back to life as a relevant and popular genres of contemporary dance music.  Why should Polish youth only dance to American or British hit songs and their Polish imitations? Why should a dance genre as old as the nation be abandoned for the sake of foreign imports? This conflict of the native versus the foreign, the patriotic versus the cosmopolitan has played out in Polish cultural history many times.  We all remember the famous lament of Juliusz Slowacki addressing his homeland: Pawiem narodow bylas i papuga..." ((You were the peacock of the nation and a parrot)...

With the Prusinowski Trio, Poland's dance traditions certainly do not fall under the "parroting" label, as their music is clearly, and laudably "roots" music reaching back to the deepest traditions of Polish folklore, and bringing it back to the concert stages nationally and around the world.  Their set of instruments is very traditional: violin, big drum and tambourine, accordion, clarinet (shawm), cello/double bass, cembalom.... The model is that of a folk kapela: fiddle, drum, basetla...  They know ethnographers, such as Piotr Dahlig the director of ethnographic collections at the Institute of Arts of Poland. They are friends with jazz musicians and artists. They play for dance parties, weddings, private get togethers, and on concert stages around the world. They organize dance parties where people dance to their music, where they celebrate their roots with their "wild music of Polish villages."

What makes their music so irresistible? Someone could say that it is "the wonderfully wiggly cross-rhythms – a triple beat but with stresses that can cross it in fours, fives or sevens – of the village mazureks (mazurkas) from Mazovia, Poland’s flat central region, played, with great skill and tremendous lift, by fiddler and occasional cymbalist Janusz Prusinowski, with baraban drum, tambourine and droning 3-string bass from Piotr Piszcatowski, joined by Michal Zak’s wild shawm and flute." (quoted from an article in fRoots Magazine 2011 by Andrew Cronshaw).  The reviewer cites, in turn Janusz Prusinowski's moment of discovery of folk fiddling in Poland:  “It was a revelation: the authenticity, intensity and ease that I had been looking for throughout the world existed right here, beside me, in my own language.”

For others, the music's appeal is heard in the wild, intensely emotional timbres of their instruments. The hollow beating of the drum, the spiky accents on the basetla, the florid ornamentation of the lead fiddler, and the wild, outrageous sound of the shawm... Their sound world has the roughness and intensity of electric guitars and drums of rock bands. It is very far, indeed, from the polished, "beautified" folklore of Polish State Folk Ensembles, that created an ersatz of the real thing and transformed folklore into a Broadway style revue. That "Stalinist" appropriation of Poland's root music has started in early 1950s and has turned youth away from their tradition, transformed into a propaganda vehicle for the glories of PRL. I discussed the impact that these ensembles had on the Polish folk dance movements in America in a book  (Polish Dance in Southern California) and in an article, published in Polish American Studies, and reprinted, in a shorter, less academic version in the Cosmopolitan Review.  Finally, this bonanza for the artificial replacing the original has neared its end; the government is not inclined to invest a fortune into perpetrating of this old style model.  Enter the Prusinowski Trio.  . .

When I spoke with some of the musicians after the concert, they discussed the similarities of Polish folklore to the music of the Balkans and even of Turkey. The mentioned the polska dance of Sweden, and the mazurkas of France and Mexico.  They are fascinated by the international reach of Polish dances in history; and today, contribute to this dissemination by their own art.

In terms of sonorities, the shawm, especially, sounds rough and screeching, sure to be heard over long distances - like the janissary bands of the Ottoman Empire. This was the one sound that I did not remember from my childhood - dancing to the music of my Grandpa, a folk fiddler. The beating of the drum and the droning of the basetla permeate it all, steady and relentless, like the rhythm of the heart - I transliterated it as "I do, I do, I do..." in one love poem. The lively lines of the violin twist and turn, and move the listeners' feet to follow onto the dance floor. During the concert, one musician got off the stage and started rotating around the aisles with a woman, whom I was certain he knew before - and maybe even was part of the setup - they danced together so well! "Yes, they knew each other... No, they did not practice that dance. It just happened."  Here's a wish that these types of spontaneous dance moments happen more and more both in Poland and abroad...

