Paso Paderewski-ites to tour pianist’s Poland

Local group hopes to gain insight, inspiration and assistance for November celebration here

June 19, 2008
By Leah Etling - The Tribune

Cementing the ancestral ties of the Paso Robles Paderewski Festival will be the mission of a delegation of city residents headed to Poland at the end of this month.

Members of the festival’s board of directors are going to meet representatives of the Polish government and attend a Polish event honoring Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the renowned Polish pianist and statesman who spent time in Paso Robles between 1914 and 1939.

Paderewski, born in 1860 in what is now Ukraine, was an internationally known composer and pianist. He was also a politician and diplomat, serving as Poland’s third prime minister.

He considered himself a resident of Paso Robles after he came to the area seeking relief from arthritis at the hot springs. He was an agricultural pioneer in Paso Robles, with more than 3,000 acres planted with almonds and zinfandel grapes.

He is said to have introduced zinfandel grapes to the area; Paso Robles is now world-famous for the varietal.

The festival celebrates his legacy with an annual piano competition and concert. In the 1990s, the multiday festival was held in several venues around the city.

After the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake, the event went on hiatus while the city recovered. It was revived with a reprise concert in 2006 and larger event in 2007, and board members are now working toward expanding the festival to become a major local event again.

In Poland, the group will meet with the director of the Paderewski Institute at Jagiellonian University and visit Paderewski’s estate, the presidential palace, the Music Academy and the university archives.

They will also learn about the Paderewski International Piano Competition, held there every three years, by speaking with organizers and participants. And they are scheduled to meet with Poland’s first lady, Maria Kaczynska.

“The goal of the trip is to take the legacy of Paderewski and what he meant to Paso Robles and show that off to his homeland,” said Joel Peterson, president of the festival board and grandson of one of its founders.

It’s also a chance to see where the composer’s early life was rooted, Peterson said, and create ties between the Central Coast and Poland. The winner of the Paderewski International Piano Competition will per-form at this year’s local festival. The board also hopes to

make it possible to start an exchange program so the winners of the local youth piano competition can go to Poland and have a place to perform.

This year’s festival is scheduled for Nov. 15.

The Polish trip came about after Paulina Kapuscinska, consul general of the Republic of Poland in Los Angeles, attended the reprise concert at Cass Vineyards and Cellars in November 2006 and became a supporter of the effort.

Aside from airfare, costs of the trip are being picked up by the Polish government.

In addition to Peterson, the delegation includes:

  • Frank Mecham, Paso Robles’ mayor and the 1st District county supervisor-elect. Mecham is a festival board member;
  • Steve Cass, festival board secretary;
  • Rachel Hamilton, board member and youth piano competition coordinator;
  • Paula O’Farrell, board member and festival historian, and
  • Marek Zebrowski, festival artistic director and director of the Polish Music Center at USC.

Members of the group plan to write blog entries about their experiences in Poland at The Tribune’s Web site, They depart June 28.