So You Thought You Knew Chopin:
Pianist Brian Ganz Continues “Extreme Chopin” Quest
To Perform Every Note Composer Wrote
February 2 Concert with Mezzo-Soprano Magdalena Wor
Features Chopin’s “Recollections of Home”
North Bethesda, MD (Dec. 26, 2018)—Renowned pianist Brian Ganz continues his unprecedented journey through the complete works of Frédéric Chopin with “Brian Ganz Plays Chopin: Recollections of Home” at The Music Center at Strathmore at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 2. Ganz will be joined by internationally acclaimed Polish-born mezzo-soprano Magdalena Wór in ten of Chopin’s rarely heard songs. This concert marks Ganz’s ninth recital in his journey through the beloved romantic composer’s complete works. “Chopin was, without question, the greatest Polish composer of all time,” said Ganz. “Although he spent only the first half of his life in Poland, much of his music reveals his deep love for—and connection to—his homeland as reflected in this recital.” Ganz began his “Extreme Chopin” quest in January 2011 with a sold-out recital in partnership with the National Philharmonic at The Music Center at Strathmore. He has since maintained a brimming concert schedule, representing his unique niche as perhaps the only pianist to perform Chopin’s entire oeuvre. “I believe Brian is the first musician to attempt to perform all of Chopin’s works,” said Piotr Gajewski, National Philharmonic music director. Witness musical history in the making. Ticket prices are $34-$88 and are free for young people age 7-17. Strathmore is located at 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.nationalphilharmonic.org or call 301.581.5100.
This concert presents works that give expression to Chopin’s profound connection to Poland. From the Polish dances for solo piano, the polonaises and mazurkas, through several of his intimate and folkloric songs for voice and piano, set to Polish poetry, to the work he said would be the first he would perform in an independent Poland, the rarely heard Allegro de Concert, each of these works reveals how Chopin himself became the spirit of Poland.
Ganz will be joined on the first half of the program by Magdalena Wor, about whom the Washington Post has written: “She has that kind of velvety-rich mezzo that makes you want to follow her anywhere.” Wor and Ganz have worked together before. In the 2016 “Extreme Chopin” recital, the pair performed about half of Chopin’s songs for voice and piano at Strathmore, and this reunion gives the artists the opportunity to perform the other half. “Chopin is such an important part of the Polish heritage, his music being its quintessential element,” said Wór, who shares Ganz’s passion for the composer. “Being Polish myself, I identify with Chopin’s melodies, first by deeply feeling the flavor of the music—it’s in my soul—and second by understanding the symbolism of the lyrics, whether heavy, history woven poems, or the tradition-laden, often quirky lyrics of folklore,” she said. For Wór, “Singing his songs always comes with a deep realization that I am performing the music that represents Poland, and thus sharing our heritage with others across the globe. This definitely comes with a feeling of gratitude to the great composer, whose music is as beautiful as it is timeless.”
Included among the songs Wor will sing is a short work Chopin dashed off as an impromptu gift for a new friend, the famous Czech philologist Vaclav Hanka, while traveling through Prague in 1829. Chopin was only nineteen years old. The song is the only work in the entire Chopin oeuvre that does not include the piano. “That song will be a short but welcome break for me!” the pianist joked. “I am so excited to have Magdalena joining me again,” he continued. “What a stunning voice she has. And how thrilling to hear her sing the almost unknown unaccompanied song, a little mazurka entitled ‘Oh What Flowers, Oh What Wreathes.’ We don’t know for sure, but this just might be its American premiere.”
The Washington Post has written, “There isn’t much about Chopin that Brian Ganz doesn’t know. His delight and wonder in this music seems to grow, apparently without bounds, as time goes on.” Ganz’s solo repertoire for this concert will feature seven of the composer’s most personal and deeply expressive mazurkas, dances that capture Polish folk and country flavor more than any other works Chopin composed. The three mazurkas from Op. 56 (No. 1 in B Major, No. 2 in C Major, and No. 3 in C minor) and four mazurkas from Op. 41 (No. 1 in E Minor, No. 2 in B major, No. 3 in A-flat major, and No. 4 in C-sharp minor) are among his greatest.
“If I could only take one genre of Chopin’s music with me to a desert island, it would be the mazurkas,” said Ganz. “Okay, that’s partly because there are more of them than any other genre Chopin wrote! But truly, they are Chopin’s creative laboratory. He takes more risks and does more musical experimenting than he does anywhere else. The mazurkas I’ll be playing at Strathmore in February make a sumptuous feast of strange and beautiful miniatures.”
