In its seventh year at the comfortable and sonorous Rivera Recital Hall at the Rivers School Conservatory in Weston, the Chopin Symposium once again celebrates the life and art of Fryderyk Chopin in a series of lectures and recitals intended to cast new light on the composer and his works. In speaking of “…the diversity of ideas that can be expounded on using Chopin as a starting point,” artistic director Roberto Poli is referring to this year’s broad, diverse program which ranges from a lecture exploring the influence of Chopin on Scriabin, to a recreation of Chopin’s official debut in Paris. Music and words weave in and out of each other as the symposium celebrates the composer through and discussions about his life and art throughout the weekend of June 26th through June 28th .There is such richness in Chopin’s life, music, iconography, scholarship, analysis, and heritage that in the seven symposia I have had organized, not a single topic has been repeated; virtually no work has been heard twice,” says Poli. But the symposium also outlines how other 19th century composers were crucial in the way music history unfolded. Part of this year’s symposium is devoted to Mozart, whose music Chopin venerated. Guest speaker Mike Lee, a scholar and fortepianist, shares his insight about the Austrian composer by bringing his own copy of the ca. 1780 Walter piano that Mozart owned and playing a recital including Mozart’s Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 333 and Beethoven’s Sonata in C Minor, Op. 13 on Thursday, June 25th at 7:00 pm (Rivera Recital Hall, free admission), as a brilliant aperitif to the weekend celebrations. The recital is part of the Chopin Institute, a week-long course that brings ten talented aspiring pianists to the Rivers School Conservatory. The ten young artists participate in the Saturday and Sunday concerts by playing collaborative works with the guest artists of the symposium. Two of them will play four-hand works by Mozart with Mike Lee on the Walter piano.
Lee also presents a lecture on Mozart’s piano concertos, bringing to light the relation between Mozart’s musical language and the expressive capacities of the kinds of instruments that were at his disposal. His copy of Mozart’s Walter piano will be used to illustrate the differences between the properties of a historical instrument and those of the modern piano. “I am excited to have Mike Lee join us again after his marvelous lecture at the symposium last year. I am also looking forward to having David Dubal join us again after his tour-de-force presentation at the last symposium. And of course, I am thrilled to have for the first time with us Halina Goldberg, a Polish Chopin scholar whose work is truly fascinating. Her lecture centers on providing a context in which we can better understand how Chopin constructed his musical narratives and communicated them to his listeners—an intriguing topic that is seldom discussed,” says Poli.
The two other lectures of the weekend include Poli’s own photographic “promenade” through the streets of Paris to discover the houses in which Chopin lived and the places he frequented; and Angel Ramón Rivera’s presentation on Alexander Scriabin’s early works, alongside performances of the ten talented participants of the institute. As the commemorations of Scriabin’s 100th anniversary of his death are taking place world-wide, Rivera outlines a rarely discussed topic – how the composer’s early works are permeated by Chopin’s language and historical context. As a youth, Scriabin found himself in a musical environment in which Chopin was already considered a legend. The title of every single work Scriabin wrote in the first twenty-five years of his brief existence was inspired by Chopin’s own works—etudes, preludes, waltzes, mazurkas, polonaises, nocturnes, and impromptus. But if Scriabin’s language was inspired by Chopin’s ravishing use of melody and harmony, we also find in it an original voice, an artistic vein that is exclusively his own.
There is also a great wealth of music that will be played at the symposium. “We ritually open the event with a recital on Friday evening,” Poli explains. “I am thrilled to have Italian pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi do the honors, this year. His recital program includes Chopin’s Funeral March Sonata and the Twelve Etudes, Op. 10, next to works of Grieg and Debussy. I met Pompa-Baldi many years ago, when we were in our early 20s and still lived in Italy. I met him again at the Cleveland Piano Competition in 1999, where he won First Prize. I have not seen him since, but have followed his career attentively. He graciously accepted my invitation to play a recital and participate in the Saturday activities with a master class and the performance of a collaborative work at the evening concert titled Chopin and his World. For the occasion, Antonio performs the Sonata for piano Four Hands, Op. 47 by Ignaz Moscheles, a piece that Chopin himself played twice in public—with Franz Liszt, and with the composer himself,” says Poli.
Each evening of the symposium concludes with a concert. Chopin and his World, in which the guest artists join forces with the young artists of the Chopin Institute, is one of them. The concert features works that the composer played with his friends, students, and colleagues. It also underscores how the composers’ timelines intertwined. Poli explains: “Chopin was 14-years-old when Schubert wrote the Divertissement Hongroise for piano, four hands—a favorite of Chopin’s; Liszt penned his well-known Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 as Chopin endured the tragic break-up with George Sand; and Schumann wrote his four-hand pieces, Op. 85 in October 1849, just as Chopin exhaled his last breath. It is a fascinating journey of reminiscence, and what makes it special is the participation of our Chopin Institute participants and their sharing the stage with consummate artists such as Gila Goldstein, Mike Lee, and Ya-Fei Chuang in works they will be rehearsing throughout the week. It is a unique opportunity that no other summer program of this kind offers. These young pianists, coming mostly from the Boston area but also from New York City and Canada, enjoy the experience immensely, both for its artistic and human content.
This year’s closing concert is a reenactment of Chopin’s debut concert in Paris in 1832. Held at the Pleyels Salon on rue Cadet, the concert was attended by only about one-hundred people, but drew enough curiosity to elicit the interest of the entire city in the young, promising pianist. The concert opened with a performance of Beethoven’s String Quintet in C Major, Op. 29. Piotr Buczek, Liana Zaretsky, Gillian Rogell, Drew Ricciardi, and Ronald Lowry join forces in the performance of this rarely performed work. “Chopin played two works for piano and orchestra with an accompaniment of string quartet—one of his concertos, and the Variations on Mozart’s La ci darem la mano, Op. 2,” says Poli. “Alas, no version for piano and string quartet exists of the E Minor Concerto, and the version with string quintet of the F Minor Concerto that Chopin published in 1836 is missing crucial parts of the wind and brass instruments. Likewise, no version with strings of the Variations Op. 2 exists. It was challenging, but I decided to transcribe the orchestral score of both pieces—the Concerto in F Minor and the Variations, Op. 2—for string quartet.” One of the highlights of the concert in 1832 was the performance of Friedrich Kalkbrenner’s Introduction, Marche interrupted by a storm and followed by a Polonaise for six pianos. This is a work that has not been heard since Chopin’s Parisian debut, and Poli has transcribed it for two pianos, eight hands. Poli explains: “It was an enormous amount of work, because the score for six pianos was never published, and the piece only survived in a version for piano and string quintet. Instead of performing the version for piano and strings, I thought it would be more interesting to hear it as close as possible to how the piece sounded at the concert in 1832. Even though we do have six pianists, we just could not wheel in six pianos to the hall! I have not heard the piece performed yet, but I sense it is going to be a riot. I look forward to our first rehearsal.” Roberto Poli plays the Kalkbrenner piece with pianist Gila Goldstein and two of the young participants of The Chopin Institute. The program also includes vocal works by Mozart, Rossini, and Bellini performed by Alida Doornberg and Colleen Palmer; and a work for solo oboe by Henri Brod (who was one of the featured artists at the 1832 concert), performed by Michael Dressler.
More about the lectures, master classes, and concerts at the Chopin Symposium is here.