The group has issued so far three CDs:  Mzurki (Mazurkas),2008;  Serce (Heart), 2010; and Po kolana w niebie (Knee-deep in Heaven), 2013. I  reproduced their covers here. These are masterly albums, highly recommended for all music lovers.  I will be writing about specific tunes and rythms on this blog. For now it should suffice to say that the Trio is intimately involved with the Mazurkas of the World Foundation, directed by Prusinowski as well.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Susan Svrcek Plays Ives's Concord Sonata and I Feel Like George Sand (Vol. 4, No. 10)

Leafy Sky (c) 2013 by Maja Trochimczyk
What is a perfect ending to a perfect day? Hearing Charles Ives's Concord Sonata at the Boston Court in Pasadena, in a small 60+ seats recital hall, so close to the stage, you feel the waves of sounds washing all over you, through you...Tonight, I felt like George Sand must have felt when she lied on the floor under Chopin's piano and listened to him improvise on those warm summer evenings in Nohant.  Powerful and seductive, delicate and distant, intensely present and overwhelming with spiritual grandeur - Ives's music is rarely juxtaposed with Chopin's. Two continents, two cultures, two different traditions... and yet...

Think about those moments in the second movement, Hawthorne, when glimpses of serene, childlike melodies emerge momentarily from a phantasmagorical kaleidoscope of music, only to be crushed by yet another avalanche of sound. The sweet lullaby of a Polish Christmas Carol, Lulajze Jezuniu (Hush, baby Jesus), emerges, to the same effect, in Chopin's Scherzo No. 1 (hear Garrick Ohlsson's interpretation), creating a moment of respite, among wildly careening sound masses that ultimately destroy the homely sweetness with their despairing might. You may also listen to a jazzy arrangement of this fragment of Chopin's Scherzo by Polish vocal quartet Novi Singers.

It is easy to fall into "purple prose" when trying to capture the effect of music on the mind and heart after a spectacularly inspiring concert, such as the rendition of Charles's Ives transcendental Concord Sonata by the California pianist, Susan Svrcek. The concert, on September 20, 2013 was presented in a collaboration of Piano Spheres and Boston Court, a musical organization and a theatrical institution. The result was sublime, thanks to a great pianist taking her audience on a travel through a sonic landscape envisioned by an absolute, complete genius. "It's getting better all the time, doesn't it..." commented Catherine Uniack, the Executive Director of Piano Spheres, on her way out the door. Yes, such a glorious evening inspires one to even quote the Beatles.

Let's start from Ives's words, though, from his "Essays before a Sonata" that encapsulated his frustration with "the instrument! ... there is the perennial difficulty-there is music's limitation... Is it teh composer's fault that man has only ten fingers?" And his tongue-in-cheek expression of musical aesthetics: "We like the beautiful and don't like the ugly; therefore, what we like is beautiful, and what we don't like is ugly - and hence we are glad the beautiful is not ugly, for if it were, we would like something we don't like."

Now, that sounds like sophistry, or splitting the match-head into four, but is it? Susan Svrcek selected this quote for the program notes of her recital, coupling it with other quotes from Ives's Essays that explain his understanding of the spiritual essence of the four Transcendentalists portrayed in the four movements of the sonata, one of the greatest works of the century - composed by Ives (1874-1954), who made his living as an insurance salesman and invested his time in music.

Sycamores in Heaven(c) 2013  by Maja Trochimczyk

  • Ives on Ralph Waldo Emerson:  "Though a great poet and prophet, is is greater, possibly as an invader of the unknown, freely describing the inevitable struggle in the sol's uprise and would then discover, if he can, that 'wondrous chain which links the heavens with earth - the world of beings subject to one law."

  • Ives on Beethoven's Fifth: "There is an 'oracle' at the beginning of the Fifth Symphony - in those four notes likes one of Beethoven's greatest messages. We would place its translation above teh relentlessness of fate knocking at the door, above the greater human-message of destiny, and strive to bring it towards to spiritual message of Emerson's revelations - even to the 'common heart' of Concord - the Soul of humanity knowing at the door of the Divine mysteries, radiant in the faith that it will be opened - and that the human will become the Divine!"

  • Ives on his music for Nathaniel Hawthorne "which is but an extended fragment trying to suggest some of his wilder, fantastical adventures into the half-childlike, half-fairy like phantasmal realms. It may have something to do with the children's excitement on that 'frosty Berkshire morning," and the frost imagery on the enchanted hall window, or something to do with the old hymn tune that haunts the church and sings only to those in the churchyard, to protect them from secular noises, as when the circus parade comes down Main Street; or - not something that happens but the way something happens; or something about the ghost of a man who never lived, or about something that never will happen, or something else that is not."

