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The Warsaw Voice » Society » April 8, 2009
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Tuning Up For Chopin Year
April 8, 2009   
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Fundraising for the Year of Chopin in 2010 and preparations for Warsaw's international Chopin piano competition are continuing full steam ahead, despite the economic crisis. After all, it's not fair the great composer should suffer because the 200th anniversary of his birth happens to fall at a time of global financial problems, Andrzej Sułek, director of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, tells Dominik Skurzak.

You have been the director of the institute since November. You recently said that the institute is seen as the most important cultural ambassador for Poland. How is the institute spreading the word globally about the approaching year of Chopin and the program of events celebrating the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth?
When I talk about the institute as an ambassador, I mean this of course in metaphorical terms. Actually, Chopin is the most important ambassador. His cultural legacy is unprecedented in Poland and worldwide. Chopin is without a doubt a symbol of the best in Polish culture and people. With such a high-profile figure at the center of upcoming festivities... I see it as my duty to faithfully portray his genius. We need to do our utmost to raise national awareness that he is a Polish ambassador born of this land and that the spirit of his music comes from here.

Can you give us some concrete details of the institute's "diplomatic" mission?
From a practical point of view, during preparations for the upcoming celebrations, it's important to ensure a proper artistic framework. All activities, artistic as well as commercial, should bear our logo for the celebrations as our stamp of approval. The events we have planned will be of great artistic and international appeal. The end of February and start of March 2010 will see The Decade of Chopin events. This is a series of concerts performed by the most renowned musicians who will play in Warsaw's largest concert halls. The Third Chopin Congress will also be held at the same time, bringing together the world's foremost experts on the composer's works. Later the Chopin and His Europe festival will be held once again, focusing on Chopin in the context of other artists of his time. And finally the most famous piano contest. The competition's audience, gathered around radio, television and internet broadcasts, cannot be compared to any other competition audience in the world. These are the three main events of the 2010 celebrations, which will have great international appeal.

We have also taken pains over venues associated with Chopin where the public can remember and learn about him. The Chopin Museum at Ostrogski Castle in Warsaw has been given a completely new lease of life. Żelazowa Wola [where Chopin was born] is being restored to its former glory and new tourist facilities are being built. Brochów Church, where Chopin was baptized, has also been renovated and has regained its 19th-century charm. A top training center for pianists is also planned Brochów.

What kind of activities can we expect your institute to organize overseas?
We are organizing a series of concerts, called Chopin and the Capital Cities of His Europe. Chopin visited many of these capital cities, including Prague, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Brussels and London. We would like the institute to be an impetus for organizing Chopin music concerts in these cities. We are also organizing what can be described as social-artistic events. A musical piece written by three composers will be simultaneously performed in three concert halls in capitals and will be broadcast via satellite. This will be a moment when the world's attention will be focused on Chopin. We are planning this event for the first half of September 2010.

You completed graduate studies in media management. This has enabled you to see the financial side of the project, both the year of Chopin and the Chopin competition, in practical and professional terms. How do you feel about the efforts to raise the funds needed to ensure these events take place?
Mastering an understanding of the financial issues is not really difficult, particularly accurate budgeting. Difficulties arise in raising funds due to the financial crisis, which has dried up new funding opportunities. Maybe I should be careful about criticizing some people I shouldn't criticize, but let's be frank, the global economic crisis is not the fault of Chopin. The crisis was caused by the recklessness of financial giants. I don't really see why Chopin should bear the brunt, particularly at such a historic moment, which happens once in 100 years.

Funding for the Chopin celebrations must be found because in three or four years' time no one will ask whether there was a crisis in 2010, they will only ask what we did to honor this great milestone.

If this vision does not strike a chord with those in authority, I may need to reconsider the sense of my mission.

Do you have any ideas about attracting sponsors?
We are working with a company which looks after our fundraising. We have already contacted sponsors. The institute is working closely with the 2010 Celebrations Bureau, and a large part of the work related to finding sponsors for the year of Chopin is led by the director of the Celebrations Bureau, Waldemar D±browski.

Poland will be hosting major international events in the coming years. But some projects, like road building in the run-up to the European soccer championships in 2012, are behind schedule. What's the state of play in preparations for the Chopin events?
We are very confident in our planning of music and artistic events. We have no concerns that anything might not be done on time. However investment issues are the most pressing. The decision to build the Fryderyk Chopin Museum was made at late notice. Regulations on tendering and public spending procedures are rigorous.

I'm afraid that before the Italian-designed ultra-modern museum is built, we will need to wait for the tendering process in relation to the museum fitout to be completed.

We do not have the luxury of time in this matter. We will have problems if unexpected events happen along the way.

Have there have been any changes in the selection criteria for the coming contest compared to previous years? Is it sufficient to send in a video recording?
In order to qualify for the heats, as in previous years, you need to send a DVD recording containing the program of the first stage of the 16th international Chopin piano competition. The recording must show the pianist's hands and body, right-side profile and must be recorded on one camera without cuts during the performance. However, the decision on who takes part in the main contest will be based on individual auditions. I hope that these auditions will result in the selection of candidates who will create unforgettable memories of the contest.
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