Wednesday, December 19, 2018

More Music for Poland's 100th Anniversary of Regained Independence (Vol. 9, No. 12)

Krak Poetry Group celebrates Poland's independence day at Bolton Hall Museum.

The Los Angeles celebrations of the 100th Anniversary of Poland Regaining its Independence included six concerts, three discussed earlier (vol. 9 no. 11; concerts by Polish Music Center - Paderewski Lecture-Recital, plus anniversary concerts by Katarzyna Sadej and by Kate Liu), and  three concerts described in this issue of the blog. There was also one poetry reading by the Krak Poetry Group, represented by Maja Trochimczyk, Andrew Kolo and Konrad Tademar Wilk, as discussed on the Village Poets blog.

The second set of concerts includes events held on October 27, 2018 (Wojciech Kocyan's recital at Loyola Marymount University presenting a whole program of Polish composers, from Maria Szymanowska to Grazyna Bacewicz, with Fryderyk Chopin and Ignacy Jan Paderewski in-between), on November 2, 2018 (Polish music at the Wende Museum of the Cold War), and on November 10, 2018 (Organ Recital by Jan Bokszczanin of Poland at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles).


The annual faculty recital by professor Wojciech Kocyan at Loyola Marymount is always well attended  by students, faculty and fan of his music. This year the recital had an exclusively Polish content: Polonaise in C minor Op. 40 no. 2, four Impromptus, no. 1 op. 29, no. 2 op. 36, no. 3 op. 51 and Fantasy-Impromptu op. 66. The performance of these classic Chopin masterpieces was technically impeccable and musically exquisite, with rich emotional content, ranging from powerful drama to soft eerie dreams, all suffused with delightful tone colors.

After the intermission Kocyan delighted the audience with a musical game. he selected six works by Chopin, Szymanowska and Paderewski that were played in a different order than arranged in the program (Waltzes in F Op. 70 no 2 and in E-flat Op Posth by Chopin, Polonaise in F and Contredanse in A-flat by Szymanowska, and Nocturne in B-flat and Minuet in G Op. 14 no. 1 by Paderewski). It is hard not to recognize the Minuet, that Paderewski played so many times as an encore to enchanted and merciless audiences that he came to hate his own creation. Similarly with Chopin's waltzes (here is Op. 70 no. 2 played by Artur Rubinstein)... At the end of the concerts book on music were awarded to nine from among more than 10 listeners who got the answers right.

The concert, played in chronological order ended with the set of Mazurkas op. 62 by Karol Szymanowski and Piano Sonata No. 2 by Grazyna Bacewicz, perhaps too long and heavy an ending to a lovely and playful evening.  Bacewicz is being played more and more often, as pianists want to promote women's work, but her music is very uneven in quality, some neoclassical sonatas, like this one, feature heavy, dissonant chords, lots of repetitive textures, and leave the listeners exhausted rather than delighted with their immersion in music.

The third Polish-themed concert, on November 2, 2018. took listeners to two years framing the post-war period of Polish history. The year 1953 was a notable date when Stalin died and the folk-inspired socialist realism was a binding doctrine in all arts in Eastern bloc countries. The year 1991, two years after the fall of the oppressive system marked the end of the Cold War by the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact on July 1, 1991.

This concert, sponsored by the Wende Museum of the Cold War in Culver City and organized by the Jacaranda New Music Group featured the music of Grazyna Bacewicz, Mieczyslaw Weinberg, and Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki, beautifully played by the Lyris Quartet (Second Quartet by Gorecki), Adam Marks, piano (Second Piano Sonata by Bacewicz) and Movses Pogossian with Adam Marks (Violin sonata no. 5 op. 53 by Weinberg).  The rendition of Bacewicz's dense and dramatic textures from memory by Adam Marks greatly impressed the audience; with the requisite shifts of mood, broad emotional and dramatic range, and fantastic technique. I was a bit disappointed by his interpretation of the "oberek" motives in triple meter in the Presto, which did not sound dance-like or Polish at all, there was no rubato in those motives at all, as there should. But leaving this little quibble aside, I should admit that his performance was a monumental feat, and gave justice to a difficult and dense work.

The very neoclassical and yet expressive, folk-style sonata by Weinberg sounded more Russian than Polish. Weinberg though born in Poland and now claimed by Polish music historian moved to the Soviet Union and made his music career there, so he should be listed among Soviet composers, not Polish ones... It is good, though, that Poles now claim his talent, best displayed in the deeply moving opera The Passenger, based on authentic story of an encounter  of a former prisoner with a former guard on board of  a transatlantic ship and the profound impact this chance meeting made on the traumatized women that barely survived the tortures by her murderous oppressor, now changed into a society lady. In Weinberg's works there's plenty to listen to, and Povgossian with Marks interpreted the music with gusto, style and virtuosity appropriate for this work.

