Student Exchange Program provides the learning experience of a lifetime

September 29, 2015

Paderewski Festival teens return from trip to Poland

By Melissa Chavez

At the very heart of the annual Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles is Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s dedication to children. In his time, not only did Paderewski nourish the war torn people of Poland with food, medical and infrastructural restoration through fundraisers and concert proceeds, he sought to sustain their souls with the beauty of music. It was his desire, particularly toward the latter, more reflective part of his life, to create an environment in which gifted children from any walk of life could receive specialized music instruction.

To this end, the Paderewski Festival Student Exchange Program is helping to further the maestro’s vision. Courtesy of Paderewski Festival fundraisers and the Polish government, the burden of travel-related costs are completely underwritten. In this way, selected students may concentrate on their school work, piano practices and family responsibilities before leaving to experience firsthand of the rich heritage and culture of Poland. In odd-numbered years, the American students journey to Poland. In even-numbered years, Polish students - and more recently, students from the Podolya region of the Ukraine, have their turn to visit Paso Robles.

Master classes, individualized coaching, historical site visits, performance opportunities and international friendship make for a truly life-changing experience that can only be captured by having been there. Upon returning, students only redouble their efforts and tend to see a world in which they may make their own impact.

A whirlwind tour

After months of anticipation, Daniel Ha of Arroyo Grande and Kannan Freyaldenhoven of San Luis Obispo were finally on their way to Poland. The visit would last from June 27 through July 6, but time would seem to fly as fast as their jumbo jet. Accompanying the 2014 Paderewski Youth Piano Competition winners were Artistic Director Marek Zebrowski and Kannan’s mother, Misha, who was acting as the teens’ chaperone.

Upon arrival at the airport in Kraków, the second largest city in Poland, they were greeted warmly by Witold Baran and driven to Kąśna Dolna, where they enjoyed ice cream and a leisurely walk through the medieval-shaped, cobblestone town square of Brzesko. After unpacking their belongings at Paderewski’s manor house in Kąśna Dolna, they enjoyed dinner at Galicja Restaurant in nearby Ciężkowice. On Saturday, they awaited the arrival of their fellow students, Magdalena Kuropatwa and Milosz Marcinkiewicz of Tarnów and, later, Sasha Dzvinkovskiy, Yulia Medynska and chaperone Galia Terentieva, from the Ukraine, and cellist/instructor Lars Hoefs from San Paolo.

On Sunday, the enlarged group visited Tarnów. Manor house director Ryszard Zabielny organized a guided walk through the city by Ryszard Żądło, a keenly informed historical advocate and a friendly and familiar face in recent years at Paderewski Festivals in Paso Robles.

“We traversed the maze of ancient alleyways towards the Main Square dominated by Renaissance-era City Hall,” said Zebrowski. “A tour of the nearby Gothic cathedral with its many treasures and interesting sarcophagi followed. “Emerging onto Tarnów’s wider avenues and elegant Jugendstil edifices dating from the Austrian days, the group finally reached the fin-de-siècle Tatrzańska Café for a delicious repast of ice cream and coffee before continuing to Kąśna.”

The following week, sightseeing gave way to intensive study. In addition to chamber music practice sessions and daily one-hour lessons with Lars Hoefs and Marek Zebrowski, the students attended group theory-composition-arranging meeting, prepared solo programs, learned 4-hand piano duets, and were to harmonize and arrange folk melodies for cello and piano before running through their concert program in its entirety. Their successful concert was rewarded with hearty applause and encores, followed by family picture-taking and an elegant reception.

On Sunday, a group of 14 plus one cello visited Lacko, a mountain resort near the Slovak border, before touring Krakow Music Academy. Returning to the manor house for dinner, the students made most of their remaining time in the small upstairs lounge for gift-exchanging and an “absolutely last” game of cards. Goodbyes were tempered with anticipation toward the “even” year of November 2016, when Polish and Ukranian students enjoy their turn to visit Paso Robles.

In the remaining days, the American contingent visited the Battle of Grunwald monument (privately funded by Paderewki), St. Mary’s Church, Wawel Castle and the Paderewski Institute of Musicology to view Paderewski’s works. At Puslowski Palace, the group performed for an overflowing crowd. Hoefs and Zebrowski closed the concert with Villa-Lobos, Chopin and, most certainly, Paderewski. During a trip to Chęciny Royal Castle, hosted by the Honorable Mariusz Brymora, Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Los Angeles, Daniel and Kannan climbed medieval towers and fixed helmets to wage war with lengthy swords. A two-hour, horse-driven wagon ride through the fern-wooded Kozienicki national Forest, made even more ethereal by generous rain. Later, everyone gathered for an evening bonfire at the Consul’s countryside residence.

On July 9, the group visited the neoclassical Radziejowice palace, where Paderewski was an honored guest. Daniel and Kannan had the memorable pleasure of playing Chopin and Gottschalk for their gracious hosts, Maestro Tadeusz and Monika Strugula, who were presented with gifts of specially ordered medals by the City of Paso Robles to commemorate the occasion.

At Żelazowa Wola, the students entered the very room of Chopin’s birth. Inside, bare white walls and wood-planked flooring housed only a sculpture of the composer’s head and a new Steinway. With permission, Kannan received the humble privilege of playing this piano. Hearts were made heavy as music filled the airy structure, pouring out into the garden.

“Our next visit in 2017 should gain several new partners and dimensions,” says Zebrowski. “It will also continue to fulfill Paderewski’s mission – as the musician, statesman and humanitarian – to bring young people together through education in music and history, and to make this world a better place for us all.”

Save the Dates: November 5-8

This year, the Paderewski Festival takes place in the first week of November!

  • Thomas Pandolfi, Gala Concert artist
  • City of Angels Saxophone Quartet
  • Motion Trio Ensemble
  • 2015 Youth Piano Competition Winners
  • Paderewski Exhibits and Film Screenings
  • Paderewski Lectures
  • Piano Master Classes
  • Wine Tasting and Local Vineyard Tours

For complete details on the 2015 Paderewski Festival, read the October 2015 issue of Paso Robles Magazine.

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