  • Ives on the Alcotts's house in Concord (home of  Bronson Alcott and Louisa May Alcott: "Within the house, on every side, lie remembrances of what imagination can do for the better amusement of fortunate children who have to do form themselves - much needed lessons in these days of automatic, ready-made easy entertainment which deaden rather than stimulate the creative faculty. And there sits the little old spinet-piano Sophia Thoreau gave to the Alcott children, on which Beth played the old Scotch airs, and played at the Fifth Symphony."

  • Ives on Henry David Thoreau: "As he stands on the side of the pleasant hill of pines and hickories in front of his cabin, he is still disturbed by a restlessness. His eagerness throws him into the lithe, springy stride of the specie hunter - the naturalist - he is still aware of a restlessness with these faster steps his rhythm is of a shorter span - it is still not the tempo of Nature, and h e knows now that he must let Nature flow through him and slowly; he releases his more personal desires to her broader rhythm. And before ending hid say he looks out over the clear, crystalline water of the pond and catches a glimpse of the shadow-thought that was in the morning's mist and haze - he knows that by his final submission, he possesses the 'Freedom of the Night,' with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself." 
Almost Magritte, not Quite, (c) 2013 by Maja Trochimczyk

At the beginning of her performance, the pianist pointed to these quotes she selected to insert in the program. She then explained her general interpretation of the four parts of the Sonata. As Svrcek stated, other musicians sometimes experiment with changing the order of the movements, to end on a note of grandeur instead of tranquility, but she firmly believes that the order selected by Ives is perfect, it is what it should be. We start in the transcendence of the universe, finding our place in the cosmic order and disorder of the world (Emerson). We are then surrounded by the chaos and liveliness of the bustling town or village, where marching bands meet half-way through their different tunes and everyone has something different to say (Hawthorne).  Going inward, in the next stage, we find rest and happiness in the safety of our homes (The Alcotts), and then there is just solitude, being alone within the world and hearing the call from beyond one self that can only be heard when one is by oneself (Thoreau).  The trajectory from the universe through city crowds to loneliness, from the whole world to one person, from external glories of nature to the tranquility of internal life provides unassailable logic to Ives's Concord Sonata.

Ellenai 1

I drank the sun –
there is nothing left
for the world

I’m full of light

nobody’s sweetheart
I am a universal widow
of forty four springs
and one true love

(prophetic poetry
echoes through my mind
with this messianic number)

life’s winds took me
from place to place
like a rose-petal
carried by waves

I breathe the sky –
torn apart by red clouds 
its blue pierced

by rays of sunset 

(c) 2002 by Maja Trochimczyk (from Miriam's Iris)

But there's another trajectory that leads through the stages of human life, as in the famous riddle of the Sphinx: "What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?" Oedipus's answer - "the man" - is at the heart of Ives's spiritual quest. This Sonata portrays a spiritual ascent through turmoil, drama, anger, whimsy, trivial and elevated joys and delights, to a deep and singular understanding.  It moves from the surface inwards, on a path towards maturity. The monumental movements of cosmic dimensions glitter with internal light under Svrcek's dancing fingers: alternatively taking your breath away and moving you to tears.

The alternation of moments of phantasmagorical grotesque and the briefest stillness of beauty emerging like brittle islands of peace in the Hawthorne.  The reflection of a reflection, or quotation of a quotation - a memory of music, with Ives taking us inside the warm glow of a candle-lit parlor, with the family gathered around the piano to listen to Stephen Foster's songs in The Alcotts. The 'oracle' four-note motive from Beethoven's fifth that takes us to the door of Divine mysteries, a threshold of comprehension of our place in the world...

Amor 6 

the more I love
the more dangerous
life becomes
in its graphic beauty
carved with a dagger
stolen from time
the blade cuts
old wounds open
 it slides on the skin
of the moment

 pierced by knowing

(C) 2006 by Maja Trochimczyk (from Miriam's Iris)

Oak Heart of Warsaw (c) 2012 by Maja Trochimczyk

Every time I hear this Sonata I understand something new, something more profound about its beauty. It speaks, with its timeless voice, of wisdom and acceptance of our place in the cosmic order, the place in the world, in our communities, in our homes. The magical appearance of a distant flute in the finale dedicated to Thoreau brings this idea to the forefront (and cannot be easily heard on a recording). Flutist Julie Long was beautifully playing from behind closed doors in a quiet dialogue with the piano in a breath-taking rendition of one of the most sublime, unforgettable moments in the entire history of music. It is a moment wrought with meaning. A voice is heard from beyond time, a melody that in its pure essence is timeless personified. T.S. Eliot tried to capture this voice in his Little Gidding from the Four Quartets:

The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half heard, in the stillness
Between the two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Coral Rose (c) 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk

In the past, I listened to the sonata with the score, trying to figure out how it is made, what are the structural points that carry the momentum forward, building a monumental edifice of sound, like the arches and buttresses carrying the weight of a cathedral. Now, floating in the space of sounds, carried along by wave after wave of sonorities in their rich expressiveness and diversity, I listened for the meaning.  Thanks to an extraordinarily talented artist, Susan Svrcek, her heart, mind and her ten fingers, I found what I was after. . .

