In Paderewski's Footsteps—From California To Poland

July 8, 2008

By Marek Zebrowski - USC's Polish Music Center

Sponsored by Poland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a delegation of members of the Board of Directors of the Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles made an official visit to Poland from June 24-28, 2008. The delegation was headed by Frank Mecham, mayor of Paso Robles, and included Marek Zebrowski—Director of the Polish Music Center at USC and Board member, Joel Peterson—President of the Paderewski Festival Board of Directors, Steve Cass—Board of Directors member and owner of Cass Vineyards, Paula O'Farrell—Festival Archivist and Historian, and Rachel Hamilton—Paderewski Youth Competition Coordinator. The idea for this trip originated with Consul General Paulina Kapuścińska's visit in Paso Robles for the Paderewski Festivals in 2006 and 2007.

The group's itinerary began in Kraków on Tuesday, June 24, with a visit to the Grunwald monument, funded by Paderewski and dedicated at a special ceremony commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald in 1910. Shown around Kraków by Professor Małgorzata Perkowska, the delegation continued with a visit to the Paderewski Archives at the Musicology Department of the Jagiellonian University. Professor Perkowska introduced the group members to Paderewski's library, photos, music, and other important documents left to the University by this great pianist, patriot and statesman.

A busy agenda of meetings in Kraków included a detailed discussion of cultural exchanges between musicians from Poland and California with the US Consul for Culture, Susan Parker-Burns. Similar topics were also covered during a meeting with the Vice-President of the Jagiellonian University, Professor Szczepan Biliński.

The next item on the itinerary was a visit to the Jagiellonian University Museum—a repository of over 600-year long academic tradition that included treasures from the days of Copernicus' study there, and a Pleyel grand piano that once belonged to Chopin (pictured at right).

A visit to the Royal Castle at Wawel was followed by a visit to the Czartoryski Museum. Director Tadeusz Dziurzyński introduced the group to the extraordinary collection of objects belonging to the one of the most important families in the history of Poland. The core of the collection consists of the military trophies from the glorious days of the Polish "winged horseman" cavalry, as well as a priceless collection of paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt.

On Wednesday, the group travelled to Kąśna Dolna, an estate located about two hours southeast of Kraków and owned by Paderewski from 1897-1903. Director Krystyna Szymańska led the tour of the manor house, the office building and hotel, and the large barn that is being refitted to serve as a 400-seat concert hall. The Supervisor of the Tarnów district, Starosta Mieczysław Kras, was also present. The visitors from California walked the extensive grounds laid out by Paderewski with a beautiful linden alley and other rare species of trees. Later in the afternoon, Director Szymańska treated the group to a sumptuous lunch in Paderewski's own dining room. Discussions included showcasing the winners of the Paderewski Youth Competition in Paso Robles during concert series in Kąśna Dolna, and the regional authorities prepared a draft of a preliminary agreement for such exchanges that may be signed later this fall in Paso Robles.

Thursday, June 26, was the first of the two days the delegation spent in Warsaw. An early morning visit in the Ministry of Culture was followed by a visit with Poland's First Lady, Madame Maria Kaczyńska, in the Presidential Palace. The California delegation was invited to tea and refreshments with the First Lady and her staff in the Blue Salon of the Palace. Paulina Kapuścińska, Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Los Angeles, was briefly able to join the group during this highly significant meeting.

During the early afternoon, the delegation was shown around the Royal Castle in Warsaw by its curator, Juliusz Zamecznik. This fascinating tour gave a glimpse of the heroic past of the castle and its treasures that were partially saved before this landmark was heavily damaged in German air raids in September 1939.

Later that same afternoon, the delegation was received at the Headquarters of the Kosciuszko Foundation in Warsaw. The host, Joseph Herter, provided the refreshments and spoke about the Foundation's history and programs. Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, Edward J. Kulakowski was also present, and discussions centering on academic and artistic exchanges as well as visa issues were held.

Towards the evening, the group visited the Museum of Warsaw Uprising. The displays and exhibits of this fairly new and excellent institution powerfully illustrate the tragic days of August-September 1944, when Poles rose against German occupation, trying to liberate their capital.

Friday morning the group strolled through the beautiful grounds of the Łazienki Palace in Warsaw. The early morning sunshine did not yet penetrate the cool, shaded walkways of the grounds, and the stillness of the park was only occasionally disrupted by mating calls of numerous peacocks, freely roaming around. At 9 a.m. the group met with Karol Radziwonowicz, the Director of the Paderewski Museum at the Łazienki Palace. Mr. Radziwonowicz performed at the Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles in the mid 1990s, and remembered Virginia Peterson, the grandmother of the current Board of Directors President, Joel Peterson.

Later that morning the delegation drove to Żelazowa Wola, Chopin's birthplace some 30 miles outside Warsaw. A quick visit to the manor house and the surrounding park was followed by a return to Warsaw for afternoon meetings, including one with the Director of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Pawel Potoroczyn. The Mickiewicz Institute was the main organizer of the delegation's visit, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs covered the costs of lodging, transportation within Poland, and meals for the group. At night, the group was invited to attend a performance of Mozart's Requiem, given by the chorus and soloists of the Warsaw Chamber Opera and Warsaw Chamber Orchestra in the Seminary Church on Krakowskie Przedmiescie.

The last day, Saturday, began with the group's early morning departure for Bydgoszcz. On the way, the delegation had a chance to quickly see Toruń with its magnificent Gothic architecture. Having been invited by Henryk Martenka of the Paderewski Music Association in Bydgoszcz, the California visitors then witnessed the official dedication of the Paderewski International Airport that included a special concert and reception. Mayor Frank Mecham spoke to the four hundred guests assembled in the recently completed new terminal. Following the festivities, there was a special banquet at the Paderewski Music Society headquarters in Bydgoszcz, attended by Konstanty Dombrowicz, the President of the City of Bydgoszcz, who then gave a special private tour of the City Hall and Bydgoszcz Market Square to the American delegation. Later that evening, members of the delegation returned to Warsaw and departed for California on Sunday.

Overall, the Paderewski Festival Board members were able to meet with numerous important officials in Poland and identify many areas of future cooperation in the area of cultural and commercial exchanges. Members of the delegation have uniformly stressed the importance of learning the details of Poland's history in the context of Paderewski's activities as a pianist, patriot, and statesman. Contacts with individuals and institutions that were initiated during this short but important fact-finding trip will be followed by more detailed agreements and reciprocal visits in the future.