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Arts & Culture

KUHF Listeners visit the Baltic States – Update from Warsaw, Poland

After a VERY EARLY flight from Vilnius, we landed in Warsaw, Poland at about 6:30AM and, after a full day of sight-seeing and an evening piano recital, most participants where reminded of how exhausted we were on the first of this tour after having traveled 18 hours from the United States. However, any exhaustion tour participants might have had was rewarded by this evening’s performance by Alexander Lubiantsev…


Music lovers from around the world have been in Warsaw for the past few weeks for the International Chopin Piano Competition and as we arrived in the city this morning, you could smell the excitement in the air. Frederic Chopin is a national hero in this country and the piano competition in his honor has taken place every five years since it began in 1927. The competition ranks supreme in the cultural life of the city and, unlike the Van Cliburn Competition in Ft. Worth, whose only real lasting success of a musician is Radu Lupu (1966), the Chopin Competition has produced such legendary pianists as Maurizio Pollini (1960), Martha Argerich (1965), Garrick Ohlssohn (1970) and Kristian Zimmerman (1975).

Given that music lovers from around the world are in Warsaw this week you could imagine that tickets for the concerts are very easy to come by. It turns out, that the official competition concerts aren’t the only way to enjoy the brilliant artists who have descended on Poland to take their shot at international stardom. The Sinfonia Varsovia presents a series of recitals (2 per day for the entire run of the competition!!) which allows competitors who have not performed yet a chance to try out their recital programs on a smaller audience and, for those who have already been eliminated from the competition, an oppotuntiy to perform again and to make a lttle extra money to help defray their travel expenses.

I had thought that we were attending such a concert tonight and after a remarkably satisfying evening of music I found out that I was quite mistaken. In addition to the series of recitals presented by the Sinfonia Varsovia, there are the occasional private events like the one KUHF listeners attended this evening. I had mistakenly thought that Alexander “Sasha” Lubiantsev was one of the competition competitors who didn’t make it to the finals and, at the end of a his intensely exciting performance, I found out that I was quite mistaken. Presented by KUHF’s Dean Dalton and Jose Tobar (Arte Travel), Sasha is someone who Jose discovered in on the radio, and later in person in Moscow, who just happened to be in Warsaw to listen to this year’s competition. What a surprise! I think that we all expected a great performance but, it is safe to say that no one planned on what we heard tonight.

The evening opened with the Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata and Lubiantsev provided a fresh and exciting new look at an old masterwork. His articulation was crisp and as powerful as his dynamic range. Lubiatsev’s performances of Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 in f-minor and Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz knocked the audiences socks off with their power and brilliantly effortless virtuosity. The Piano Sonata No.5 by Scriabin presented most audience members a chance to hear music by a composer who, even among pianists, is often neglected. Finally, Sasha concluded his program with the Chopin’s Piano Sonata in b-minor
and with his slightly overgrown, tousled and Chopinesque hair, made one wonder what it must have been like to witness the great master himself. Surely, the atmosphere and artistry at this recital was not so far removed from what 19th Century listeners would have experienced from their great national hero.