The closing work on the program was the massive String Quartet No. 2 "Quasi Una Fantasia" Op. 64 from 1991 (contrasted with the previous two, both written in 1953) by Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki. Four movements of drama, melancholy, Beethovenian tranquility, stylized dance folklore of the Polish Tatra Mountains leave the audience in wonder, especially if the music is played as well as it was by the Lyris Quartet. The subtitle of this work was borrowed from Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (no. 14), but referred mostly to the free fantasy structure of the composition, with its alternating textures and dramatic shifts of mood, from frenzied dance of the folk kapela, to the tranquility of the carol Silent Night... There are few more sublime compositions in the entire chamber music repertoire, not just of the 20th century. And it is certainly not too long, just long enough to immerse the listeners in its beauty. Bravo to the Lyris Quartet. Bravo to Gorecki. And Bravo to Jacaranda and Wende for presenting this magnificent, inspired composition. The realm of music is the domain of the sublime; a realm that transcends daily life, and transforms time into unforgettable experience of beauty.


Over 1,000 people attended a special Mass for the Homeland at Our Lady of the Angels cathedral in Los Angeles, an event sponsored by the Polish American Congress of Southern California, Polish Airlines LOT, and a number of organizations that contributed to this joint effort, featuring folk dancers in costume from the Krakusy ensemble, Choir Totus Tuus, Cantor Jolanta Tensor, as well as a number of community activists as readers and lectors. The Consulate General of the Republic of Poland presented the recital by Jan B. Bokszczanin, who teaches organ at the Chopin University - Bialystok.

The massive program was somewhat revised for this performance and include J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor; Suzynski's Variations on Holy God, Marian Sawa's Gaude Mater Poloniae and Regina Poloniae, Wojciech Kilar's Wokaliza, Feliks Nowowiejski's Polish Fantasy, a dance by Nicolas from Krakow (renaissance), and first movement from Felix Borowski's Organ Sonata no. 1.

Mr. Bokszczanin explained that he chose Borowski for this recital since the little known composer 1872-1956 was not only a master of the organ but also a Polish American who died in exile in 1956. I have never heard about this musician and was delighted with the discovery of such a great talent, so knowledgeable of ways of making the organ shine and sparkle with the variety of sonorities and textures.

My favorite work on the program was the tranquil and nostalgic Polish Fantasy by another master of the organ, Feliks Nowowiejski (1877-1946) almost a contemporary of Borowski. Nowowiejski's organ music is well known and this late romantic is gradually receiving more and more recognition, to the extent that "avant-garde" prejudices are giving way to the voice of reason, and listening to music for beauty and sublime expression, instead of shock by harshness of dissonances. These were provided for this concert by works by Marian Sawa, that hurt the ears of the listeners with some dramatic and dissonant clusters forte fortissimo, to dissipate into beautiful melodies that inspired those works. Sawa is well known for his technical skill and knowledge of the organ; if not among the "best of the best" of Polish composers (says who? Adrian Thomas, who writes entries for the New Grove Dictionary of Music...), he certainly deserves to be noticed.

Luckily at this event, nobody complained that Bokszczanin played Bach, a German composer, at a Polish celebration (we had some complaints about this very issue concerning the presence of Beethoven on a program of November 5 concert by Kate Liu).  Maybe because people were pacified and mollified by the beautiful celebration, kind words of the presiding speech, or thoughts of prayer and intercession, for all the victims of all wars that Poland suffered in the past 100 years of its history.


On Sunday, November 11, 2018, during religious and patriotic celebrations at local churches in L.A. and O.C. children sung Polish songs, recited poetry, danced folk dances, and acted in plays all to teach and commemorate Polish history and culture. After the children's beautifully staged and acted performance at the Polish School in Yorba Linda (bravo to all kids learning Polish history by immersion!) there was a classic sing-along of patriotic songs, of a kind practiced through the long 19th century in Polish homes and mansions; with booklets of soldier's songs from a century of fight for independence distributed among the audience. 