Ellenai 6

with the noise
of unfurling wings
silence descended

turmoil within
my frightened self
into the glass surface
of tranquil seas
at sunset

angels account for
moments such as these

love’s cruel sweetness

my days are numbered

I’m caught again

of thought and sorrow

into the last vessel
of midnight calm

(c) 2002 by Maja Trochimczyk (from Miriam's Iris)

Ives wrote about Beethoven's famous four note motive  that he called the "oracle" of human fate (ta-ta-ta-daa). The motive's presence is vividly felt  throughout the Concord Sonata, yet I went home singing not that famous theme, but a humble, if uplifting Hymn that also permeates The Alcotts: Henry Carey's 1844 melody to "God Bless our Native Land"  (in the recording you will hear the organ surrounded by birdsong at St. Luke Church of Sedona, Arizona). I then think of
"My Country 'tis of Thee, sweet land of liberty, of Thee I sing..." and go to bed singing American patriotic songs I never knew, growing up in distant Poland.

Sunland Mountains (c) 2013 by Maja Trochimczyk


Charles Ives's Concord Sonata, or, as it formally titled "Piano Sonata No. 2, "Concord, Mass., 1840-1860" was composed between 1911 and 1915, and first published in 1919, with the second revised edition issued in 1947.

For those who missed this concert, and would like to listen to transcendental music on horrible laptop loudspeakers here are some YouTube links:

Gilbert Kalish plays Ives's Concord Sonata (whole piece, 49 minutes)

John Kirkpatrick plays The Alcotts from the Concord Sonata (second movement)

Jeremy Denk plays Ives's Concord Sonata (whole piece)

If you missed the concert and want to hear Susan Svrcek playing for the Piano Spheres again you have to wait until April 22, 2014, when she'll be on the program.

In their 2013-14 season, the Piano Spheres will also present:
Gloria Cheng (November 12),
Mark Robson (February 11, 2014), and
Vicki Ray (March 18, 2014).

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Piano Gift for the Chopin University of Music, to Remember my Parents (Vol. 4, No. 9)

When I started learning music back in the 1960s in Poland, I played the violin (badly), then viola (better), and then a bit of piano... At the Elsner Music High School and the Chopin University, we called it "mandatory piano with both hands" - and this is what it was, a required class done because you had to, not very musical. However, I learned to sightread at the keyboard and entertain myself by singing one part and playing two other parts of Bach's Kunst der Fuge. I also loved singing along with his Chorales. In playing Chopin, I did not move beyond easy preludes and nocturnes, but liked playing for myself, getting lost in the shifting moods and soaring melodies of his music.

The hours at the keyboard are long gone and my California upright sits in pieces in the garage, but the Arnold Fibiger "semi-concert" upright has survived in excellent shape in my Mom's place in Warsaw. After her death this summer, I donated the piano to my Warsaw Alma Mater - Fryderyk Chopin University of Music. It used to be "Academy" when I attended it and "State Higher School of Music" a decade earlier. I thought of selling it, but decided that a donation would be a better choice than getting a measly $200 for this beauty. ..

The piano is decorated with Art Nouveau reliefs and carvings; two Art Nouveau candleholders attached in front, and most of the keys still in the original ivory, with some yellowed inserts in plastic. No chance for historical restoration of those keys - ivory is banned, and rightly so... but was not at that time. I hope that my piano will bring long hours of enjoyment to the University's music students and will enrich its permanent collection of antique instruments.


While in Warsaw, I made four other donations - the Museum of Ethnography received three cuts of home-made linen, two from my great grandmother on the maternal side - Konstancja Wasiuk, and one made from scratch, that is from planting the flax, through making the thread, to weaving the fabric - by my grandmother Nina Niegierysz - Trochimczyk.

