2009 Paderewski Festival – A Spirit Reborn in Paso Robles

Sic transit Gloria mundi — “How fleeting is the glory of the world.” From 1890 to 1941, Paderewski (his name often mispronounced by the less sophisticated as ‘Pader-ROOS-ky”) was a superstar celebrity known throughout the civilized world. His distinguished image, tall, elegant and with a noble face framed in a halo of white hair, was instantly recognizable, thanks to the mountains of publicity he received in his lifetime. Wherever he went this great Polish pianist and statesman, known for his enormous success as a pianist, and also as the composer of the ever popular “Minuet in G Major” attracted crowds who pressed around him in great numbers eager to shake his hand or say a few words.

In 1913 troublesome pains in his hands brought Paderewski from San Francisco to Paso Robles for the healing hot springs and mud baths. Discovering the magnificent Paso Robles Hotel, Paderewski fell in love with the area and purchased several thousand acres of ranch land where he proceeded to grow Zinfandel grapes, and almonds. 

Aniela Strakacz, the wife of Paderewski’s personal secretary, described a visit to Paso Robles on March 26, 1921: “At midnight our train slowed down and the conductor called out our station. Looking through the train widow we saw the sky luridly aglow. My first thought was that the station was burning down. The crowd that had come out to greet Paderewski was so great it was almost impossible to descend from the train. Despite the overwhelming number of people, our reception was dignified, solemn and majestic. As the car with the Paderewskis in it departed for the hotel, it inched along slowly between an honor guard consisting of two rows of automobiles in military formation, followed by people holding flaming torches that turned night into day.”

What was Paso Robles like in 1921? Ms. Strakacz further described it, “I don’t think there can be any landscape in the world more beautiful than what you find in California. Paso Robles is a miniature town with only two streets, and the countryside is uninhabited¦..Evening time means movie-time for us, for although Paso Robles is only a two-street town, it boast no less than two motion picture houses, with a program change daily and two changes on Sunday.”

Well, many changes have taken place in the past 90 years. The original hotel burned down (except for the grand ballroom, which still exists today), Paderewski died in 1941 at the age of 81, and the post World War II growth of the wine industry forever changed Paso Robles from a two-street town to one of the more important wine producing areas in central California.

Sadly, Paderewski’s fame faded over the years to the point that few young piano students today have any idea who he was. However, older more serious students studying piano professionally tend to study the interpretations of the great pianists of the past, and fortunately, there has been no time since his death when Paderewski’s recordings have not been available in the various mediums available to the public as 78 RPM disks, LPs, reel-to reel and cassette tapes, and today CDs and DVDs. Thus, today we have a significant heritage of Paderewski recordings, and even a film, “Moonlight Sonata,” made in 1937, in which we have an opportunity to hear his voice and hear him play.

An effort to stimulate new interest in Paderewski and redirect attention to the importance of his residence in Paso Robles began in 1991, thanks to the efforts of Virginia Peterson who helped establish a festival in his name. However, after a few years as the festival began to move more in the direction of a wine festival, rather than a music festival, it was put on hold. In 2006, largely thanks to the efforts of Marek Zebrowski, Artistic Director of the Paderewski Festival, plus enhanced community support and generous donations from sponsors, the Festival revived and began developing into a series of events that grow in stature with each passing year.  Now with the focus squarely on Paderewski the great pianist and musician he was, the festival has been bringing internationally known distinguished artists for a series of concerts, plus there is increasingly a new pedagogical aspect to the festival with the establishment of the Paderewski Festival Youth Competition open to young pianists in two age divisions in three counties in California: San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Santa Barbara. Tomorrow we will hear the seven young winners selected from the twenty four contestants in the competition.

William Koseluk 11-13-09

Pianist William Koseluk

Tonight, we had the pleasure of hearing distinguished pianist William Koseluk performing a recital at the Cass Winery in Paso Robles. He opened his program with a selection of five Lyric Pieces by Edvard Grieg. Three of these, “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” Nocturno, Op. 54, No. 4 and “March of the Dwarfs,” are among the most familiar and most often played of Grieg’s shorter works.  However, the less familiar “At Your Feet”  was a poignant miniature that in Koseluk’s hands made a lovely effect. Koseluk’s performance of “March of the Dwarfs” was like no performance of this piece you have ever heard before. He pushed the levels of tempos and dynamics to the absolute edge and created massive sonorities and textures that rivaled a full orchestra. It reminded me of what we have read about the legendary performances of Anton Rubinstein in which he would achieve a pileup of enormous sonorities you wouldn’t have thought possible on a piano. However, the most remarkable aspect was that his massive climaxes served a musical purpose and never came across as gratuitous banging. This large-scaled playing contrasted nicely with the lovely qualities of sound and shaping of phrases Koseluk achieved in the Nocturno.

The second half of the program was devoted to a performance of Paderewski’s Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 21. To say that this is a rarely heard work is an understatement, for there are probably only a handful of people on the planet who have taken the time and trouble to master its considerable difficulties, but that is our loss, for this sonata deserves a wider audience. Sometimes a piece lies dormant waiting for a prince charming to wake it from its slumber. This is such a piece, and William Koseluk may very well be the prince charming. There is a lot of passion and energy in this sonata, and its fine slow movement lulls you before the impending storm of the finale with its surprisingly effective fugato section. Koseluk’s powerful and sensitive performance was totally convincing and left you wanting to hear this piece again, and sooner rather than later.

Responding to the enthusiastic applause, Koseluk asked the audience if they wanted an encore. The shouts of  “Yes!” prompted him to give us one encore: Liszt’s Concert Etude in D-flat Major, “Un Sospiro”  It was lovely!


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