The year 2021 marks the eightieth anniversary of Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s death. He died after a short illness at the Buckingham Hotel in New York City on June 29, 1941. Known today as The Quin, this hotel is located on West 57th Street, a few steps away from Carnegie Hall, where Paderewski made his American debut one hundred and thirty years ago on November 17, 1891.
It is quite fitting that a concert commemorating Paderewski’s death anniversary also took place in midtown Manhattan, on this occasion at the Town Hall, on Thursday, October 21. This musical extravaganza featured Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano MaryAnn McCormick, alongside a roster of such distinguished artists at Kyoung Im Kim, Alexander Kobrin, Richard Lin, Kenneth Merrill, and Takeshi Nagayasu.
The program of music by Polish composers included Paderewski’s Légende, Op. 16 no. 1 and Cracovienne fantastique, Op. 14 no. 6 as well as several works by Chopin, with Fantaisie, Op. 49, Barcarolle, Op. 60, Berceuse, Op. 57, and Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise brillante, Op. 22, among others. Henryk Wieniawski’s bravura Polonaise de Concert, Op. 4 rounded out the presentations on the first half of the program.
The second half was launched with two vocal selections: Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix from Samson & Dalila by Camille Saint-Saëns and O mio Fernando from La Favorita by Gaetano Donizetti. Another “opera adjacent” item will be the famed Meditation from Thaïs by Jules Massenet in a violin and piano arrangement. The choice of Saint-Saëns for this program is not coincidental—Paderewski first met this distinguished French composer and pianist in 1888 when he played for him his brand-new Piano Concerto. Saint-Saëns praised it highly, asked Paderewski to repeat the second movement and assured his younger colleague that no changes were needed—he was certain it would be a very successful work. And so it proved over the next few years as Paderewski and other pianists took up this fine and engaging work. Paderewski and Saint-Saëns also appeared in a two-piano duet and kept up their friendship for many decades afterwards.
The Paderewski Tribute Gala concluded with more Chopin (Fantaisie-Impromptu, posthumous Nocturne in C-sharp minor, and Valse Op. 64 no. 2) as well as two of Paderewski’s iconic salon pieces, Nocturne, Op. 16 no. 4 and Menuet, Op. 14 no. 1.
[Sources: press release, thetownhall.org]