 The long stretch of linen was made for towels, with a standard "home-made" (samodzial) weave, 70cm wide and over 4 meters long. The staff at the Museum of Ethnography were thrilled to unwrap and measure the fabric. My grandma told me how she made it, how they planted the flax, harvested the long stems, soaked and beat the stems to create the material for weaving, in a long-lasting process. She then made the thread using her spinning wheel ("kolowrotek"), and finally wove the fabric for her dowry when she was getting married. She was born in 1906 so this activity took place in mid-1920s on their estate in Mieleszki.

 The patterns on two shorter cuts of homemade linen are much more ornate. They were made by a professional weaver near the village of Trzebieszow. My great grandmother Konstancja was repatriated after the war, that is thrown out of the family estate near Baranowicza in the borderlands part of eastern Poland (Kresy, now Belarus), with whatever she could take and pack in the alloted part of the train, and sent back to Poland, while Soviets took over the family estate to convert it to Kolchoz...

She brought with her not only her intense faith in Jesus and a bad temper to boost, but also various strange remnants of her former life, including large spools of linen thread, that was made by her farm girls back home, in the Kresy... The thread made on the estate near Baranowicze was woven into different patterned fabric and used for towels, tablecloth... The museum will use it in its fabric collection.


The next stop was the Museum of Warsaw Uprising in Warsaw-Wola. I brought there the medals, photographs, and letters of Barbara Wysocka, one of my mother's close friends who house-sat the condo during her travels, and was invited to all major family functions, especially Christmas Eve (when no person should be alone) and Easter breakfast...

 Pani Basia was single, and had no family at all. Her entire family died in the Warsaw Uprising and she was the lone survivor. She never married, never had children... What she had were her medals for bravery and a handful of pictures. The Museum staff took the medals, though was not happy with the one bestowed upon the veteran freedom fighter by the communist government (even though it was the highest honor, Polonia Restituta!) and did not like any of her post-war pictures nor letters...



They took the photos in uniform, of the young Barbara on the poligon, and with other soldier-friends before the war... She was not famous and I do not even know what her Home Army pseudonym was. After the war she had ordinary life, finished college, worked in an office. Thanks to my Mom, she had an "adopted" family - us - and spent her weekends in the summer house, holidays at our table, and one colorful vacation (at the expense of my parents) in Abu Dhabi where my father worked for over 20 years and my mother lived for six months each year, spending her winters in the warm south and summers in cool Poland.

Barbara Wysocka's memory should be preserved by a museum dedicated to this cause - where many of her colleagues are also remembered. I'm glad that the Museum took the medals, but troubled that they wanted to deny that there was any good done in the "communist" times - without these times as a bridge, there would have been no independent Poland today. Some Home Army veterans were hounded and killed, others survived and helped rebuild the country. Warsaw was completely destroyed by Germans who forcefully removed all inhabitants and blew out all buildings, especially the large and historic ones... leaving shantytowns on the outskirts untouched, pocked by bullet holes.... Now, the historic core of the Old Town was rebuilt and Warsaw grows, with its history carefully reconstructed...


 My parents, Henryka and Aleksy Trochimczyk, loved to travel, loved to see the world and visit far away places. My father, an electrical engineering specializing in power plants, worked first in Iraq and then in the United Arab Emirates - Abu Dhabi. He spent most of his career working abroad, as an electrical engineer building a sugar beet refinery in Mosul, Iraq, and then the power plant and water desalination plant in Abu Dhabi. My mom joined him there, and the family traveled both there and through Europe - Greece, Turkey, Italy...

My mom also went to Spain and took a three month tour of the U.S. while staying with me in Canada. One day she said, I'm going for a trip, the next day she was on a Greyhound bus... Similarly, when Princess Diana died, my Mom decided to pay her respect and my parents drove to London for the funeral. All these trips were documented in picture albums and in guides from the many places visited.

These guides and albums were donated to the Museum of Sports and Tourism and will enrich the permanent collection. The large yellow suitcase of my parents photographs, especially from Abu Dhabi and my mom's American tours, was borrowed by Mr. Piotr Niedziela of the Museum of Digital Information. He loved working with negatives and after reviewing the set of materials, picked over 600 images for his collection to illustrate an important part of Polish history - Polish engineers working abroad, building infrastructure in many countries. The Persian Gulf was certainly exotic enough to merit attention....

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Chopin or Szymanowska? Kocyan's Quiz at the Bowers Museum (Vol. 4, No. 8)

On Sunday, June 30, 2013, at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, during a lecture-recital about "Maria Szymanowska, the Court Pianist to the Tsarinas" Wojciech Kocyan let the audience compare and identify the music of Szymanowska, born in 1789 and publishing since 1810 to her death in 1831, and Chopin, born in 1810 and composing since his childhood to 1849.

