Paderewski Festival Honors Steve Cass

November 14, 2022


During the 2022 Paderewski Festival, the Board of Directors formally recognized the contributions of Steve Cass. After 15 years in crucial leadership roles for the Festival and Paso Pops, Steve recently stepped down from these roles, although he remains on the Festival’s Advisory Board. At this year’s Friday night Opening Concert of the Festival, Artistic Director Marek Zebrowski gave the following tribute to Steve:

"There would be no Paderewski Festival (as we know it today) without Steve Cass. Shortly after the San Simeon earthquake and a year or two after I assumed the leadership of the Polish Music Center at USC, I drove to Paso Robles with a mission of restarting the Paderewski Festival. It went dark due to natural disasters and natural causes, the latter being deaths and illnesses among the original Festival founders that began in Paso about a decade earlier. In order to accomplish my task, I visited too many wineries to list here. All either had no facilities that could be used for a concert or, in a rare few cases, had tasting rooms that could be turned into a concert space but it came at too steep a price. Cass Winery, truth be told, was one of the last addresses on my list. Located a dozen miles east of downtown it seemed a rather remote location and, in the early 2000s, it was a brand new, relatively unknown establishment.

Undeterred and slightly desperate I pressed on, turning from 46 East onto Geneseo Road and, as I followed its picturesque twists and turns on my way south, Cass Winery finally came to view. The owners, disappointingly, were out of town. But Erin, the manager, gave me an extensive and friendly tour and even took me to Cass’ private residence up the road, where a Yamaha grand stood silently in an elegant drawing room. “You can use this piano,” Erin said as soon as I saw it. “Mr. Cass told me it was OK to do so,” she quickly added. Paderewski was a Steinway artist and never came near a Yamaha mainly because he predated this piano brand.

“Fine,” I said, trying to look thoughtful. “But what space we could use at the winery?” Erin must have been ready for this curve ball.

“The barrel room, of course.”

I protested. “But it’s full of barrels!”

“Mr. Cass authorized me to remove them,” Erin said, “and once we do so, we can seat about one hundred guests there.”


The prospects for a concert suddenly looked much brighter. But I still had to ask, “How much would this cost? “Mr. Cass is offering you this space for free,” said Erin simply. And, she quickly added, “His wife is Polish and she’s also very interested in this initiative.” With these words the restarting of the Paderewski Festival was no longer a dream. It was now a project to be carried out in conjunction with a concert that was already scheduled at USC. The pianist who performed for the Polish Music Center in Los Angeles would simply add another engagement on California’s Central Coast.

And so it came to pass. In October of 2006, English pianist Jonathan Plowright, arrived from LA to perform at Cass Winery. Right away, Steve and his crew not only made everything go smoothly on their premises (including the swift removal of huge wine barrels), but also began a well-coordinated action of inviting friends and town notables to the concert. After some sleuthing work, a concert grand Steinway was located and, courtesy of the Paso Robles school district and its caring superintendent, this instrument could be used for the event. With Jonathan’s virtuosity, the enchanting Cass barrel room atmosphere and, as it turned out, excellent acoustics, the concert was a resounding success. Sensing a great opportunity, Steve immediately suggested following up and expanding the offerings to more than one concert the following year.

Once on a roll, it was impossible to stop Steve. “Getting a Festival board together would be a great idea,” he said in his musing, off-handed way. And then he began to ask his friends and acquaintances. A year later, we had the Paderewski Board and another day of concerts during the Festival weekend.

As everything began to nicely roll along, Steve asked, “How about a piano competition for kids?”

“What a great idea!” I thought. After all, Paderewski wanted to retire in Paso and start a music school in town. Thanks to that idea two years later Steve, Paso’s Mayor, Frank Mecham, and a delegation of the Paderewski Board members were visiting Poland, talking to various officials and even being received for an extended meeting by Poland’s First Lady at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw.

Thanks to Steve, the Paderewski Festival has gone from strength to strength since that one solo concert sixteen years ago. We have invited world class soloists and chamber ensembles to perform for us. We also instituted a Cultural Exchange Program, giving young Central Coast pianists a fully-funded opportunity to travel to Poland, participate in master classes with the university level professors and perform in historical venues, including Paderewski’s former manor house in the south of Poland. Steve’s vision, his strong support and his considered advice to the Paderewski Board—as a Treasurer and President, among other duties he graciously fulfilled—enabled us to thrive and prosper. We could always count on his winery—whether in the old building’s charming barrel room or the in recently built event centre—to host an event during the Festival for the past sixteen years. It always came with no strings attached and with a benevolent smile of a dedicated, highly civic-minded and exceedingly generous individual. It shouldn’t be surprising that when the Festival once again had to go into a two-year hiatus (this time because of the pandemic), the moment it could be restarted live it was once again held at the Cass Winery. Where else could the Paderewski Festival feel at home, and who else could provide us with such wonderful and generous support?"

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