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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » August 2, 2010
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Chopin’s Warsaw
August 2, 2010   
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Frédéric Chopin (or Fryderyk, as Poles prefer to call him, using the Polish version of his first name), owes more to Warsaw than is generally acknowledged. The composer, a favorite of the Paris musical milieu of the 1830s and ‘40s, spent most of his life in the Polish capital.

The pink, garish title, set against a flashy yellow background grabs the attention of tourists strolling down Warsaw streets at night. “Chopin LIVE in Warsaw,” say numerous posters hung all around Warsaw’s bus stops and infoscreens. It is not a concert they announce, as one would expect. Below the title an inquisitive passerby may spot two dates: 1810-1830. This was when Chopin, Poland’s best known classical composer, lived in Warsaw.

Born in 1810 in ¯elazowa Wola, 50 kilometers west of Warsaw, he moved with his parents soon after to the centrally located Saxon Palace, where Nicolas Chopin, the composer’s father, had taken up a post as a teacher of French at the Warsaw Lyceum, a school the young Chopin would begin to attend 13 years later.

The Chopin family moved from the Saxon Palace to what is now part of the University of Warsaw, the Kazimierzowski Palace on Krakowskie Przedmie¶cie Street, only to move once again a couple of years later, this time just across the street, to the Czapski Palace, the current headquarters of the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1960, the city authorities recreated the so-called Chopin family drawing room, based on sketches by Antoni Kolberg, a close friend of the composer. This was Chopin’s last Warsaw address, from which he departed to Paris in 1830.

Piotr Karski, the designer of the “Chopin LIVE in Warsaw” poster and a student of graphic arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, says he is fed up with the traditional image of Chopin that was used by the promotion department until several months ago. “I am happy that they no longer sell the boring, worn-out image of a ¯elazowa Wola-based romantic,” says Karski. “It created a lot of unnecessary distance. At last, he’s being shown as a normal guy who lived, studied and went to parties here, in Warsaw.”

It seems that some rehashing of Chopin’s image as a citizen of Warsaw was, in fact, needed. A poll carried out by TNS OBOP and Millward Brown SMG/KRC polling companies and commissioned by the city of Warsaw in 2009 showed that 54 percent of Warsaw inhabitants aged 15 and above wrongly believe that the composer spent his youth in ¯elazowa Wola. One in five pointed to Warsaw, while 10 percent chose Paris.
Katarzyna Ratajczyk, head of the City Promotion Department, attributes the whole situation to the poor quality of official education about Chopin, especially in the communist era. “Chopin was typically shown in a rural scenery, listening to some folk players,” Ratajczyk says. “Everybody knows about ¯elazowa Wola or Paris, but what about Warsaw? He spent 20 years here and left the city as a fully-formed artist.”

In order to change the popular image of the city’s famous composer, City Hall set up a number of initiatives, all part of the 2010 Year of Chopin celebrations. At the heart of the internet campaign is a website providing information about cultural events and audio guides. Apart from that, a special game was made available for young children, where the player has to find Chopin’s lost overture, traveling with the composer back and forth in time and exploring the Warsaw of the 1820s as compared to the city as it stands today.

The Chopin campaign is not restricted merely to cyberspace—on the streets of Warsaw, many attractions await travelers who come to town. Special multimedia benches have been installed in important places from Chopin’s life. Heavy and stone-carved, they have a map of Chopin’s Warsaw engraved on top, as well as a special code allowing tourists to download a free audio guide onto their mobiles. Additionally, when a special button is pressed, benches play Chopin’s mazurkas, polonaises and waltzes.

The central place for Chopin tourism in Warsaw is the Chopin Museum on Tamka Street. Located in the Ostrogski Palace and reopened this year, following a major renovation and enlargement, the museum allows its visitors to experience Chopin in an interactive way. Visitors use their pass cards to activate recordings, videos and whole interactive sections of the exhibition, in effect creating and navigating through their own paths through the collection, designed by renowned Italian architects Ico Migliore and Mara Servetto.

The image campaign has been recently expanded to public utility buildings. Chopin Airport in Warsaw, named after the artist in 2001, saw the lighting of a neon sign with the official name, which still has to work its way into public recognition.