It was very interesting to read their blood-thirsty words in a church, after children celebrated the pivotal moments of 100 years of Polish history and the beauty of the Polish land. So many of these songs glorified violence and war in the most offputting way. So annoying.  Let's start from "Bartoszu, Bartoszu" from 1837 written about the Kosciuszko Insurrection of 1794, the last, lost battle to protect Poland's independence. Its text is a call to arms ("sharp, oh so sharp are our scythes" - that were turned from agricultural tools into weapons by being set vertically on their handles). It is also a call to rebellion against the Russian occupiers of the country. Rightly so, but just imagine the bloodshed on the battlefield. 

Another famous and historic song is "Warszawianka 1831" written initially in French during the November Uprising 1831 against the Russians, with a melody by Karol Kurpinski. It again has the "call to arms" theme. "Hey, who's a Pole, take up your sabre..." Or, let's read just the first line: "this is the day of blood and glory, let it be the day of resurrection."  Blood and glory? Blood and gore... This reference to the suffering on the battlefield is followed by the connection of Polish White Eagle to the star of France... and, in the refrain "our trumpets blare against our enemies." The whole content is about conflict, animosity, struggle: us versus them, armed fight to defeat them, the enemies, the oppressors. At the end: "Fly, our Eagle, high and fast. Serve Fame, Poland, and the World. Who survives - will be free. Who will die - is free now." Well, life's not worth much, if giving it up results in freedom. 

A different, famous song dates from the outset of World War I (1914), greeted by Poles as a chance to win back their freedom, since their occupiers were involved in fighting each other. This is the famed "Marsz Pierwszej Kadrowej" (First Corps March), with its notable beginning:"the heart is overjoyed, the soul is joyous, when the First Corps marches out to war." Here, the word "war" is rendered in the diminutive, cute form of "wojenka" - as if these young men were not marching to inflict and suffer injury and death. . . 

Similarly bloodthirsty is "My Pierwsza Brygada" (We the First Brigade) of the Pilsudski Legion written at the end of World War I. Here we find a dramatic refrain, "We the First Brigade, the Division of Shooters, have thrown our lives' fate onto the funeral pyre." The last words are repeated, lest they are missed and the duty to die is not imprinted on the minds of the young men singing: "Na stos, na stos!" This call to battle readies the young men to make the ultimate sacrifice of their own life that goes against their nature of self-preservation and glorification of life. Kill or be killed, throw away your life, it is not worth much, unless you fight.... 

Tragic. Even the more nostalgic, romantic or humorous songs have war and bloody battles as their primary context: "Oh, My Rosemary" ("O, Moj Rozmarynie"), or "Bunches of White Rose Buds bloomed" ("Rozkwitaly peki bialych roz").  And what about our national anthem? All war, all the time.


Maybe it is time, then, to turn the tide and change these words, to stop attracting war, and ultimate self-sacrifice in battle to the next generations of Poles. Maybe it is time to glorify a peaceful, prosperous, happy Poland of abundance, beauty and success?  Let me try... 

Mazurek Dabrowskiego / Dabrowski Mazurka 

Current Version

Jeszcze Polska nie zginela                 Poland has not perished yet
poki my zyjemy                                   As long as we are alive  
co nam obca przemoc wziela            What foreign violence took from us
szabla odbierzemy                              We'll take back with the saber

Marsz marsz Dabrowski                   March, march, Dabrowski
Z ziemi wloskiej do Polski                From the Italian land to Poland 
Za twoim przewodem                        We will follow your lead
Zlaczym sie z narodem.                     To rejoin our nation.

Written in 1794 for the Legion led by General Dabrowski, under Napoleon Bonaparte, first to conquer Italy for him, then to conquer Spain, but all awhile dreaming of liberating Poland. Napoleon created a short-lived Duchy of Warsaw in 1806; and sent the remnant of Polish troops to pacify a rebellion in Haiti, where they died in the tropics, so far from their beloved Poland. 

In the new version, which requires lots of work still, I propose to replace all expressions of violence, struggle, war, all references to swords and marching troops, with a peaceful imagery of a blessed land, and its proud inhabitants, hard at work to make it flourish. Better? 

Proposed New Version

Polska zyje, Polska kwitnie             Poland lives, Poland blossoms
w Polsce my zyjemy                         We all thrive in Poland
Od Baltyku az po Tatry                    From the Baltic to the Tatras   
piekny kraj widzimy                        We see lovely country  


Marsz, marsz, rodacy                       March, march, compatriots
dla ojczyzny, do pracy                      For your homeland, go working
Wszyscy z orlem bialym                   With the white eagle, together
z narodem wspanialym                    One magnificent nation

Or, a longer version, since there are many options, as long as there is no reference to dying, victimhood, martyrhood, sacrifice, and there are plenty of references to happiness, blessings, abundance, beauty, peace ...

Polska rosnie, Polska kwitnie           Poland grows, Poland blossoms
Pelna jest radosci                                    It is always joyous
Od Baltyku az po Tatry                         From the Baltic to the Tatras   
Kraj to obfitosci                                      Poland's full of riches

Marsz, marsz, rodacy                           March, march, compatriots
dla ojczyzny, do pracy                          For your homeland, go working
Razem, z orlem bialym                        Together, with white eagle
Z narodem wspanialym                       One magnificent nation

Kraj to Lecha, kraj to Piasta               Land of Lech, Land of Piast
Kraj nasz ukochany                               We love our country
Czy w Krakowie czy w Warszawie    All in Krakow all in Warsaw
dom nasz chwalic mamy                      We praise our homeland

Marsz, marsz, rodacy                           March, march, compatriots

Przez miasteczko, miasto, wioske    Through our village, town and city
Plynie Wisla plynie                                 Flows Vistula river
Gory, lasy, pola, laki                               Mountains, forests, fields, and meadows
naszej pieknej ziemi                               Of our lovely country 

Marsz, marsz, rodacy                           March, march, compatriots

I found the idea of rewriting the Polish national anthem on a blog Jasna Polska, where it is called Mazurek 3.0: While I did not quite like their version,  which I considered as going too far away from the original, the notion that the war-violence-struggle-submission text has to be rejected is quite true indeed.  The arguments why these words no longer serve as a beacon to build a strong and independent sovereign country of strong, sovereign citizens are very interesting... Maybe we need a nation-wide competition for a new text of our national anthem? 

There are precedents of writing new words to the lovely mazurka melody that is energetic, vibrant, and quite positive with its dance character and triple meter. The March of Polonia, for instance, was brought back to  interwar Poland from Brazil by a teacher and activist Jadwiga Jaholkowska. Its refrain is in turn borrowed from a 1863 version from January Uprising. Textual variants relate to the particular conditions of fighting for Poland's independence or living in exile in the Americas.

Marsz Polonii  / March of Polonia

Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła,                         Poland's not dead
choc my za morzami                                   though we are overseas

[kiedy my żyjemy],                                       [as long as we live ]
co nam obca przemoc wzięła,                    what foreign power took away 
szablą odbierzemy.                                      we will win back with a sabre


Marsz, marsz Polonia,                           March, march, Polonia
marsz dzielny narodzie,                        Our brave nation
odpoczniemy po swej pracy                 We will rest after working
w ojczystej zagrodzie.                            In forefathers' homestead

Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła,                    Poland's not dead
i zginąć nie może,                                    And cannot die 
bo Ty jesteś sprawiedliwy,                   Because you are just
o Wszechmocny Boże.                            Oh, God, Almighty


Marsz, marsz Polonia,                  March, march, Polonia   

Marsz, marsz, Polonia of 1863 r. - March by Czachowski (very long - only two stanzas are reproduced here, this is a version from the January Uprising) 

Już was żegnam, niskie strzechy,
Ojców naszych chatki.
Już was żegnam bez powrotu,
Ojcowie i matki.

 Marsz, marsz, Polonia,
Nasz dzielny narodzie.
Odpoczniemy po swej pracy
W ojczystej zagrodzie.

Już was żegnam, bracia, siostry,
Krewni, przyjaciele.
Póki w ręku miecz jest ostry,
Nie zginie nas wiele.

Marsz, marsz, Polonia...

Monday, November 12, 2018

Los Angeles Celebrates 100 Years of Poland's Regained Independence with Music (Vol. 9, No. 11)

How else to celebrate freedom and independence of a country that suffered so much in the past 200 years of its history, than  with vibrant classical music that uplifts the spirit and heals the heart?  That's what we did and continue to do in Los Angeles this year, when 100 Years of Poland's Regained Independence has become the focus of  six concerts (on October 14, 20, 27, November 5 and 10), three of them presented here and three in the next installment of this blog. 


We already discussed the 2018 Paderewski Lecture at USC Thornton School of Music, organized by the USC Polish Music Center, and given by USC Professor of Musicology Lisa Cooper Vest, with several wonderful performances of Polish music of the past century by USC musicians and ensembles. The event took place on October 14, 2018. We heard performances by the USC chorus: Karol Szymanowski's selected Piesni Kurpiowskie, as fresh as when they were written in the 1929; and Ignacy Jan Paderewski's  Hey, White Eagle! of 1917, a rousing anthem for Polish troops in an enthusiastic interpretation by young students, and a Trojan-focused translation by Marek Zebrowski who rendered, "Hej, na boj" - literally, "hey, to battle" into a USC catch phrase "Fight on!" 

