Na zdrowie! Concert to celebrate work of two Polish composers


To commemorate Frederic Chopin’s 200th birthday (he was born March 1, 1810, in the village of Zelazowa Wola in the Duchy of Warsaw, to a French-expatriate father and Polish mother), the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus will feature “The Music of Poland” on March 13–14 at Mandeville Auditorium on the UCSD campus with works by Karol Szymanowski and Krzysztof Penderecki.

“The concert is a celebration of Polish music, rarely heard in the United States, and particularly in Southern California. It’s a chance to encounter extraordinarily beautiful music. The concert represents some of the greatest Polish music to be written,” said pianist Peter Gach of all three concert pieces — “Chaconne — In Memoriam John Paul II,” “Symphonie Concertante for Piano & Orchestra” and “Stabat Mater” (intended as a Polish Requiem).

Poland has always had a difficult time historically, but has participated fully in the European classical tradition. However, Poland’s relative isolation after World War II meant that its musical contributions were largely unknown to many in the West, particularly in the United States.

“Szymanowski is important,” Choral Director David Chase said.

“He thought that Polish music had fallen from its high importance in the world. He wanted to put it back on to a pedestal.”

Szymanowski, who is a significant figure in European music, is not well known in the United States. He (like his predecessor Chopin) was influenced by Polish folk music.

“Their inspiration was music of the peasants who were isolated in the mountains for centuries,” Chase said. “The program is designed to do a real survey of Szymanowski, who in some sense was the next great composer of Poland after Chopin.”

Penderecki, who was an avant-garde composer in the 1960s and who helped bring Polish music back from Soviet artistic domination, composed a neoclassic homage to his friend John Paul II in 2008. The performance of “Chaconne — In Memoriam to John Paul II” will be a U.S. premiere, and Gach added, “The piece is emotional.”

From beginning to end, the music is colorful and deep, exciting and beautiful.

“This is a chance to hear two interesting musical imaginations that you will not hear anywhere else in San Diego,” La Jolla Symphony violinist Eric Bromberger said.

Indeed, the two performances are a rare opportunity to hear the great works of Polish artists Szymanowski and Penderecki, and a chance to experience pianist Gach.

“Music is the art of thinking with sounds,” as the famous quote points outs.

Happy birthday, Frederic

He has more fan pages on Facebook than Britney Spears. His music scores a popular X-box game. He has a brand of vodka named in his honor. Just recently in Vancouver, Olympic skaters performed their routines to the work of this great master of music. And, as a true sign of his 21st century popularity, he even has his own bobble head. Frederic Chopin, the brilliant 19th century composer and pianist from Poland, will be feted throughout the world in 2010 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth.

In his day, Chopin preferred performing for intimate, private audiences; today, his fans enjoy his music in huge concert and recital halls around the world. Chopin’s relevance has not diminished over the last two centuries, as his music continues to have a universal appeal.

“In the years when I taught piano, students would instinctively be attracted to his music. It seems to reach into a deep and universal emotional rhythm that humans everywhere grasp intuitively,” pianist Peter Gach said.

Eric Bromberger, a La Jolla Symphony violinist, summed up Chopin’s influence by explaining that the great composer “has permeated culture.” Chopin’s place in today’s popular culture reflects the importance of his musical legacy, according to La Jolla Symphony Choral Director David Chase: “There is a need for people to respond to classical music; (these celebrations) provide exposure to Chopin.”

Like fellow iconic artists Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, Chopin is buried at the famed Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where admirers continue to visit and adorn his grave and pay respects to the memory of the one-time child prodigy and piano teacher. While Chopin is strongly associated with France, where he lived and wrote many of his most famed pieces, he was, as one biographer famously wrote, “more Polish than Poland.” It is worth noting that while his body is buried in France, per his request, Chopin’s heart was removed and his sister later sealed it within a pillar of the Holy Cross Church in his native Poland.

In honor of his 200th birthday, the city of Warsaw, Poland, will feature special benches created to play Chopin’s compositions in 15 spots throughout the city, including Krasinskich Square, where Chopin performed his F-minor concerto in 1830; Miodowa and Kozia Street, where Chopin frequented many cafes; the Radziwill Palace, where 8-year-old Chopin gave his first public concert; and Saski Park, where Chopin played as a youngster.

— Colleen Lee

Music of Poland

  • When: 8 p.m. March 13; 3 p.m. March 14
  • Where: Mandeville Auditorium, UCSD campus
  • Tickets: $15-$29; (858) 534-4637,

  • Details: Free

pre-concert lecture an hour before each show