2020 Paderewski Festival Wrap-Up

The Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles tradition continued this year in spite of pandemic-induced restrictions. By early August—when it became clear that in-person gatherings in closed spaces are not possible—the Festival Board unanimously voted to move this year’s program online. This decision also led to changes in the number of concerts and accompanying events, which usually take place in early November in the charming town of Paso Robles on California’s Central Coast. 

During a normal year, the Paderewski Festival begins with a Thursday night event at Cass Winery, the original sponsors of the Festival’s 2006 revival. That concert usually features local performers in programs that often highlight music by composers who are in some way connected to California. Moving on, the Festival’s Friday night concerts continued at the Park Ballroom in downtown Paso. They featured a variety of programs ranging from Polish early music ensembles, accordion trios and jazz groups to chamber music and musical theatre presentations. On Saturdays of the Festival weekend, the offerings held all around town included morning lectures, film screenings, museum and local library tours, followed by the afternoon concert of Youth Piano Competition winners and the evening Gala Concert, both held in the Ballroom of the historic Paso Robles Inn, where Paderewski always stayed during his many sojourns in Paso.  

This year, however, the Festival opted to stage shorter programs and a smaller number of events and do so only in the virtual realm. Since Friday, November 6 marked the 160th birthday of Paderewski, the Board celebrated the maestro’s birthday with a Gala Concert that evening. Unable to hold it in the Paso Robles Inn and have the guest artist perform on the Festival’s amazing Steinway grand, this year’s concert was livestreamed from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. The University generously loaned their own beautiful Steinway to our efforts, and their brand-new concert hall, which normally holds 600 but could have only a small handful attending on this occasion due to the pandemic. It was a wonderful and deeply felt performance by Adam Żukiewicz, a native of Wrocław, who is a professor of piano at that University. 

In tune with celebrating Paderewski’s birthday, Maestro Żukiewicz opened his recital program with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, thus also paying homage to Paderewski who performed this work in his 1937 film with the same title. Continuing with music by Polish composers, Adam Żukiewicz presented Chopin’s Barcarolle, Op. 60 and Paderewski’s Variations and Fugue, Op. 11. While Beethoven received a measured and classically disciplined treatment, the expansive arabesques in Chopin’s Barcarolle sparkled with grace and élan under Maestro Żukiewicz’s able fingers. Paderewski’s Op. 11 was performed for the first time at the Festival since it was reinstated well over a decade ago. This ambitious and complex work found a sympathetic and convincing interpreter in Adam Żukiewicz, bringing to mind the initial (and very favorable) response to this work when Paderewski himself presented it in Berlin in the mid-1880s. Paderewski’s only Nocturne (Op. 16 no. 4) was another treat for the Gala Concert’s rapt audience scattered between Colorado, California, Canada, Poland and many other places in-between. 

The closing choices included a virtuoso rendition of Gershwin’s Three Preludes and a transcription of Oscar Peterson’s, Goodbye, Old Friend, arranged by Don Thompson and Adam Żukiewicz for solo piano. With this beautiful tune reverberating into the cyberspace, the Gala Concert was over after just about an hour that had passed all too quickly. Fortunately, this performance is still available and can be seen and heard (including Mr. Żukiewicz’s informative introductions to each piece) on the Festival’s YouTube channel.

Another challenge faced by the Festival this year was the organization and running of the Youth Piano Competition. Since 2008, the auditions were always held in Paso and students from four Central California counties (Fresno, Monterey, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo) performed in person for the assembled jury. This time around, however, such a gathering was impossible, and so students were invited instead to email videos of their repertoire to the Festival by October 9. The jury (including CalPoly professors India D’Avignon and Paul Woodring, and the Festival’s Artistic Director, Marek Zebrowski) watched a total of 35 videos with the required repertoire recorded by 15 contestants—10 juniors (ages 10-14) and five seniors (ages 15-18). After deliberating (via Zoom, of course), seven finalists were selected and their interpretations were edited into a broadcast that was uploaded to the Paderewski Festival YouTube Channel. You can see still this concert of talented young pianists here: https://youtu.be/MhkReTjUYr4.

Finally, this year’s Festival special attraction was a Zoom lecture by Mr. Żukiewicz, delivered from his office at the University of Northern Colorado on Saturday morning, November 7. Entitled Unknown Chopin, it centered on the fascinating influence of Luigi Cherubini—a distinguished Italian composer and director of the Paris Conservatoire—on Chopin’s late compositions. Cherubini’s treatise on counterpoint and the art of the fugue led Chopin to transcribe for piano several of Cherubini’s examples of this complex (and little-practiced since Bach) genre. Mr. Żukiewicz demonstrated passages from Chopin’s Mazurkas and the Fourth Ballade to illustrate how polyphonic writing changed textures of Chopin’s later works. Presented for the Paderewski Festival’s elite sponsors and Board members, this lecture also featured some fascinating insights from Chopin’s social activities in Paris, where he settled in the early 1830s and spent the last two decades of his life. Rare illustrations from Paris in the early 19th century, and a recent, computer-assisted portrait extrapolated from Chopin’s death mask provided a rare glimpse of Chopin and his Parisian surroundings.  Adam Żukiewicz’s lecture also featured a discussion of the restaurants that Chopin frequented with his friends (including his choice of wines) that provided just the right touch for generous sponsors and fans, whose support has made the Paderewski Festival possible over the years. 

Recordings of Adam Żukiewicz can be found on Amazon, YouTube and his website. For more information about Mr. Żukiewicz and all of our youth competitors, as well as their programs, please the Festival Program PDF on the Festival website at: www.paderewskifest.com. Along with all returning fans of this exceptional Festival, we hope to see you in person in Paso in November of 2021!