Ludomir Rozycki is the most unjustly forgotten Polish composer of the interwar era and his exuberant Krakowiak from the ballet Pan Twardowski was masterfully arranged for a chamber ensemble by Marek Zebrowski and beautifully interpreted by USC String Quartet (Bradley Bascon, Leonard Chong, Jenny Sung, Allan Hon), with Sergio Coehlo clarinet, and pianist So-Mang Jeagal. This magical piece was full of life and exuberance - of a dance and joie de vivre. Delightful. Equally enchanting was the following set of Cinq Melodies written in 1927 by Aleksander Tansman, a Polish Jewish composer who made his home in Paris, and survived the war in California (1941-46). He is also among the most unjustly neglected, prolific, and talented composers of music written to bring joy to its performers and audiences.  The honey-hued, clear soprano of Stephanie Jones, shone and dazzled in the witty, wistful, or melancholy songs, with the colorful and supportive accompaniment of So-Mang Jeagal that transformed these songs into sparkling gems of music. 

After years of studying avant-garde composers of the 20th century, having published the first English language monograph on Jozef Koffler - a 12 tone experimentalist and Holocaust victim of the most tragic and moving story imaginable, I must say that I was disappointed with his cantata Die Liebe (Love) based on New Testament letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, "love is patient, love is kind" - even more so that I expected to love it. Somehow, 12-tone music has not aged well. All experimental and innovative in its heyday, this music is written against nature - the nature of sounds that requires resonance of harmonies, not dissonance of angular leaps and bounds or weird chordal juxtapositions, and the nature of performance that requires that music flows an dances with meters and rhythms and is not strangled in some straight jacket of formula-based, calculated patters. True, Koffler's Cantata deserves to be played, because it aged a lot better than Schoenberg's works, and definitely stratospheric-ally better than music by lots of Schoenberg's followers who shall not be named here as being tone-death and emotionally crippled. You could feel not love, but pity for the poor young musicians so focused on every single note, so intent on rendering each nuance of the difficult score. 

Grazyna Bacewicz's String Quartet No. 1 from 1938 did not fare much better to my ears; as it shows quite clearly the straight-jacket of neoclassical dissonance that constrained her innate musicality. She was a virtuoso violinist and a concert pianist and she knew the classical repertoire well. But at this point in time, in order to be appreciated as a composer, and a woman at that, she had to cover up her talent, and distort her wonderful ideas under thick layers of discordant, harsh chords, evaded cadences, illogical melodic leaps, and fragmented rhythms that made this music avant-garde then, and unlikeable now. Luckily for listeners, Bacewicz also wrote lots of music that is far more delightful to hear, even if still dissonant and aggressive. My favorite is her String Quartet No. 4, with some of the most sublime music composed in Poland during the long 20th century.  Nonetheless, her complicated, dense, and dramatic harmonies were exceedingly well played by the USC string quartet, who revealed remarkable talents, rich sonorities, and virtuosity in every part. These musicians will go places! 

Indeed, to me, this concert was a revelation that I did not expect. I had spent more than 20 years of my academic career on studying and promoting contemporary avant-garde music precisely like the pieces by Koffler and Bacewicz on the USC Polish Music Center's program. So I was quite surprised by my visceral, negative emotional reaction to this music now. No, no, no - my ears, and body said. We do not want to hear that. So there. What next? 

The Paderewski Lecture Recitals were established in 2002 with the purpose of promoting the most avant-garde contemporary composers from Poland, every year someone new. It was to honor Paderewski who received a honorary doctorate from USC in 1923 and to promote 20th century Polish music that was the main mission of the USC Polish Music Center until then. Founded in 1985 by Dr. and Mrs. Wilk and with enormous support from Polish composers who donated their original manuscripts to jumpstart the collection (Lutoslawski, Bacewicz, Bruzdowicz, Ptaszynska, Skrowaczewski, and over 30 others), the Center focused on bringing these composers to the forefront. But apart from the first two events in 2002 (Zygmunt Krauze plus dancers from Krakusy), and 2003 (Joanna Bruzdowicz and films by Agnes Varga), the Paderewski Lecture-Recitals have never been well attended, with the hall typically filled in half or even one-third. So maybe we should be done with this neoclassical, sonoristic, 12-tone, and dissonant mess? Maybe the Paderewski lectures should feature more listener-friendly music that appears to the heart and soul?  There are so many great composers, so worthy of our attention... 