The musical side of Warsaw is also centered around Chopin to a large extent. His alma mater, the University of Music, located just a block away from the Museum, was named after its best known graduate in 1979. The Warsaw Philharmonic every five years houses the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, organized by the Chopin Institute. This year’s special competition will take place between Oct. 1 and 23.

For tourists wishing to experience and listen to Chopin live in Warsaw, every Sunday from May to September there are open-air concerts of Chopin’s works, played by both Polish and foreign pianists, invited to play in the Royal £azienki Park, at the foot of the composer’s monument. The monument itself, erected in prewar Poland, torn down by the German army and rebuilt in the 1950s, is among Warsaw’s best known tourist sites. The image of Chopin sitting under a willow has been printed on postage stamps and in tourist guides for years now. Several copies exist around the world; including in Hamamatsu, Japan, where Chopin’s popularity remains consistently high.

Krzysztof Rowiñski

Due to the Year of Chopin celebrations, tourists wishing to “experience Chopin’s music,” as the official motto goes, will have no trouble doing so. August will be rich in Chopin-related events. Major, no-miss ones, include:

Chopin and His Europe
Taking place between Aug. 1 and 31, the festival, held for the sixth time this year, is expected to bring together more than a thousand musicians, who will give 58 concerts in three different venues: the Warsaw Philharmonic, the National Theater, and the Polish Radio Concert Studio.

Held since 2005 and organized by the Chopin Institute, the festival has earned itself a good reputation. Like in previous years, the main focus will be on the European music of Chopin’s time and that of people who exerted a special influence on the Polish composer. The festival aims to show the cultural context of Chopin’s music and allow audiences to experience the historical circumstances surrounding his work, as some of the artists will play on historical instruments—an Errard from 1849 and a Pleyel from 1848. Martha Argerich will play Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Arkadi Volodos will play Schumann, and Philippe Herreweghe will conduct Orchestre des Champs Elysées in Missa Solemnis by Ludwig van Beethoven. The audiences will also have a chance to listen to jazz musicians with their adaptations of Chopin, including Tomasz Stañko and Bobby McFerrin.

Aug. 1-31, Warsaw Philharmonic, 5 Jasna St.
National Theater, 3 Teatralny Sq.
The Witold Lutos³awski Polish Radio Concert Studio, 59 Modzelewskiego St.

Tickets: zl.25 to zl.300
For more information, go to http://pl.chopin.nifc.pl/festival/en.chopin.nifc.pl/festival

The International Chopin Piano Festival in Duszniki Zdrój
Set up to commemorate the 120th anniversary of Chopin’s concert in Duszniki Zdrój, the event remains Poland’s oldest musical festival, as well as world’s oldest uninterrupted piano festival. Over the years, Duszniki Zdrój hosted famous pianists such as Vladimir Ashkenazy and Krystian Zimerman. This year’s 65th festival will take place between Aug. 6 and 14, offering several piano recitals and master classes by Choong-Mo Kang from Seoul and Jerome Rose from New York.

The master classes are a relatively new element of the festival. Introduced only five years ago, they are intended for six outstanding students, chosen every year by Piotr Paleczny, the director of the festival, but are also open to the public to attend and listen. The students will give a final concert to conclude the master class series.

Aug. 6-14 Duszniki Zdrój
Tickets: 9-day ticket zl.790, single tickets zl.40 to zl.70
For more information, go to www.festival.pl

Project Chopin Hits Cinemas
Late August will see the world premiere of a new Breakthru Films production, entitled Project Chopin - The Flying Machine. This 30-minute film was produced in cooperation with £ód¼-based animation film studio Se-Ma-For, responsible for productions such as Peter and the Wolf, an Academy Award-winning short model animation directed by Suzie Templeton.

Project Chopin tells the story of two children, Anna and Chip-Chip, who use an old piano as a flying machine that takes them around Europe, following Chopin’s trail. The film stars Lang Lang, a famous Chinese pianist, both as an actor in the non-animated segments and the performer of the soundtrack.

Project Chopin
dir. Martin Clapp and Adam Wyrwas, perf. Heather Graham, Lang Lang Poland, UK, 2010, 30 min.
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