Jerzy Maksymiuk, the outstanding Polish conductor, composer and pianist, was today awarded the honour of the Order of the White Eagle, National Day 3rd May 2024

I am sure Professor Piotr Paleczny will not object to me quoting his well expressed, succinct post on one of the major events of today. 

"The President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda, during today's ceremony of awarding state medals on the occasion of the National Day of the Third of May at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, awarded Jerzy Maksymiuk, an outstanding conductor, composer and pianist, with the Order of the White Eagle.

Established in 1705, the Order of the White Eagle is the oldest and highest state medal of the Republic of Poland.

On this remarkable day, I would like to express my heartfelt congratulations - on behalf of myself and the countless admirers of your extraordinary talent, creativity and unparalleled artistic personality!

Congratulations on this well-deserved award and thank you for all the deep musical emotions you have given us."

Photos by PAP/L. Szymanski

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Here is a review of Maksymiuk I wrote of a concert given as part of the 2012 Chopin i jego Europa Festival

31 August 2012 – 20.00 - Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Sinfonia Varsovia conducted by Jerzy Maksymiuk

And so to the final concert in this excellent series. Anticipation was high and the hall looked to be full. The evening began with La Mer by Debussy. For me this has always been one of the greatest French symphonic works of the twentieth century – the impressionist orchestration is sublime, the Far Eastern timbres, opening in my mind pictures of ‘The Great Wave’ by Hokusai and the South Pacific island where I lived for many years in my youth (Norfolk Island about a thousand miles off the east coast of Australia – home of the descendants of the Mutiny on the Bounty). 

This performance was rather good (Sinfonia Varsovia are a great orchestra) with excitement, rhythmic drive, the delicate mystery of dawn and the surprise of different timbres. But then, being an ancient human, I have been ruined by the vinyl recordings of Karajan in 1964 with the Berlin Philharmonic and the 1967 Boulez with the New Philharmonia, a recording that some consider ‘cold’ but whose extraordinary discipline sustained me throughout my youth in the South Pacific.

Dimitri Alexeev (piano)
Sinfonia Varsovia conducted by Jerzy Maksymiuk

Dimitri Alexeev performed the Ravel Piano Concerto in D major for the left hand. He is a great pianist and virtuoso. This astonishing work, at times revelling in its own grotequeries, was written to a commission from Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961), an Austrian pianist who had his right arm amputated during the Great War. He was the brother of great logical positivist philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The family were highly cultured with regular visits from great such musical figures as Mahler, Brahms and Richard Strauss. Many of the twentieth century’s finest composers wrote works for him (although he did not perform them all) and he evolved all sorts of remarkable techniques of pianistic and sound illusion previously considered impossible for one hand. His is a remarkable story.

The concerto opens in a sombre mood on basses with contrabassoon – a most extraordinarily lugubrious opening – life emerging from the horrors of war. This soon gives way to jazz inspired and lyrical writing of a beautiful cantabile character. I thought Alexeev dealt with this superbly and rather instinctively. He clearly has a feel for jazz and with his excellent technique and musicality coped with the physical, rhythmic and dynamic complexities and demands of the piece. Maksymiuk and Alexeev clearly have an excellent musical relationship and work well together. A definitely courageous choice of work.

While watching the pianist one cannot but be deeply moved simply by the extraordinary sight of only one hand used in such a virtuosic manner and knowing the sad reason the work was commissioned. I have always felt this work to be a profound commentary on the tragic, bloody disillusionments of the Great War and man’s struggle and final triumph over adversity of an apocalyptic order where even the pianist himself lost an arm in the conflict. The pianist Leon Fleisher also gives a magnificent account of this masterpiece.

As encores Alexeev played a Gershwin Prelude followed by an extraordinary virtuosic arrangement of Polish folk songs – no-one I spoke to afterwards had a clue who transcribed them but a real showpiece and great fun! Was the transcription by Aleksander Tansman?

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(A little history - Extracted from A Country in the Moon, Michael Moran, London 2008)

Catherine the Great, once the lover of King Stanisław Augustus, had greatly influenced his election to the Polish throne and was now increasingly pulling the strings of policy.

‘It must be true that love in a sovereign is quickly replaced by ambition, for that same Catherine soon destroyed her own work, and overthrew the monarch she had so carefully protected.’ 

(The Memoirs of Elizabeth-Louise Vigée-le Brun trans. Siân Evans, London 1989).

Stanisław Augustus was a man of high artistic refinement and sensibility who preferred the company of women, spoke six languages fluently, read widely in the French philosophes and did not drink. He wholeheartedly embraced the Enlightenment and catalysed a cultural renewal in Poland. This polished cosmopolitan ‘upstart’ was unlikely to find much favour among the xenophobic, hard-drinking, hard-riding Sarmatian poorer szlachta who espoused a growing revolutionary patriotic cause. ‘He was certainly no hero, but behind the languid frivolity lurked a strong sense of purpose and love of his country…..’

In 1772 Jean-Jacques Rousseau published Considérations sur le gouvernement de la Pologne. He advised the Poles with great prescience ‘If you cannot prevent your enemies from swallowing you whole, at least you must do what you can to prevent them from digesting you.’

The French Revolution was sending ripples along the Vistula as far as Warsaw. A major indigestible fragment of Poland for Russia was the Constitution of the Third of May 1791, the first written constitution in Europe. 

King Stanisław Augustus was triumphantly carried shoulder high through the streets of the capital upon its proclamation. Based on Enlightenment principles, it created an hereditary monarchy, reformed the government and limited the powers of the szlachta. The day of May 3rd is a public holiday in Poland marked by military parades, folk dancing, re-enactments of the King’s proclamation by actors in the forecourt of the Palace on the Island in Łazienki Park.

In response Catherine massed her troops and precipitated a year long war. In 1793 the defeated Poles were forced to rescind the constitution, Prussia and Russia consumed more of the country and the Second Partition came into being.

In 1795 the country was completely wiped from the map of Europe by the final partition  ‘lying as if broken-backed on the public highway; a nation anarchic every fibre of it, and under the feet and hoofs of travelling neighbours’ 

(History of Frederick II of Prussia, called Frederick the Great  Thomas Carlyle London 1858-65, vol. viii p. 105).

But not forever. One can argue that Poland would not exist as an independent member country of the European Union today if these so-called ‘heroic failures’ and bloody insurrections had not taken place. As Marshall Piłsudski once remarked in a succinct expression of Polishness ‘Victory is to be defeated but not to surrender’.


  1. A lovely little blog post - and it's good to see you're so active in the life of Poland and its music! I'm currently reading 'A Country in the Moon' - it's a marvellous book that I will be recommending to my friends as soon as I finish it.


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