Photo by Lucyna Przasnyski


A different type of celebration took place on October 20, 2018 at a private mansion in Beverly Hills. We heard the incomparable mezzosoprano Katarzyna Sadej (you have to hear her to believe it! What a voice, one in a century!) with Basia Bochenek, piano, in a recital of Polish songs, entitled "100 Years of Poland in Music" and organized by the Helena Modjeska Art and Culture Club.  I posted my remarks about the program of Polish patriotic and popular songs that together formed a whirlwind tour of Polish history on this blog already. Now it is time to focus on the performance. The concert started with Paderewski's Hej, Orle Bialy! / Hey, White Eagle! - a call to arms directed to Polish emigres in America and Canada, inciting them to the war effort, to go fight in Europe and eventually free Poland. Eventually, their numbers reached closed to 90,000, but many died and never returned home to America. 

The call to "fight on" is tragic in its essence, it demands the sacrifice of life, of one's own trauma, injury, and death, the infamy of killing. Sadej filled her rendition of this call to bravery with a premonition of the suffering that would inevitably follow. War is a disaster and her interpretation of the patriotic anthem, inspired and profound, enriched the song with layers of meaning. This was also the first time that this particular audience could hear her magnificent voice;  rich, saturated, resonance, with perfect intonation, it resonated through the hall, through everyone, so much so that the listeners became totally immobile. Some had tears in their eyes. 

Photo by Lucyna Przasnyski

The sorrow and loss of war continued to be mourned in Dzis do ciebie przyjsc nie moge / I Cannot Come to You Tonight,  a more explicit way in a melancholy plaint of the underground Home Army soldier, regretting that he could not visit his sweetheart, for he had to go to battle. The 1943 song written by a Home Army soldier remained popular through the post-war period. Sadej filled it with longing, gentle melancholy, and quiet resignation; revealing an expressive side to her musical talent. The tears that appeared in the eyes of her listeners were a testimony to her skill; through her superb musicality and expressiveness she touched her audience deeply.  The next WWII anthem, Red Poppies on Monte Cassino, from 1944, was written by a soldier in the Second Polish Corps fighting alongside the Brits under general Wladyslaw Anders, and, after a huge loss of life, finally conquering the fortress that the Benedictine monastery had become, filled with German soldiers. Here, Sadej aptly preserved the military character of the battle song. 

The second part of her program included a diverse set of popular songs written by Witold Lutoslawski and published under a pseudonym of Derwid; light-hearted, sentimental or amusing, these songs portrayed the "mask-wearing" in-authenticity of life in a country that pretended to be free, but was not. The Polish People's Republic was a satellite of the Soviet empire; filled with double-speak, lies, and propaganda. The cheerful and easy-going tangos and foxtrots of Derwid were an "optimistic" mask created to distract and momentarily amuse; and to turn the attention away from the deeply uncomfortable facts of lack of sovereignty and absurd socio-political system.  Sadej suffused these songs with life, yet rendered them in a somewhat "campy" style, filled with irony and humor.  Lovely, as they were - and being a part of a CD recording project, so exceedingly well performed - I was not convinced that these songs do have the lasting value and significance even remotely comparable with the previous three patriotic anthems... 

Photo by Lucyna Przasnyski

As an opera singer, Sadej knows how to please her public with a performance that's stage worthy, as she proved in the last two items on her program. Jerzy Petersburski tango, That Last Sunday / To ostatnia niedziela is a dramatic farewell of a suicidal jilted lover: in the original a man, here - a woman singing to one man she selected from the audience, with great comic force. A pure delight, musical confection made of a melancholy confession of futile love. The Sevillana (Près des remparts de Séville) from Berlioz's Carmen needed a prop of one red rose that Sadej played with while walking through the rows of her listeners who obediently allowed themselves to be seduced by her mesmerizing voice and charm.  Of course, the strong support of Basia Bochenek made all this playacting and performing possible and we are deeply grateful for her fruitful collaboration with Sadej, the opera star. 

Katarzyna Sadej and Barbara Bochenek - photo by L. Przasnyski
Photo by Mary Kubal


The third Los Angeles concert to celebrate 100 Years of Poland's Regained Independence took place on November 5, 2018 at the Colburn School of Music in downtown Los Angeles It was organized by the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in collaboration with the Polish Music Center at the University of Southern California, with financial support from the Polish National Foundation and Polish Investment and Trade Agency, and with organizational support of the Helena Modjeska Art and Culture Club. 