Instead of playing their music in a straightforward piano recital, Kocyan arranged six pieces in pairs, in random order, and asked the audience to identify the composers. To make things harder, the pieces were put in the same, or very similar key. The two pieces in A-Flat major were fast, effervescent, and virtuosic, with melody barely indicated above a web of arpeggios. The two pieces in F Minor were melodic and expressive, poignant event. The pieces in E-flat Major were whimsical, nostalgic, and dance-like - both could actually be danced at an aristocratic salon.

In A-Flat Major:

Chopin – Etude in A-flat major, Op. 25 No. 1, known as The Aeolian Harp since Robert Schumann's review in the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, composed before 1837, dedicated to Maria d'Agoult.

Szymanowska – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfcmvkbmtygNocturne in A-flat Major “Le Murmure” published in Paris by Henry, with the title on the cover “First Pianist of the Tsarinas of Russia”

In F Minor:

Szymanowska – Polonaise in F Minor, no. 4 from the same collection of 18 Dances dedicated to Princess Vyazemsky

Chopin – Waltz in F minor Op.70 No.2, composed in 1841 and dedicated to Elise Gavard and Anna Caroline Oury [de Belleville] in different editions

In E-flat Major:

Chopin – Waltz in E flat Major Op.Posth., composed around 1827 (he most likely heard Szymanowska in Warsaw at that time), played by Biret Idil, from YouTube.

Szymanowska –  Contredanse, pub. 1820 Leipzig, in 18 Dances dedicated to Madame la Vera Viazemsky nee Princesse Gagarin, wife of Prince Pyotr Viazemsky (in 1819-21 he lived in Warsaw, was friends with Pushkin and Mickiewicz), with a quotation from opera Jean de Paris by Pierre Boieldieu.

Wojciech Kocyan plays Szymanowska and Chopin. Photo by  Maria Kubal.
The audience filled out the answer cards that were collected and counted during the reception. Three books on Szymanowska by Stanislaw Dobrzanski were given to three winners randomly chosen from among 20 listeners who gave correct answers. The lecture recital was attended by about 140 people, so the proportion of correct answers was about 14%, which means that the majority of listeners mistook Chopin for Szymanowska and Szymanowska for Chopin. This indicates the similarity of their compositional styles.

Wojciech Kocyan and Maja Trochimczyk present Szymanowska. Photo by  Maria Kubal. 

To make things harder, Kocyan, who just learned the Szymanowska pieces for this event, but has played Chopin for his entire career, that started with an award in the Warsaw Chopin Competition, decided to not play from memory, but rather use scores, without clearly visible names on the covers, so that the pieces would be identified solely by ear.

As a bonus, the wonderful and witty pianist, selected a piece that grew a collective "aah" from the expectant audience just after two chords. Everyone recognized Chopin's Waltz in C-Sharp Minor Op. 64 No. 2, composed in 1846-47, dedicated to Charlotte de Rotschild and beloved by generations.

Chopin - Waltz in A Minor, op. 34 no. 2, and Waltz in C-sharp Minor Op. 64, No. 2 played by Valentina Igoshiona, from YouTube.

The event started with my lecture on "Fashion, Portraits and Szymanowska's Professional Image" richly illustrated with portraits of the virtuoso pianist, teacher of princesses, and composer of romantic music, endowed with rich melodic invention and a talent for filigree ornamentation, and expressive harmonic progressions. Certain cadences, motives, textures, and melodies in "Chopin's style" pointed to an inspiration or a shared language of the era that is now forgotten, since we only remember Chopin. The poster by the lectern by Janusz Majewski of Poland celebrates another Queen of Polish culture - Helena Modjeska (Modrzejewska), an actress and director, and the patron of the Modjeska Club that sponsored the event.

To learn more about Szymanowska, the audience could buy a book published in 2006 by the Polish Music Center, with a CD insert by Dobrzanski. The book is a result of Dobrzanski's doctoral studies (he's now a piano professor in Kansas) and includes my chapter on Szymanowska's songs.

