Friday, 24 July 2015

70th International Chopin Piano Festival, 7 August - 15 August 2015, Duszniki Zdroj, Poland



Welcome to the 70th International Chopin Festival at the lovely Polish town of Duszniki Zdrój, a charming spa in Silesia on the mountainous Czech-Polish border not far from Wrocław.

A modicum of history first. Part of the way through his studies Joseph Elsner recommended that Chopin ‘take the waters’ or 'go into rehab' not far from where Elsner was born in the small Silesian spa of Bad Reinerz (now Duszniki Zdrój). Originally on the Prussian-Bohemian frontier, the village is now in the south-west of Poland on the border with the Czech Republic. Frycek’s studies and intense partying into the small hours during his third and final year at the Liceum had begun to affect his health. He was a bit of a 'party animal' was Frycek! In his youth not the melancholic consumptive of popular myth at all. The virtuosic youthful exuberance of the concertos, rondos and variations reflect this freedom from care.

Headaches and swollen glands necessitated the application of leeches to his neck. The family doctors (there were a number) agreed his condition might possibly be serious. The idea gained in popularity with the Skarbeks of Żelazowa Wola (Countess Ludwika herself was suffering from tuberculosis) and three family groups set off at intervals on the arduous 450 km journey by carriage from Warsaw to Bad Reinerzover rough roads serviced by indifferent accommodation. The route they took through pine forests and agricultural country now passes through industrialized towns.

Frycek arrived at Duszniki Zdrój on 3 August 1826 spending a day en route at Antonin in the honey-coloured timber hunting lodge of Prince Antoni Radziwiłł, respected scion of one of the wealthiest Polish magnate families and a fine cellist, composer and singer. This delightful octagonal lodge is built in a beautiful region of forests and lakes. On a later visit he wrote ‘There were two young Eves in this paradise, the exceptionally courteous and good princesses, both musical and sensitive beings.’ Of Wanda Radziwiłł   ‘She was young, 17 years old, and truly pretty, and it was so nice to put her little fingers on the right notes.’ While a guest Chopin wrote a Polonaise for piano and cello - ‘brilliant passages, for the salon, for the ladies’.


Chopin sketched by Eliza Radziwill at Antonin en route to Duszniki Zdroj 1826.
Duszniki as a treatment centre has not greatly changed. The Spa Park and the town nestle in the peaceful mountain river valley of the tumbling Bystrzyca Dusznicka. Fresh pine woods flourish on the slopes and the moist micro-climate is wonderfully refreshing. Carefully stepping invalids negotiate the shaded walks that radiate across the park between flowering shrubs, fountains and lawns.
                                                  
                 

                                                                                  The Spa Park at Duszniki Zdrój

Many famous artists visited Duszniki in the nineteenth century including the composer Felix Mendelssohn. In times past the regimented cures began at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. when people gathered at the well heads. The waters at the Lau-Brunn (now the Pienawa Chopina or Chopin’s Spa) were dispensed by girls with jugs fastened to the ends of poles who also distributed gingerbread to take away the horrible taste (not surprisingly it was considered injurious to lean towards the spring and breathe in the carbon dioxide and methane exhalations).

Chopin was reputed to have developed an affection for a poor ‘girl of the spring’ named Libusza. One tragic day Lisbusza’s father was crushed to death by an iron roller (perhaps in the nearby Mendelssohn iron mill) and she and her brothers were made orphans. In his generous way ‘Chopinek’wanted to assist the family and his mother suggested giving a benefit recital. Despite the lack of a decent instrument he agreed and in August 1826 gave two of his first public concerts in a small hall in the town.


Since 1946 this event has been celebrated every August in a week-long International Chopin Piano Festival, the oldest piano music festival in Poland and indeed the world. I have made a point of attending it as often as I can. An original building near where he played has been converted into the charming Dworek Chopina, an intimate concert room. Many of the finest pianists in the world, established artists and even child prodigies including past winners of the always controversial Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition have appeared in these Elysian surroundings.

The Duszniki festival attempts to maintain the intimate nature of the salon and the piano music is not restricted to Chopin. During the day there is time to walk in the peace of the surrounding pine-clad mountains, ‘take the waters’ if you dare or visit splendid castles in the nearby Czech lands. Eccentric characters regularly appear there: the ‘Texan’ Pole who wears cowboy boots, Florida belts and Stetson hats of leopard-skin or enamelled in blue, maroon or green. ‘I jus’ love it here but I jus’ hate that goddam music!’ (recitals are broadcast through loudspeakers over the Spa Park); the ethereal girl with the swan neck who seems to have stepped directly from a fête galant by Antoine Watteau; an elderly musician with long grey hair and wearing a voluminous silk cravat appears and then disappears. 



Sviatoslav Richter (far left) on the steps of the Dworek Chopina at the 1965 Duszniki Zdroj Festival

In the past I have experienced many remarkable musical moments at Duszniki. Grigory Sokolov, arguably the greatest living pianist, gave a majesterial performance of that radical composition the Chopin Polonaise-Fantasie. He profoundly recreated the tragic instability of Chopin’s disintegrating world during his final years. The Ukrainian pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk returned to the piano after an horrific car accident that threatened to leave him permanently incapacitated. He has gone on to great things internationally. His theatrical temperament, musical passion and truly astounding virtuosity never fail to astonish although he is unfortunately not appearing this year despite his particular affection for this tiny place. 

