On a Wry Note
January 26, 2005
Educated in fine conservatories and well versed in classical repertoire, some musicians take their art in a new direction by performing musical parodies and pastiches with classical instruments. These professional musicians have filled a niche between the classics and entertainment in Poland.
Best in four
In 1995, three graduates of the Music Academy in Warsaw-Filip Jaślar, Paweł Kowaluk and Artur Renion (who died in 2000 and was replaced by Bolek Błaszczyk)-teamed up with a violinist from a conservatory in Łódź to form Grupa MoCarta, an artistic project that featured classical repertoire in a lightweight form. Today, Grupa MoCarta is an ensemble well known for its mixture of good humor, ingenuity and comic choreography. All the members are professional musicians who previously played with esteemed orchestras. What brought them together was a passion for creating an unconventional repertoire with a dose of humor.
The group's showcase piece is The Four Seasons by Vivaldi, interspersed with traditional Polish standards (Młynarski, Turnau). Grupa MoCarta regularly takes part in cabaret performances and also performed with Bobby McFerrin during Warsaw Summer Jazz Days.
Grupa MoCarta's popularity encouraged other "classical" musicians to follow suit, and its commercial success paved the way for similar projects. Overshadowed by the Warsaw quartet, a similar formula developed, gravitating towards cabaret par excellence rather than the average musical parody. The classically trained members of Kwartet Okazjonalny perform a repertoire featuring primarily classical music standards. Using objects such as bottles, combs and typewriters as instruments, these cabaret artists treat Kwartet Okazjonalny as an escape from everyday life. They say they "still want to make improper and outrageous musical interpretations, hoping for tolerant critics and laughing audiences."
A good reed
A year after the debut of Grupa MoCarta, another musician scored spectacular success, though later his career suddenly came to a halt. Tytus Wojnowicz (pictured left) released his debut album Tytus in 1996, which introduced the artist, as well as his instrument of choice-oboe, to the wider public outside of the philharmonic. The album contained a fusion of classical and contemporary music, pop and vanguard. It featured compositions by Brahms, Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Paganini as well as Piotr Rubik, the author of "Dotyk," a hit for pop singer Edyta Górniak. Wojnowicz studied at the Music Academy in Warsaw and in Freiburg, Germany. He played with numerous orchestras, including the Polish Radio Orchestra, Sinfonia Varsovia and the National Philharmonic Orchestra. His classical background did not prevent him from achieving commercial success. In 1996, TV viewers chose Wojnowicz personality of the year and he was also nominated for the Fryderyk award, given by the Polish music industry. In the following year, he recorded another album, Ocalić od zapomnienia, featuring remakes of well-known Polish hits from the 1960s and '70s. That album, however, did not match his previous album's success and the few productions that followed made no impact on the market whatsoever.
Commercial issues were not a decisive factor in the career of pianist Waldemar Malicki (pictured above). For years, Malicki's name has been a guarantee of commercial success. A piano virtuoso, Malicki is the laureate of music competitions and a soloist with Polish orchestras. He has performed with excellent violinists and singers and released of a number of albums including a repertoire from Bach to Penderecki. But he is also a showman who performs concerts that radiate elegance, humor and natural spontaneity. At Malicki's concerts, Scott Joplin meets Lenin and Menachem Mozartbaum does an impromptu lambada. Malicki's Piano Classic Show is a brand-new phenomenon on the music market that has no equivalent in Poland or abroad.
Tenor Marek Torzewski brought humor to sports by singing "Do przodu Polsko." The song was chosen the official anthem of the Polish national soccer team at the World Cup in Korea in the wake of Edyta Górniak's controversial rendition of the Polish national anthem at the very same World Cup. Torzewski has lived in Belgium for over a decade, but following the success of "Do przodu Polsko," his visits to Poland are more regular. Showered with performance opportunities, Torzewski has become an element of pop culture, proving that the line between entertainment and classical compositions in Poland is much thinner today than 10 years ago.
A classic twist
Most of these artists have a background in classical music. For example, Paweł Rurak-Sokal of the band Blue Café played violin in the Łódź Philharmonic. In fact, a classical education is no barrier to popular music influences. Many comical musicians are guided by commercial motivations, others enjoy experimenting. Despite the growing popularity of this entertainment, orchestra conductors and their philharmonics are safe from the threat of a musical exodus-for the time being.
, musicology student at Warsaw University on the synthesis of classical music and cabaret:
Musicians educated at academies who decide on a career in entertainment have to be certain of themselves and their abilities so neither their career nor the music they perform suffers. This is by no means a depreciation of their talents or skills. Playing musical parodies by classical musicians is nothing bad and shouldn't be treated as such. If people like what they do and if, thanks to this, the Philharmonic sells more tickets, this is good, isn't it?
, percussion student at the Cracow Musical Academy:
MoCarta group and Tytus Wojnowicz? Well, it is difficult to call what they do art. Nor can you say the boys just "moonlight." For me a better name for what they do is "entertainment art" with emphasis on the former. They certainly bring the classical repertoire closer to the public by making "hits" of these compositions, which are easier for wide audiences, but it is another issue that many people from "the business" do not approve of this. They certainly will not enchant artistic directors of philharmonics, but they are certainly admired by many listeners. At a time when it is almost a miracle to find work in a good orchestra, they have taken matters in their hands and are doing quite well. This in itself is quite an art.
Art Our Way
We started our adventure with music in primary school, and continued it throughout high school and music conservatory. The first display of the group's character was evident during a concert by our quartet in Łańcut, where after performing typical classical repertoire, we played an encore of Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik arranged in the highland style as a joke. Surprisingly, it was well received by musical community and our colleagues.
We play music we like the way we like it-without calculation or manipulation. My professor from the Academy supported our style, describing our improvisations as real art after one of our performances. We keep improving our technique. When playing musical jokes, we feel fulfilled as professional musicians. Our style borders on satire and pastiche, but our music most closely resemble a musical cabaret. We play with both classical music performers and people in show business, and we do not intend to become a professional classical string quartet. There are many excellent professional quartets in Poland. People come to our concerts and want to listen to us-for musicians, that's what's most important.
Filip Jaślar, MoCarta Group