To learn more about Szymanowska's music I recommend the purchase of her Complete Piano Works, issued by Acte Prealable in Poland this spring, and recorded on three CDs by Slawomir Dobrzanski (AB 181-83). This is a "must-have" set and hopefully some of these recordings will become available for download individually, starting from Szymanowska's greatest hit - her Nocturne "Le Murmure" which was used by Adam Mickiewicz as an accompaniment to poetic improvisations back in her salon in St. Petersburg. There are no excerpts from the CD set available online, but her two Nocturnes have been posted:

The picture on Dobrzanski's CD is the same as the one towering above the performers in the auditorium: Szymanowska styled as a Roman Goddess and placed at a piano, with a putto handing her the book of music, to indicate angelic inspiration, in a exquisite evening gown and elegant interior, with a window pointing at the smoking peak of Vesuvius. Walenty Wankowicz painted Szymanowska in Naples, where she played for the Russian Ambassador on January 19, 1825 and socialized with Princess Natalia Golitzin, one of her closes friends and supporters.

Maja Trochimczyk with poet and artist Kathabela Wilson

Pictures were taken by Maria Kubal and Kathabela Wilson, poet, musician, and artist. The audience included also Prof. Roman Koropeckyj of UCLA, a noted specialist in Mickiewicz, Dr. Mira Mataric, Serbian-American poet and translator, and Susan Dobay, Hungarian-American artist. extraordinaire. Barri Mogilewsky (married to a Polish-American, hence the name), represented the Bowers Museum and coordinated the afternoon, whereas Andrew Z. Dowen, President of the Modjeska Club, represented the Club and coordinated the reception.

To see more pictures from the event, visit the Picasa Album: https://picasaweb.google.com/Maja.Trochimczyk/KocyanAndTrochimczykOnSzymanowska#

Maja Trochimczyk, with Modjeska Club's President Andy Dowen,
and Barri Mogilewsky of the Bowers Museum. June 30, 2013. Photo by  Maria Kubal. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Szymanowska and Chopin at the Bowers Museum, Santa Ana (Vol. 4, No. 7)

On June 30 at 1:30 p.m. at the Norma Kershaw Auditorium of the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana (2002 N Main St, Santa Ana, CA 92706; tel. 714 567 3600) I will present a lecture about "Maria Szymanowska - Court Pianist to the Tsarinas" and pianist Wojciech Kocyan will play piano music by Szymanowska and Chopin. This lecture performance is one of the events associated with an exhibit The Tsar's Cabinet: Two Hundred Years of Decorative Arts Under the Romanovs on display at the Bowers Museum through the summer. The event will be sponsored by the Helena Modjeska Arts and Culture Club, with a small reception to follow. Books about Szymanowska by Slawomir Dobrzanski and a CD set with all of her piano music recorded by Dobrzanski in Poland will be available for purchase at the event.

The lecture will be richly illustrated with portraits of Szymanowska and European nobility, while the musical performance will bring her sound world to life, under the masterful fingers of Prof. Kocyan.  He will juxtapose Szymanowska's nocturnes and etudes with smaller works by Chopin, especially his waltzes - created for the same world of aristocratic salons that were inhabited by Szymanowska. The presentation is loosely based on my paper, read at the International Szymanowska Symposium in Paris, and published in the Annales de Centre de Academie Scientifique Polonaise a Paris, in 2012.

Fee: $7 Member/ $10 Non-member. Advance reservations: Visitor Services Desk, Tuesday – Sunday, 10 AM – 4 PM; bowers.org/tickets or bowers.org/calendar and fill out the reservation form or e-mail education@bowers.org. The event will begin promptly, please leave sufficient travel time.

Szymanowska's portrait by Walenty Wankowicz.
Collection of the Polish Library, Paris 

On Fashion, Portraits, and the Professional Image of Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831)

Fashion choices of classical musicians have recently attracted the interest of Mary E. Davis (Classic Chic, 2006). I bring this topic to the biography of Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831), a Polish pianist-composer who after her 1810 Parisian debut toured Europe in 1822-1826 before settling in St. Petersburg for the rest of her short life. A daughter of a Warsaw brewer, and a divorced mother of three (daughters Celina and Helena, and son Romuald), Szymanowska was able to ascend to an elevated position of the Court Pianist of the Tsarinas, and support her extended family with her music (i.e., concertizing and teaching children from aristocratic families). The pianist’s career benefited from ability to shape her “professional image” as a high-society lady of elegance and multiple talents. My project builds on the research of Anne Schwartz (2009), Sławomir Dobrzański (2007), and Benjamin Vogel (2012) that focused on Szymanowska’s talents as a savvy businesswoman and a musician with a love for English pianos. Through an analysis of her portraits by French and Polish artists (Henri Benner, Nicolas Jacques, Aleksander Chodkiewicz, Józef Oleszkiewicz, Aleksander Kokular, and Walenty Wańkowicz) revealing Szymanowska’s personal image and her fashion choices, I demonstrate that in this pianist we encounter one of the earliest instances of “professional image-making” (term from Laura Morgan Roberts, 2005).

