In celebration of the 550th anniversary of Nicolaus Copernicus’ Birth, the Chopin Institute of Ohio organized a special classical music concert in the prestigious Harkness Chapel at the University Circle in Cleveland, Ohio. The concert dedicated to Nicolas Copernicus, the most famous Polish astronomer who stopped the sun and moved the earth, featured several Polish composers, performers, and international artists.
Dr Konrad Binienda introduced Nicolas Copernicus to the audience and recalled his revolutionary discovery of the heliocentric system, while Jiana Peng introduced several Polish composers featured in the program, some of them very well known, like Frederic Chopin, some of them less known like Karol Szymanowski, and some of them little known in the United States like Grazyna Bacewicz and Roman Maciejewski. Ms. Peng introduced them as follows:
Szymanowski is considered as the father of Polish modern music. After Poland gained its independence in 1918, the climate in Poland started to shift. It was a crucial moment for artists to establish their national identity through art, literature, and music. Szymanowski found his inspiration from the Highlander music of the southern Tatra mountains of Poland and composed many works with folk elements from the region. He described this music as “an invigorating force conditioned by its proximity to nature, the strength and directness of its temperament, and, finally, the unalloyed purity of its racial expression.” Szymanowski was also affected by the broader trends in European contemporary music. Stravinsky’s compositions such as “The Rite of Spring” had a powerful impact on Szymanowski’s imagination. Bartok’s efforts to create a Hungarian music that could rival the great Germanic tradition also played a part in shaping Szymanowski’s understanding of folk music.
Maciejewski was among the generation of Polish émigré composers who left the country due to the war. Compositions of these composers were forgotten by the Polish listeners until recently when they were rediscovered and included in the general history of Polish music. He lived most of his life in Sweden, France, and the USA. Despite his physical absence in Poland, he remained a Polish patriot throughout his life. He founded the Association of Young Polish Musicians in Paris and the Association of Poles in Sweden. He frequently performed on Swedish radio works of Chopin during the war when Chopin’s music was forbidden in Poland. Following the footsteps of Szymanowski and Chopin’s tradition, he wrote mazurkas because he felt in them as if he had returned to Poland; he wanted to convey an image of Polish soul.
Lastly, Bacewicz was one of the most celebrated Polish composers. Her Sonata No. 2 is among her most famous compositions. It was written in 1953 during which the aesthetic censorship from the Stalinist-influenced Polish government was imposed by the government on composers to propagate the doctrine of social realism. This of course limited their freedom of artistic expression. Bacewicz achieved success despite the difficult conditions. Her Piano Sonata No. 2 displays high artistic values while adhering to the compositional requirements, and is considered as the most significant Polish piano work in the post-war decade.
These works by Szymanowski, Maciejewski, and Bacewicz are rarely played outside of Poland. So, it’s my great pleasure and responsibility to present them to the public. I hope you will find in our music today a sense of consolation and hope, considering what is happening nowadays in the world.
The concert opened with Jiana Peng’s sensitive performance of Nocturne in C-sharp Minor by Frederic Chopin, followed by two fascinating Maruzrkas by Roman Maciejewski. Then, we heard yet another Mazurka written in the earlier period by Karol Szymanowski. Ms. Peng concluded the first part of the program with the powerful and virtuosic performance of Piano Sonata no. 2 by Grażyna Bacewicz. In her performance, Ms. Peng demonstrated unusual depth of understanding and feel for the sprit of the Polish music in all of her superb performances.
Konrad Binienda opened the second part of the program with Nocturne No. 9 by Frederic Chopin performed in a sublime and romantic style. He then passionately delved into the monumental piece of Piano Sonata No. 3 by Frederic Chopin. Dr Binienda’s performance of the Sonata was breathtaking in its musical depth, passionate romantic interpretation and pianistic virtuosity. Dr. Binienda left an unforgettable and unsurpassable personal mark of “chopinistic”
interpretation of this sonata. It brought the audience to their feet for a long-standing ovation. This performance of Chopin’s Sonata no. 3 was one of the best I have ever heard.
For the program’s conclusion, Jiana and Konrad performed Bach Prelude for four hands. The concert was a great success and will be remembered by the Cleveland community for a long time.