“For a fortnight I shut myself up and play Bach” – Fryderyk Chopin

For nearly three weeks in August, renowned international performers and rising stars take to the stage to play the music of Bach and Chopin, and much, much more in this the 13th edition of the Chopin and his Europe International Festival, presented by the Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Warsaw. This is one of the annual cultural events of the summer in Poland, devised by artistic director of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, Stanisław Leszczyński, and is a spectacular celebration of music in over 50 concerts. And while the main focus is the music of Chopin, piano recitals take place alongside chamber and orchestral concerts featuring well-known masterpieces of European music. Lesser-known repertoire will also be represented, including works by Polish composers Ignacy Feliks Dobrzyński, Karol Szymanowski and Józef Krogulski.

The 2016 Festival © Grzedzinski
The 2016 Festival
© Grzedzinski
“BA…CHopin” is the tagline on the festival’s publicity material, a witty reminder of the leitmotif to this year’s edition. Chopin revered J S Bach above all composers, save Mozart, and in addition to his own regular study of Bach’s ‘48’, Chopin insisted that his pupils study these works, as “ce sera votre meilleur moyen de progresser” (this will be your best way of making progress). Audiences will have the opportunity to explore connections between Bach and Chopin through performances of the complete Brandenberg Concertos, the Goldberg Variations (performed by Angela Hewitt), Concertos for Solo Keyboard and the Concerto for Four Pianos alongside programmes featuring many of Chopin’s best-loved piano works, including the Four Ballades and the Piano Sonatas.

The festival programme also sets the life and work of Chopin in the context of his European predecessors, contemporaries and successors, revealing those who directly influenced him – Bach and Mozart – and those whom he influenced, both stylistically and thematically (Scriabin, Szymanowski, Debussy). There is, for example, a whole programme devoted to the dance in keyboard music, from the formal dances which comprise Bach’s keyboard suites and Mozart’s shorter piano works, to folk dances (Mazurkas by Chopin and German dances by Schubert) performed by acclaimed harpsichordist Andreas Staier, on period piano.

Martha Argerich at the 2015 Festival © Grzedzinski
Martha Argerich at the 2015 Festival
© Grzedzinski
Indeed historical performance is an important strand of this year’s festival, as in previous years, and audiences will have an opportunity to experience works as they were originally heard on period pianos owned by the Fryderyk Chopin Institute: an Erard from 1849, a Pleyel from 1846 and a Graf (a copy of an instrument from c.1819). Nelson Goerner performs Chopin’s piano concertos on period piano, with Europa Galante and Fabio Biondi, while Alexander Melnikov plays concertos by Beethoven and Schumann on a period instrument with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century under Kenneth Montgomery. In addition, there are performances on period pianos by Kristian Bezuidenhout, Howard Shelley and Alexei Lubimov. Such concerts will offer a unique portal to the soundworld of Chopin and his contemporaries, and a chance for audiences to explore how the piano and pianism has developed since the 19th century.

For lovers of the piano and its literature, there really is an embarrassment of riches with recitals by top international artists including Martha Argerich, Angela Hewitt, Nelson Freire, Mikhail Pletnev, Garrick Ohlsson, Gabriele Montero, Yulianna Avdeeva, Yundi, Nikolai Demidenko and Piotr Anderszewski. Amongst the younger rising stars, Seong-Jin Cho, winner of the 2015 International Chopin Competition, performs works by Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy. Other prizewinners from the 2015 competition are showcased, including George Li and Charles Richard-Hamelin, together with finalists and prizewinners from earlier competitions. Polish-Canadian wunderkind Jan Lisiecki will perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto no. 1 in the evening concert on the opening night of the festival.

The 2016 Festival © Grzedzinski
The 2016 Festival
© Grzedzinski
Other instrumentalists and ensembles are well-represented too. Violinist Gidon Kremer conducts his own Kremerata Baltica in an arrangement for string orchestra of Chopin’s Piano Concerto no. 1, with soloist Yulianna Avdeeva, while on the penultimate night of the festival the Belcea Quartet and Apollon Musagete Quartet join forces with Angela Hewitt, Martha Argerich, Gabriela Montero and Nelson Goerner for a performance of Bach’s Concerto for Four Pianos. With such an impressive line-up of international piano stars, this concert promises to be absolutely sparkling.

Song was important to Bach and Chopin too, and to reflect this there is a late-evening concert of Monteverdi’s Vespers (15 August) and a performance of Verdi’s Macbeth in Opera in Concert. For two nights towards the end of the festival, there are late-night events at the Church of the Holy Cross, listed simply as ‘Before Chopin’s Heart’ (presumably some kind of vigil/homage to Chopin at the memorial where his heart is buried).

The depth, quality and variety of this year’s festival is really exceptional, with concerts to more than satisfy all tastes. Most days offer at least two performances, some three, and concerts take place in the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall and the Witold Lutosławski Studio of the Polish Radio, notable for its fine acoustic. This wonderful celebration of European music begins in Warsaw on 12 August and ends on 30 August.

 

Article sponsored by Chopin and his Europe festival.