The soulful young Russian Igor Levit is deeply involved with the music of Schumann. He movingly reminded the audience of the genesis of the Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations) written when the composer was on the brink of suicide in a mental institution. After completing the final variation Schumann fell forever silent. The great Liszt super-virtuoso Janina Fialkowska, a true inheritor of the nineteenth century late Romantic school of pianism, courageously returned to the platform here after her career was brought to a dramatic and terrifying halt by the discovery of a tumour in her left arm.Daniil Trifonov utterly possessed by the spirit of Mephistopheles in the greatest performance of the LisztMephisto Waltz No:1 I have ever heard. The moments continue...

One remarkable late evening event of the festival is called Nokturn and takes place by candlelight. The audience in evening dress are seated at candlelit tables with wine and sweetmeats. A learned Polish professor and Chopin specialist such as the wonderful Polish musicologist Professor Irena Poniatowska might draw our attention to this or that ‘deep’ musical aspect of the Chopin Preludes or perhaps the influence of Mozart on the composer. The pianists ‘illustrate’ and perform on Steinways atmospherically lit by flickering candelabra.

In spite of the immense popularity of Chopin, this festival manages to recapture the essentially private and esoteric experience of his music, an experience one might consider had been lost forever.

I will be keeping my detailed blog of the pianists as I normally do for this unique festival. I always keenly anticipate coming to the small Polish spa town. One can walk in the morning in the invigorating pine-forested mountains of the former Silesian spa Bad Reinerz or attend a Master Class followed by a late afternoon and evening recital. Of course each day one approaches in trepidation the Chopin Spring to take the smelly waters with a draught from the traditional spouted ceramic drinking cup.

The festival offers one rare moments of bliss and oblivion to escape the constant news of the unhinged, economically fraught and increasingly brutal violence in this world of ours. 



Detail from the wall decoration of the remarkable 17th century paper mill that survives in Duszniki Zdroj. This building is unique in Europe. It is a fascinating place to visit. 

Schedule of distinguished pianists
taking part in the
70th International Chopin Piano Festival in Duszniki-Zdrój, Poland

7 August 2015 (Friday)

  • 20.00: "Amadeus" Chamber Orchestra,
    conductor:  Agnieszka Duczmal,
    piano: Kevin Kenner and Philippe Giusiano
8 August 2015 (Saturday)

  • 16.00: Takashi Yamamoto
  • 20.00: Yulianna Avdeeva
9 August 2015 (Sunday)

  • 16.00: Lukas Geniušas;
  • 20.00: Dang Thai Son
10 August 2015 (Monday)

  • 16.00:A. Kulka-T.Strahl - A. Przemyk (F. Chopin - Chamber works) 
  • 20.00: Ewa Pobłocka
11 August 2015 (Tuesday)

  • 16.00: Andrzej Wierciński the 1st prize winner at the 2015 F.Chopin Institute (NIFC) Competition
  •  Eric Lu the 1st prize winner at the 2015 US National Chopin Piano Competition 
  • 19.00: Laureates of the February 2015 F. Chopin Institute (NIFC) Competition
  • 22.00: NOCTURNE
12 August 2015 (Wednesday)

  • 16.00: Evgeni Bozhanov
  • 20.00: Alexander Kobrin
13 August 2015 (Thursday)

  • 16.00: Miroslav Kultyshev
  • 20.00: Genova/Dimitrov
14 August 2015 (Friday)

  • 16.00: Ingolf Wunder
  • 20.00: Krzysztof Jabłoński
15 August 2015 (Saturday)

  • 16.00: Olga Pasiecznik-Natalia Pasiecznik (songs by F.Chopin)
  • 20.00: Alexander Gavrylyuk

Festival Link: http://festival.pl/index.php/en/

Friday, 26 June 2015

Recent Activities




                         My 1978 David Rubio (Duns Tew) harpsichord 
A copy of a Flemish 18th century instrument by Joannes Daniel Dulcken



A sketch of me by the Italian artist Rosetta Berardi in 1980

Suanono piano...

All softly playing
With head to the music bent
And fingers straying
Upon an instrument

ti ricordo!   Rosetta



I have recently been completely tied up with recent activities of a definitely non-musical nature.


However I have recently been doing far more harpsichord practice than usual - mainly Bach, Couperin and Scarlatti.

Like many of you I expect I have been watching and listening in awe to  the extraordinarily gifted young people taking part in the Tchaikovsky Competition on medici.tv

I am looking forward to attending the Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival and also the Chopin i jego Europa (Chopin and His Europe) Festival in Warsaw, both in August.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Pic-Nic at the Country House of Otwock Wielki near Warsaw, Poland 3 May 2015


Click on photographs to enlarge - far superior rendition


We had a lovely day at the Palace of Otwock Wielki on May 3rd  'Constitution Day'. 


Cupid strikes! Detail from a restored tapestry in the palace

The Lake
For more details and photographs  see:  

http://casualcars.blogspot.com/2015/05/pic-nic-at-country-house-of-otwock.html