Student pianists from California, Poland and Ukraine unite for Paderewski Festival Cultural Exchange

For the Paderewski Festival Cultural Exchange and the spirit by which it takes flight, odd and even years indicate taking turns to promote fellowship and playing beautiful music to revitalize world-weary souls.

The idea originated from Ignacy Paderewski himself. The virtuoso pianist, composer, Polish Prime Minister, diplomat and philanthropist of various charitable causes carried an unrealized desire to establish a music school in Paso Robles. In 2008, the Festival honored the maestro’s guiding principles by establishing a signed Sister-city agreement between Paso Robles, USA, and Tarnów, Poland.

The three-fold accord supports the potential of cultural, educational and business interaction. It includes participation of the International Cultural Exchange Program, which brings together piano students from two continents, more specifically, California, Małopolska and Podilya.

The participants from California are Antón de la Fuente and Luke Kim De La Fuente of Monterey, age 18, who will be studying Paul Berkowitz at UC Santa Barbara. Luke Kim, age 16, of Carpinteria, studies piano with Dr. Egle Januleviciute and Ms. Jessie Chang.

Their Central European counterparts are Sofiya Dashak, age 16, and Bohdan Terletskyy, age 11, of Ukraine, Malgorzata Machowska, age 17, of Jodłówka Tuchowska, in Tarnów,County, Poland, as well as Piotr Lara, age 16, from Tarnów, Poland.

This year, the American students landed to a warm welcome at Paderewski’s manor house in Kąśna Dolna, Poland, where six students, faculty and chaperones enjoyed a place of lodging for workshops, master classes, concert playing and immersion into the rich heritage and culture of Poland.

Lars Hoefs, professor of cello at Sao Paulo State University in Brazil along with Marianna Humetska, faculty member at National Music Academy in Lviv, Ukraine, and Marek Zebrowski, Artistic Director of Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles, provided the group a concentrated week of lessons to enrich their knowledge of harmony, composition, and arranging. Special attention was given to both solo and group practices.

“This program has run since 2008,” said Marek Zebrowski, also Director of the USC Polish Music Center. “It is by far the best program I have seen with the best kids. This year, we have American, Polish and Ukrainian students learning, growing and performing together and I couldn’t be more pleased. It’s a great program that gives kids great chances.”

A concert series throughout Poland put newfound skills to work in all six students in solo and chamber music repertoire on a generous loan of a concert grand Fazioli piano, courtesy of the Warsaw Philharmonic. At the manor house, works by Debussy and Grieg, Ravel and Chopin, and Beethoven and Rachmaninov flowed along with Paderewski and Schumann.

In an affecting demonstration of more modern solidarity among students, they paired off to play in piano arrangements for four hands. Gershwin compositions dominated the program, which included acutely American selections that resonated with listeners. They included The Man I Love, Fascinating Rhythm and Novellette in Fourths.

This program was repeated at Debno Castle, west of Kąśna Dolna, where the audience stressed the seating capacity of the venue and the musicians’ performance elicited a standing ovation.

The next day brought with it rest and relief with concerts played for a sightseeing trip to Poland’s historic capital of Kraków, where Paderewski seemed to have influenced landmarks everywhere. The famous Battle of Grunwald monument, paid for by Paderewski in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Battle of 1910.

A flurry of travel included the Słowacki Theatre and Hotel Saski (reminiscent of Paderewski’s friendship with actress and patron, Helena Modjeska), and concluded in a performance at the Paderewski Institute of Musicology, part of Jagiellonian University. To top the musical excursion in Kraków, the group was treated to a dress rehearsal of a piano 4-hand concert by Grzegorz Mania and Piotr Różański with selections by various Polish composers.

There is a second trip to come that compliments the first in 2018, when the students from Poland and Ukraine enjoy visiting California.

They will stay with host families, attend local high school classes and culminate their visit with a warm Paso welcome on Nov. 2 through 5, at the Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles.

To learn more about the Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles, visit www.paderewskifest.com.