The program included works by Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Fryderyk Chopin (mazurkas) and Beethoven's sublime sonata Op. 110.  This was a star studded evening, with Poland's Senator Anna Maria Anders, Secretary of State for International Dialogue who flew in for one night! Also present were many celebrities, including Wojciech Kocyan, pianist, Katarzyna Sadej, mezzosoprano, Kasia Smiechowicz and Marek Probosz aktors, Marcin Gortat from the Clippers, and many representatives of Polish American organizations from San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Francisco.

Born in Singapore in 1994, Kate Liu began to study piano at the age of four and moved with her family to the Chicago area when she was eight. She continued her studies at the Music Institute of Chicago and graduated from the New Trier High School in 2012. Currently she is studying at Curtis Institute of Music. Winner of the First Prize at the 2010 New York International Piano Competition in New York City and at the 2015 Chopin Competition in Daegu, South Korea, Katie Liu was also a prizewinner at the 2010 Thomas & Evon Cooper International Competition in Oberlin, 2011 Hilton Head International Piano Competition for Young Artists in Hilton Head, 2012 Eastman Young Artist International, and 2014 Montreal International Musical Competition. In 2015 Kate Liu was the Third Prize winner at the Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw and the recipient of the Polish Radio Special Prize for her performance of Chopin’s Mazurkas. Widely popular with the Polish public, Kate Liu received the highest number of votes cast by listeners of the Second Program of the Polish Radio, and won the “My Chopin” contest. In the opinion of listeners, she was the best pianist of the 2015 Chopin Competition.

Photo by Mary Kubal

She chose the program for the evening and made sure that the music flowed impeccably from one mood, one work to the next. Ignacy Jan Paderewski's Melodie op. 16, no. 2 is tranquil and romantic, filled with delicate arabesques in the memorable melody sustained by rich harmonies  beautifully interpreted by Kate Liu. From the first moment, this performance was pure magic, serene and nostalgic, the music dazzled and shone even in the most tranquil piano pianissimo all the way through brilliant forte. Already in the first piece, there were moments when the audience waited with baited breath for the next note, the hall completely still and silent, except for the fluid gestures of Ms. Liu.

The set of three mazurkas op. 59 by Fryderyk Chopin (no. 1 in A minor, no. 2 in A-flat Major, and no. 3 in F-sharp minor) from mid 1840s revealed Ms. Liu's superb musicality and the reason why she received a special prize for the performance of Chopin's Mazurkas at the 2015 Chopin Competition in Warsaw.  The first mazurka composed in 1845 has long been considered one of the gems of world music; its well-contoured melancholy mazurka theme grows dramatically to a climax, and returns like an echo, or a long lost memory at the end.  Famous Polish pianist Ludwik Bronarski thought that this mazurka contains some of ‘the most beautiful sounds that it is possible to produce from the piano." 

The second mazurka, in A-flat Major was composed upon a request by composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and dedicated to his wife Cecile. A typical dance form, ABA, with trio in the middle and a coda, according to Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski, this mazurka bears the characters of a dramatic ballade and a proud mazur, repeating its "soaring phrases again and again." A favorite of Artur Rubinstein, and many other pianists, under the fingers of Ms. Liu this mazurka rose to the patriotic heights so suitable for the occasion. Her range of colors was unsurpassed, her ability to move from noble pride to wistfulness - deeply touching every heart. Again, in the ending of this mazurka, the audience was entirely still and silent, waiting for the next note. While her fortes are never forced or impatient, but rather saturated, and filled with the richness and vitality of spirit, the pianos and pianissimos are out of this world. I did not know that the piano could sound like that...

The third mazurka from op. 59 in F-sharp minor, with some brightness of F-sharp Major highlighting certain moments, was described by Prof. Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski  as  "the whirl of a Mazurian dance from the very first bars, with its sweeping, unconstrained gestures, its verve, élan, exuberance, and also, more importantly, the occasional suppressing of that vigour and momentum, in order to yield up music that is tender, subtle, delicate..." It has the character of the fastest dance from the mazurka family, the oberek; but the dance is interrupted for moments of contemplation, resulting in music that's purely sublime.  As Tomaszewski writes: "in the F sharp minor Mazurka, moments given over entirely to the element of dance entwine with moments in which the Terpsichorean narrative is halted, be it only for an instant, to allow for contemplation and reflection, or a wonderment leading to ecstatic delight." Again, Kate Liu was able to take her audience on an inspired, sublime journey, from the whirlwind of dance, a symbol of earthly delights, into the serenity of a joyous spirit resting among the stars. Again, the richness of emotions and colors surprised and delighted the listeners; from folksy drones in the left hand, and twirling oberek motion in the melody, to thoughtful reflection, sometimes peaceful, sometimes touched with a hint of sorrow.  Alternating, from dance turns, to serenity - all in all a masterpiece of music making. 

