Tuesday, October 5, 2010

REVIEW: Chopin with Jazz at Carnegie Hall

by Staś Kmieć

Frédéric Chopin's 200th Birthday Party - A Polish Jazz Celebration was presented at Carnegie Hall on October 4 presented by the High Arts Society of Warsaw, Poland . This show was arranged to demonstrate the composer's source of inspiration – folk music, as well as his work being a source of inspiration of jazz and contemporary music. The ambitious concert was performed in Chicago, New York City and Inowrocław, Poland.

The missing component of the program should have come between the inspiration source and the inspired invention and that was a representation and acknowledgment of Chopin's original compositions.

The inventive Jazz improvisations on Chopin's work were evidence of how revelatory his music is. A contemporary molding of Chopin's genius. Straying from the beaten path they attempted to forge a new language of Chopin. In some offerings a glimmer of Chopin could be heard, but often his contribution appeared unrecognizable to listening audience.

In spite of their efforts, musicologists have still not solved the precise sources of the quotations in Chopin's music. He was influenced by the folk music of Poland, but did not reproduce it, what he did was to compose his pieces in the spirit of folk music.

The Janusz Prusinowski Ensemble, in my opinion was the standout of the evening. Focused and concise, they offered the rural perspective of the music from the country side that influenced and inspired the great artist. With antique instrumentation they presented an expression of vitality and authenticity.

Oj chmielu, chmielu” (their first selection) is the oldest known ceremonial wedding song, sung during oczepiny, when the bride symbolically passes into the state of married ladies and when a bonnet replaces her head wreath. From the scratchy, clear-toned folk violin to the emotional shawm, punctuated by the baraban cymbal-drum and the rhythmic foot step-stamp motif of the musicians, the tune resonated through the hallowed establishment of Carnegie Hall.

The shawm, a medieval and Renaissance musical instrument of the woodwind family made in Europe from the late 13th century until the 17th century was developed from the oriental zurna and is the predecessor of the modern oboe. The instrument gave the song a hypnotic transcendental quality.

The song is derived from pagan times, before the adoption of Poland's baptism in 966. Its tonality of the pentatoni

c and modal scale indicate an even earlier origin of the melody. The second piece was a suite of melodies that may have inspired Chopin including Czemu nie orzesz, Jasieńku,” which is reflected in Mazurka in G minor, Op. 24 No. 1 with its rhythmic rubato, minor scales and minor

subtleties of melody and harmonic accompaniment. Theaccents of przytup stamping broke into dance by the final rendition of Chopin's Mazurka in D major, Op. 33, No. 2.

The national mazur is based on the folk mazurek (chłopskie mazur), but it represents a break with folk

tradition. Compared to the rural version,it differs by being filled with dotted rhythms. At the end of the 18th century the Mazurka became part of the piano repertoire and it reached perfection in the hands of Chopin. Upon examination it becomes clear that these compositions contain a blend of various traditions, dominant among which are the national mazur and the folk kujawiak. A triple-time round dance with a crescendo rhythm, the kujawiak consisting of the slow “sleeping” ksebka, followed by the true kujawiak odsibka – a “whirling dervish” of a mazur or oberek rhythm.

A memorable New-Age performance was given by Kwadrofonik. Water-colored, airy and

mysterious their modern compositions interpreted Chopin in a dreamlike, surreal exploration ofrhythmic sound. African-American saxophonist Azar Lawrence visited Poland in 1974 and his impressions of the composer were expressed through improvisational technique reaching great emotion and depth. Jazz powerhouse Gunhild Carling of Sweden offered welcome relief late in the program. She began on a humorous note blaring the
Funeral March Sonata No. 2 (Op. 35) on the trombone and followed in a strong nuanced voice with a song improvisation alternating on the trombone, fife and trumpet.

Among the other performers were Krzesimir Dębski (Poland/USA) – emcee, music director, violin, Vocalists Agnieszka Wilczyńska (Poland) and Grażyna Auguścik World Sound (USA) with The Chicago International Trombone Ensemble, jazz pianist awomir

Jaskułke (Poland), and theAndrzej Jagodziński Trio (Poland).

The 2-hour concert at times meandered, particularly during the jazz riffs

and individual improvisations, which at times appeared uninspired. For many acts abbreviated or single selections would have sufficed. Flow and format were not evident in the structure of much the presentation; however the free-for-all celebration aspect and variety was engaging and infectious.