Part 2: Paderewski Festival Youth Cultural Exchange: 2023 Program Diary

July 25, 2023

By Marek Zebrowski (Paderewski Festival Artistic Director and Cultural Exchange Leader)

Monday, July 3: Kraków to Warsaw

With lovely sunny and not-too-hot weather, the first part of the day presented a perfect opportunity for sightseeing the old Kraków, revisiting the Royal Castle and Royal Mint, as well as for buying all kinds of souvenirs. Assembly at the Europejski Hotel at 2 p.m. was followed by a short walk (with admittedly heavier bags) to the railway station for an express train to Warsaw. After a comfortable and quick 2 ½ hour trip, we returned to the Mercure Centrum Hotel and had an early meal, since the following day would be very busy and strenuous with travel and lots of playing.

Tuesday, July 4: Steinway day!

We had an early start and boarded a street car at 9 a.m. for a ride to Warsaw’s National Museum. There, thanks to director Anna Feliks, a comfortable minibus was waiting to take us to the Museum’s satellite location in Otwock Wielki, about an hour south of Warsaw along the banks of Vistula River. Located in the 18th century Bielinski Palace, the Museum has a collection of historical instruments, including Paderewski’s own Erard as well as one of his concert grand Steinway pianos.
Director Feliks had secured an English-speaking guide, the delightful and friendly Anna Knapek, who gave a detailed tour of the entire palace that was opened that morning exclusively for the Exchange Program. Once this was over, Suri and Aidan had a chance for a dress rehearsal on Paderewski’s Steinway grand in the opulent, high-ceiling palace ballroom. After a run-through their programs, all were treated to a delicious three-course lunch with soup and more pierogi, a highly appreciated delight! Sustained by good food and fortified with a nice cup of tea, at 1:30 p.m. sharp our ride was waiting to take us back to Warsaw and the hotel.
An obligatory rest for an hour or so was ordered since there would be another, more formal concert later on that evening. Changed into concert attire, we boarded one of Warsaw’s all electric air-conditioned buses around 4:30 p.m. for a 5 p.m. sound check at the Steinway Salon in Warsaw. This concert was made possible by Marcin Fidos, a friendly and very helpful head of the Riff Piano Salon on Ordynacka Street, a few doors down from the fabled Chopin Music University. Mr. Fidos made available a beautiful, clear-sounding Steinway B for Suri and Aidan, an instrument well-suited to the piano showroom that doubles as a small but elegant concert and recording space. It was another well-attended concert, with Karol Radziwonowicz (a frequent guest performer in Paso Robles, who recorded the complete piano works of Paderewski years ago), several professors from the Chopin Music University, director Feliks from the National Museum, pianist and composer Aleksander Dębicz, and several friends of the Polish Music Center, including Fulbright Scholars Iwo Jedynecki and Katarzyna Mikołajczyk who performed at USC during the past year.

Wednesday, July 5: One last tour of Warsaw 

This was the last full day in Poland for the Exchange Program and it was devoted to sightseeing. The day’s itinerary included a 10 a.m. visit to the Chopin Museum (right next door to the Chopin Music University) that was organized by the director of the National Chopin Institute (NIFC), Dr. Artur Szklener. Since Suri felt tired and under the weather, she remained with her mother at the hotel for the day and Aidan was the only one to explore the Chopin Museum with the English-speaking guide. After completing this tour, we proceeded to the Royal Castle next to Warsaw’s Old Town, then ended the afternoon at the Łazienki Royal Palace—the summer residence on a lake in a huge Warsaw park shaded by ancient elm, chestnut and beech trees.
Dinner that evening had to be early, because flights taking the Cultural Exchange Program participants back to the US were taking off from Warsaw at 6:30 a.m. A taxi to the airport was ordered for 4 a.m. and, fortunately, everyone woke up on time!

Thursday, July 6: Farewell but not goodbye! 

The airport check in opened at 4:30 a.m. for the first flight to Frankfurt and initially everything went fairly smoothly. However, we soon discovered that the Frankfurt leg was late and the complicated connections in Germany (Aidan going to Cleveland and Suri and her mom returning to LA) would be missed. Fortunately, Aidan was rebooked for a better and faster flight via Washington-Dulles to Cleveland, while Suri and Eun got an even better deal by being routed directly on a non-stop flight to LAX! This was a real godsend since their originally-booked routing (Warsaw-Frankfurt-Toronto-Cleveland-Denver-LAX) would have them traveling for days!

Thus ended the adventure of the 2023 Cultural Exchange Program, sponsored by and administered by the Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles. We are already looking forward to welcoming students from Poland (and possibly from the area where Paderewski was born, which is now Ukraine) to Paso in November of 2024, as well as formulating plans for another group of young California pianists to visit Poland in summer of 2025.
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