Photo by Lucyna Przasnyski

The most substantial work on Ms. Liu's program was Beethoven's late sonata Op. 110 in A-flat Major, composed in 1821, in three movements, united by themes and structures, and connected to Missa Solemnis in certain aspects of the final movement with is astounding polyphony - two fugues! The appearance of this work by a German composer active mostly in Vienna, the capital of Austria (both enemies of Poland who took the country apart in 1795) in a concert celebrating Polish independence was surprising to some. It was the pianist's choice, sanctioned by the USC Polish Music Center whose director, Marek Zebrowski, worked with the pianist on the selection of music for her California programs. 

Beethoven was the favorite composer of Ignacy Jan Paderewski who played almost all of his sonatas, and sometimes programmed two in one concert. That's one, "Polish" connection. Another reason for this celebratory choice is musical and links Beethoven to Chopin, both geniuses of European music, lifting it to the universal level of all humanity. At the end of all strife lies forgiveness - when sovereign, perfectly happy and loving individuals, in sovereign, perfectly organized nation-states can co-exist without war, conflict, strife, without attacking or disparaging each other. This new world of peace and prosperity ("live long and prosper"!!!) for the whole planet is a dream for the most visionary Poles; a dream that includes fully independent and sovereign Poland, a country in charge of its fate, enjoying its abundance of gifts. 

Photo by Lucyna Przasnyski

The concert ended after one encore, Chopin's Prelude in D-flat Major, Op. 28. No. 15, the famous "Raindrop Prelude" - nicknamed so due to repetitions of one note in the middle section that was associated with the tapping of a raindrop on the windowsill. This prelude as many other Chopin's works gave rise to numerous fanciful interpretations, and was the most popular work to write about in Chopin with Cherries anthology. Ms. Liu transformed it into a poem of an entirely different kind - delicate, peaceful, and sublime, with echoes of past trauma, it transported the listeners into the exalted realms of pure spiritual joy - one does sound very old-fashioned when trying to describe the serene sweetness, interrupted by insistent heartbeat of pain, and returning to tranquility of the most inward, or ascended quality. I have never heard this Prelude played in this way; completely free of sentimentality, banality, or outward pathos. Very, very, very well done! 

Photo by Marek Zebrowski

Photo by Iga Supernak

Minister Anna Maria Anders Costa, Secretary of State of the Republic of Poland who attended the concert and made a speech about the price of victory ended it with this call to happiness, call to pride over all that Poland has been and has become, all the shared gifts and talents. As if in response to Minister Anders's speech, Kate Liu created a musical experience filled with joy, sublime inspiration, and intense musical delight for which all listeners had to be grateful. 

Photo by Iga Supernak. L to R. Maja Trochimczyk, Kate Liu, Consul Jaroslaw Lasinski

The fourth Polish-themed concert, on October 27, 2018 by Wojciech Kocyan at Loyola Marymount University presented a whole program of Polish composers, from Maria Szymanowska to Grazyna Bacewicz, with Fryderyk Chopin and Ignacy Jan Paderewski in-between.

The fifth concert, on November 2, 2018. took listeners to two years in the post-war period - 1953 when Stalin died and the folk-inspired socialist realism was a binding doctrine in all arts in Eastern bloc countries, and 1991, two years after the fall of the oppressive system. This concert, sponsored by the Wende Museum of the Cold War in Culver City featured the music of Bacewicz, Weinberg, and Gorecki.

Finally, the sixth concert to celebrate 100 Years of Poland's Regained Independence took place on November 10, 2018 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in downtown Los Angeles where after a solemn Mass for the Homeland an organ recital by Prof.Jan Bokszczanin of Poland concluded classical music celebrations of independence day in Los Angeles. 

On Sunday, November 11, 2018, during religious and patriotic celebrations at local churches in L.A. and O.C. children sung Polish songs, recited poetry, danced folk dances, and acted in plays all to teach and commemorate Polish history and culture. A classic sing-along of patriotic songs, of a kind practiced through the long 19th century in Polish homes and mansions, took place at the Polish Center in Yorba Linda; with songbooks of soldier's songs from a century of fight for independence distributed among the audience. 

We will discuss these concerts in the next installment of this blog.