Szymanowska's litograph based on Oleszkiewicz portrait
Collection of the Polish Library, Paris

Szymanowska created her positive image through “impression management” and “social re-categorization”- shifting the attention away from her humble roots to her preferred aristocratic milieu. The means for this transformation included appearance (clothing, hairstyles, and jewelry), carefully cultivated social networks, and virtuous conduct befitting a single mother of three, a teacher of princesses and nobles. The pianist was exposed to the attire of the nobility as a performer in aristocratic salons in Warsaw (in 1805-1806; 1812, 1823, 1827, and 1828), Paris (in 1810, 1824, 1825, and 1826), London (in 1818, 1824, 1825, and 1926), and St. Petersburg (in 1820, 1822, 1827, and 1828-31). The portraits provide an opportunity to compare her white muslin gowns, shawls, turbans, double sleeves, and jeweled belts with the predominant and changing French, Polish, English and Russian fashions of her time, including those of her mentors – Countess Zofia Zamojska, Duchess Maria Czartoryska Wirtemberg, and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna – as well as Queen Hortense, Duchess Laura Junot d’Abrantes, and Madame de Stael, among others.

The striking features of portraits by Kokular and Wańkowicz, both painted in Italy in 1825, point to a possible artistic “Agon” of the two artists who envisioned the pianist as a Queen of Tones in Rome (Kokular, the phrase was coined by Adam Mickiewicz) and a mythological goddess in Naples (Wańkowicz), thus furthering her elevated professional and social status. The ramifications of Szymanowska’s image creation that helped her to become a teacher and a role model for daughters of Russian aristocracy touch upon the concepts of “female genius” and “modesty” (the preferred virtue of society women in the early 19th century). The research for this paper, conducted at the Muzeum Literatury in Warsaw, Poland and Bibliothèque Polonaise in Paris was supported by Maria Szymanowska Society in Paris.


Wojciech Kocyan and Maja Trochimczyk after
a Chopin with Cherries Concert, Ruskin Art Club, May 2010

Wojciech Kocyan was praised for his “highly distinctive performances (…) superb, intelligent artistry (…)” (ClassicsToday.com) and “incisive temperament, impeccable technique and sumptuous tone” (Le Monde de la Musique.). He was born in Poland. He studied with two of the world’s most esteemed piano pedagogues: Andrzej Jasinski in Poland, where he received his Masters Degree and with John Perry at the University of Southern California, where he received a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree.

He is a laureate of several international piano competitions, including F.Busoni and Viotti, as well as a special prizes winner of the XI International Chopin Competition and the First Prize winner of the Paderewski Piano Competition. He performed in Europe, America, Australia and Japan, participating in music festivals such as Musica Antiqua Europae Orientalis, Capri Festival, Bydgoszcz International Music Festival, H.M.Gorecki Festival, Beethovenfest, Paderewski Festival, Liszt Festival in Vienna, San Francisco Liszt Festival, Cervantino International Music Festival, Morelia International Music Festival and the Chopin Festival in Paris. He has recorded for television, radio and film and his performances were broadcast in Europe, United States and Australia. His solo and chamber music recordings can also be found on DUX label. He was a subject of press articles in Poland, France, Italy, Germany, Mexico, United States and Japan.

In September 2007 the Gramophone magazine, published in London and considered the world’s most prestigious classical music journal, chose Mr. Kocyan’s recording of Prokofiev, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff as one of 50 best classical recordings ever made, alongside recordings of such luminaries as Leonard Bernstein, Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau, Nicolaus Harnoncourt and Arthur Rubinstein. It also featured the cover headline “The genius of Wojciech Kocyan”. His latest CD, of music by Robert Schumann was released in June 2012.

Dr. Kocyan is much in demand as an adjudicator and lecturer. He has been invited to give masterclasses in France, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Mexico and the United States, including such prestigious venues as the Colburn School. He is the Artistic Director of the Paderewski Music Society in Los Angeles and the Artistic Director of the American Paderewski Piano Competition in Los Angeles.

Maja Trochimczyk, Jane Kaczmarek and Wojciech Kocyan,
First American Paderewski Piano Competition, 2010