Culture, Education and Relationship Exemplify Paderewski Festival

Paso Robles Magazine - November 1, 2009
By Melissa Chavez

"The Elvis of his time, Ignacy Paderewski often traveled to his performances by train, a tour bus by today's standards. Fans, colleagues and political figures alike revered him. An avid pianist, President Harry Truman studied him. Roosevelt and Hoover befriended him, and renowned concert pianist Vladimir Horowitz displayed Paderewski's signed photo on his wall. But fame never diminished Paderewski's humanity; it partnered with it. Out of the footlights, Paso Roblans knew Paderewski for his quieter vocation - "gentleman rancher."

It took an earthquake to level Flamson Auditorium and the passing of Virginia Peterson to bring the Paderewski Festival to a halt. For several years it was quiet, perhaps too quiet. Then again, a coda seemed fitting for lack of a festival venue, but even more appropriate to mourn the loss Mrs. Peterson, Paderewski Festival's beloved teacher and founder.

When the Festival resumed three years later, Joel Peterson would honor his grandmother's memory by continuing to tastefully pioneer the way ahead, with strong support by others who love their community and share like vision. Marek Zebrowski, Director of the Polish Music Center at the University of Southern California, and Steve Cass, owner of Cass Winery spearheaded that vision. Two consecutive festivals were created. By the time the galas were held at Cass Winery, the search for more chairs was on as guests kept arriving. Both concerts would outgrow their venue even before the concerts began. But one thing was clear. The Paderewski Festival was back!

Broader vision, new commitment

The stroke of a pen may reap the Paderewski Festival its most bountiful harvest yet. After much discussion, it wasn't until the summer of 2008 that a preliminary sister city agreement between Paso Robles and Tarnów, Poland, was real- ized. Primed with a fresh approach, collective vision and mindfully of its Paso Robles ancestry, the Paderewski Festival turned what-ifs into reality in the months following.

When the contingent of six Paderewski Festival Board members from Paso Robles departed for Poland in July 2008, the preliminary agreement offered promise and Paderewski was their guide in anticipation of educational, economic and artistic exchange.

In attendance were former Paso Robles Mayor Frank Mecham, Joel Peterson, (Board President), Steve Cass (Board Secretary; owner of Cass Wines), Rachel Hamilton (Cuesta College Liaison, Paderewski Youth Competition Coordinator), Paula O'Farrell (Festival Archivist and Historian), and Marek Zebrowski (Paderewski Festival Artistic Director, Director of Polish Music Center at USC). With the gift of generous sponsorship by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, they visited Paderewski's estate, toured historic cities and symbolic landmarks, and even enjoyed tea with Her Excellency, Madame Maria Kaczynska, First Lady of Poland.

Within months after their visit abroad, Poland sent its own delegation to Paso Robles, where they were celebrated at the 2008 Paderewski Festival in November as honored guests. Included in their delegation were Supervisor Starosta Mieczyslaw Kras, Province of Tarnów, and Krystyna Szymanska, of Paderewski Center Tarnów, whom Festival members met previously in Poland at the initial signing. On this weekend, Consul General Paulina Kapuscinska would also attend the signing of the agreement to share and exchange ideas about tourism, music and commerce. As Mayor Mecham and Supervisor Kras set ink to dotted lines, the Paso Robles Inn Ballroom provided the appropriate counterpart to the initial signing at Paderewski's Polish Estate.

'Poland or Bust'

In April 2009, "A Toast to Pader- ewski" event was held at Pear Valley Winery that featured chamber music and piano performances, a tasting of twenty wines paired with Polish- themed appetizers, and a live auction. The evening provided a fun way for guests to enjoy lots of fun in one evening while helping to fund cultural exchange opportunities.

One such opportunity took place on a grand scale the following June, when Paderewski Youth Competition finalists enjoyed the trip of a lifetime. Both Paso Robles and Poland helped sponsor three teens to visit Poland, which made for an unforgettable experience. The Paderewski Festival paid their travel expenses, while the cities of Tarnów and Kasna Dolna subsidized lodging, dining and transportation for the duration.

The attending students were Matthew Fauria of San Luis Obispo, Lindsay Reed of Paso Robles, and Rory McLish of Morro Bay. Along with touring the area, the student exchange consisted of personal tutoring, hours of practice and concert performances at the Paderewski Estate in Kasna Dolna and Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Marek Zebrowski, the Festival's Artistic Director, wore many hats on the trip, serving as the students' team organizer, musical mentor, intermediary, tour guide, translator, and juggler of scheduling. Some of the students' most treasured moments were making new friends, despite their apparent language barrier. However, lots of laughter and improvised hand gestures quickly overcame that obstacle. Instead, regretful good-byes were made after nearly two weeks of shared piano practices, performances, and enriched friendship.

In addition to the students' successful concert performances in Poland was a series of four wine tastings featuring Paso Robles wines from Cass Winery, Eberle Winery, Hope Family Wines, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, Pear Valley Vineyard, Sharp's Hill Winery, and Vina Robles. Two of the tastings were presented following the student concerts. The third tasting was held at the U. S. Consul General's residence, and the fourth tasting took place at the National Museum in Krakow during an exhibit titled, "The American Dream."

The reception drew immediate media attention, including journalists from two newspaper and two television stations at the first concert and wine tasting. Subsequently, a wine magazine editor visited Paso Robles afterward to feature the Paderewski Festival in a Polish publication. Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance helped sponsor that visit.

Polish dignitaries revisit Paso Robles

Should His Excellency Radoslaw Sikorski find the office of Prime Minister of The Republic of Poland in his future, he will have had the added distinction of having stayed in the California hometown of his predecessor and independent Poland's first Prime Minister, Ignacy Jan Paderewski.

Following his speaking dates in San Francisco in August 2009, the Minister Sikorski made his inaugural visit to Paso Robles for a private piano concert and summer dinner reception at the home of Steve and Alice Cass. Before arriving, Minister Sikorski addressed the World Affairs Council at Stanford University, pinned medals on distinguished honorees at Hoover Institute at Stanford University, delivered a speech, and met with former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. It already made for a whirlwind tour for His Excellency, but it was at the urging of the Honorable Consul General Paulina Kapuscinska that Minister Sikorski would see firsthand the significance of the Paderewski Festival and the Paso Robles region, as well as its value.

Expressing his observations of Paso Robles, Minister Sikorski noted, since Poland is "too cold of a country to produce wine, California wines are a huge success in Europe in general, and Poland in particular. I was telling people at Stanford...they have the good sense to live in such a nice climate. In Poland, we have harsh winters. I'm sure we'd love to come here and enjoy wine in the sun," he said. "I'm sure there are many opportunities, too. When people meet, they generate ideas. Wine, music, and dare I say, defense industry are possible areas of collaboration.

"Poland is known as a country that has fought for freedom and made good use of it," said Minister Sikorski, himself a former political refugee and Solidarity supporter. "And America, being a country that's always promoted democracy around the world...we can help each other in that way."

"I'm very privileged to be the host of his trip to California," said former Consul General Kapuscinska. "We came for two reasons: For one, it is a city where Paderewski used to live. Second, is that we have such a wonderful American community supporting the Paderewski Festival." Consul General Kapuscinska, is currently moving from her present post to another assignment. Her replacement is Her Excellency, Consul General Ambassador Joanna Kozinska-Frybes, also the former Polish Ambassador to Mexico. It is anticipated that the newly appointed Consul General will be invited to attend this year's Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles.