This June, as in all odd-numbered years since 2009, selected winners of the Youth Piano Competition administered by the Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles travelled to Poland on the Festival’s International Cultural Exchange Program. Our partners in Poland—the Province of Tarnów and the Paderewski Center in Kąśna Dolna—once again provided the venue and accommodations for students from three regions around the world—California, Małopolska, and Podilya—that are linked to Ignacy Jan Paderewski. A total of six students accompanied by chaperones participated in this year’s program that was held June 23-July 6 in Kąśna Dolna, Poland.

The venue for the Exchange Program workshops, master classes and concert was Paderewski’s early 19th century manor house in southeastern Poland. All students, faculty and chaperones were housed in the former servants’ quarters building, converted to an artists’ retreat. Daily individual lessons with cellist Lars Hoefs (faculty at Sao Paulo State University in Campinas, Brazil), and pianists Marianna Humetska (faculty at National Music Academy in Lviv, Ukraine) and Marek Zebrowski (Artistic Director of the Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles and Director of the USC Polish Music Center), were interspersed with group lessons in harmony, composition and arranging, as well as in copious amounts of daily solo and joint practicing in various rooms of Paderewski’s historic residence.

After a week of intense preparations, the six students presented a series of concerts across southern Poland. The first, on June 30, was held at the Łącko Arena at the invitation of the Cracow Duo and their annual summer music program, Małopolska Akademia Talentów[The Małopolska Talent Academy]. All of the Exchange Program performers enjoyed demonstrating their solo and chamber music repertoire on the concert grand Fazioli piano that was on loan for this festival by the Warsaw Philharmonic.

July 1 was the concert night at Paderewski‘s manor house in Kąśna Dolna. The program opened with each student performing with cellist Lars Hoefs one of the movements from Pequena Suite by Heitor Villa-Lobos. With Prof. Hoefs remaining on stage, all six students then took their turns to world-premiere their own arrangements of Polish folk songs for cello and piano.

That done, the evening moved to showcase the solo skills of each young pianist, beginning with Małgorzata Machowska from Poland performing works by Debussy and Grieg (above right). She was followed by Antón de la Fuente from California in repertoire of Ravel and Chopin. Beethoven and Rachmaninov came next in performance by Bohdan Terletskyy from Ukraine (above left), and Californian Luke Kim continued the concert with music by Paderewski and Chopin. Sofiya Dashak, also from Ukraine, was heard in works by Beethoven and Schumann and this portion of the concert closed with Piotr Lara’s exclusively Polish presentation of two works by Chopin.

To close this rich survey of classical piano repertoire, the students sat down in pairs to perform some of the best-known Gershwin tunes in their own arrangements for piano 4-hands. Małgorzata Machowska and Bohdan Terletskyy were heard in The Man I Love, Sofiya Dashak and Antón de la Fuente performed Fascinating Rhythm, and Piotr Lara and Luke Kim closed the evening with Novellette in Fourths.

The same program was repeated on July 2 at the beautiful, late Gothic Dębno Castle(pictured at the top of the article), located about 30 miles west of Kąśna Dolna. This was a new venue for the Exchange Program and it came to pass this year after a gracious invitation was extended to us by Krystyna Gurgul, director of the Dębno Castle that serves as a branch of the Tarnów District Museum. The enthusiastic organizers’ earnest efforts to gather an overflowing audience for the concert led to an extended and well-deserved standing ovation for the young musicians at the end of their program. Read a review of the concert at Dębno Castle (in Polish) with more photographs here:

On the morning of July 3 the Exchange Program departed from Kąśna for Kraków. In addition to sightseeing many historical attractions in this ancient Polish capital, the theme of Paderewski was ever-present for the duration of the group’s visit there. The students saw the Battle of Grunwald Monument (funded by Paderewski to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Battle in 1910), the Słowacki Theatre and Hotel Saski (connected to Paderewski’s friendship with actress and patron, Helena Modjeska), and culminated in a concert at the Paderewski Institute of Musicology (part of the Jagiellonian University) on July 5. Professionally organized every two years since 2009 by Dr. Sitarz from the Institute, the Exchange Program concert there drew a distinguished audience of scholars, composers, local faculty, and performers. Again, the warm reception there validated the Exchange Program students’ countless hours of hard work and solid preparation. Also in Kraków, the group had a chance to attend a dress rehearsal of a piano 4-hand concert by pianists Grzegorz Mania and Piotr Różański, featuring works by several Polish composers from the late romantic era.

The concert in Kraków represented the official ending of this round of the 2017 Exchange Program. The second round—featuring the same participants—will take place in November of 2018 when these young pianists will visit California, visit with host families, attend classes at local high schools, and perform at the Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles.

After Kraków, the two students from California, Antón de la Fuente and Luke Kim, spent the remaining few days in Poland by visiting Warsaw. There, upon the invitation of Riff Piano Salon—the official Steinway & Sons representative in Warsaw—they presented a short piano recital on the evening of July 7 (pictured above). It was another instance of a great organization and publicity as well as a very attentive audience that heartily applauded Antón and Luke in their solo presentations of works by Ravel, Chopin and Paderewski.

Continuing the theme of Chopin, the following day, July 8, was spent on travelling to the composer’s birthplace of Żelazowa Wola, some 30 miles west of Warsaw. Thanks to our friends Dr. Artur Szklener and Joanna Bokszczanin at the National Chopin Institute [NIFC] in Warsaw, we were provided a van and a driver to get us comfortably to Żelazowa Wola and back. After a tour of the manor house and grounds with the charming host, Tadeusz Owczuk, the California group had the privilege of listening to the noontime recital given by a young Polish pianist, Piotr Pawlak, in the very room where Chopin was born. Back in Warsaw, the rest of the afternoon was devoted to the truly unique Chopin Museum (pictured at right). Once again, thanks to our friends at NIFC we had an English-speaking guide and enjoyed an extensive tour of the premises.

Besides a rich musical heritage, Poland’s capital city has many historical and culinary attractions to offer, among others. Happily, the California visitors enjoyed both in equal measure, traversing Warsaw’s storybook Old Town, visiting the Royal Castle (another Paderewski connection), sightseeing inside the glittering Royal Łazienki Palace and strolling through its extensive grounds on a warm summer afternoon. The group also spent a good part of Sunday, July 9 at the Museum of Polish Jews learning a lot about Poland’s more recent history. Each evening the culinary tour continued, culminating at a different restaurant every night. At every instance—with different menu and theme from Polish to international cuisine—there was a rave review in every case of the dishes served.

Gastronomic glee notwithstanding, the musical theme was never far from the summer strolls along Warsaw’s streets, as well as bus and tram rides all across town. During these peregrinations we passed the elegant Bristol Hotel (built and co-owned by Paderewski who stayed there as well), Warsaw University with Chopin’s flat right across the street, dropped by a church where Chopin played the organ at times, and went by the residence of his sister, who lived with her husband nearby. Then there was the Church of the Holy Cross, where the Chopin family were parishioners and where his heart has been entombed after Chopin’s sister, Ludwika, brought it from Paris in the early 1850s.

All of these points of interests were on the itinerary because the Cultural Exchange, as organized by the Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles, has always been more than just a music camp abroad. Since 2009, the Program’s goals have included not only bringing students from three different regions connected by Paderewski’s life story together to prepare and perform a wide range of piano repertoire, but also to sample Polish culture, history, and customs and, most importantly, to bring together young artists from various places on earth to work in harmony with each other.