Ganz will also play two polonaises—Polonaise in B-flat minor, Op. Posth (“Adieu”) and
Polonaise in E-flat minor, Op. 26, No. 2. “The polonaises are in general better known to the public than the mazurkas, perhaps because they tend toward grand, noble gestures full of majesty and dignity. But these two are not so well known, especially the ‘Adieu,’ which he wrote at age 16. The E-flat minor polonaise is one of his greatest, a fully mature work that deserves to be better known. These two works will give us an opportunity to do some of the ‘musical gardening’ I so enjoy. I’ll show how the early polonaise demonstrates the seed of Chopin’s genius, and how that comes to full flower in the mature polonaise.” Ganz will end the concert with two works whose connections to Poland are subtler. Upon hearing a student play Chopin’s own Etude in E Major, Op. 10, No. 3, which contains the soaring melody he thought just might be his most beautiful, the composer could not contain his emotion, crying out “O, my fatherland!” And why is the almost unknown Allegro de Concert, Op. 46 the work Chopin stated he would play first in an independent Poland? Ganz thinks he now knows. “For a long time I wondered about that. But having learned and performed the work I now see that it just may be Chopin’s most joyous work of absolutely unbridled celebration. How could anything less than that express what he knew he and his fellow Poles would be feeling when their homeland was finally free?” Ganz believes the timing of the theme “Recollections of Home” is especially appropriate, as Poland celebrated the 100th anniversary of its freedom just a few weeks ago, on November 11, 2018. “Chopin never experienced a free Poland, alas. But I hope we honor both him and Polish people everywhere by celebrating the centennial with this work that meant so much to him.”
Ganz is devoting more than a decade to performing every piece Chopin wrote for the piano, and he is well on his way with his “Extreme Chopin” quest to be the first known to perform all of Chopin’s 250 works. February’s recital marks the ninth year playing all of Chopin’s famous- and not-so-famous- works, and Ganz has been captivating concert audiences of around 2,000 since he began. Of the lesser-known works, Ganz says, “There’s something beautiful in everything Chopin wrote. In my journey through Chopin’s complete works, I will play every single note he composed, and this includes all the works he composed along the way to artistic maturity.”
Ganz’s fondness for Chopin precedes him. During an interview with the Chester County Press, pianist and former Ganz student Jennifer Nicole Campbell said that during her training with Ganz at Peabody, he was known as “the Chopin guy. [Brian] introduced me to a whole new way of thinking about music. He was extremely conscious of everything in life being put into the music. I knew right away, even before I applied to the school, that he was my teacher,” Campbell said.
Ganz sometimes brings his entire collection of Chopin’s music to a performance so that he can accept requests from the audience. “One of my lifelong goals has been to study every single note Chopin composed,” Ganz said. “This project gives me a lovely framework within which to reach that goal.” In an exuberant review of an all-Chopin recital Ganz played at the Polish Embassy, The Washington Post wrote, “One comes away from a recital by pianist Brian Ganz not only exhilarated by the power of the performance but also moved by his search for artistic truth.”
In 2010, Ganz visited Poland, invited by the renowned conductor Miroslaw Blaszczyk to
play with the Filharmonia Slaska and Filharmonia Pomorska. Visiting Chopin’s home country affected Ganz profoundly. “Chopin is Poland’s national treasure. His face was pictured everywhere, sometimes with no name under it and no caption of any kind. It is almost as if he is the air people breathe. This was profoundly satisfying to me, because he has always been the air I breathe,” Ganz said. “I visited the church where his heart lies in Warsaw. I visited the monument where outside concerts take place under a graceful, sweeping statue of him. I took a taxi to his birthplace in Zelazowa Wola. The whole experience was a pilgrimage for me.”
Ganz’s Chopin inspiration started as young as age 9. “Chopin’s music is the language of my soul, and I have dreamed since childhood of someday performing all of his works,” said Ganz, who is widely regarded as one of the leading pianists of his generation. In an article about the project, the Baltimore Sun wrote: “The boy was 11, already well along in his process of discovering music, when he found himself alone at home one day listening to Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Opus 23. Something in the piece struck Brian Ganz like a bolt from stormy skies.” Ganz recounted that moment, saying, “How can it be so beautiful that it hurts? That was the moment that I like to say Chopin wounded me.”
Ganz has shared First Grand Prize in the Marguerite Long Jacques Thibaud International
Piano Competition and won a silver medal with third prize in the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium International Competition. He has performed as a soloist with such orchestras as the St. Louis Symphony, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, the City of London Sinfonia and Paris’s L’Orchestre Lamoureux and under the direction of conductors such as Leonard Slatkin and Mstislav Rostropovich. He is a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, where he studied with Leon Fleisher. Earlier teachers include Ylda Novik and Claire Deene. Gifted as a teacher himself, Ganz is a member of the piano faculty and Artist-in- Residence at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. He also serves on the piano faculty of the Peabody Conservatory, and has been a member of the jury of the Long Thibaud Competition in Paris.
Polish-born Wór moved to the United States in 1991. She is often praised by music critics and fans alike for the rich color of her voice and her vocal flexibility, which allows her to sing low and high mezzo repertoire, spanning Baroque through the 21st Century. Of Wór’s debut in Madama Butterfly with Virginia Opera, Anne Midgette of The Washington Post wrote, “Magdalena Wór almost stole the show as a well-defined and well-sung Suzuki.” In 2016, Wór debuted with the Seattle Symphony as a soloist for their performances of Handel’s Messiah. She portrayed Maddalena in Opera Birmingham’s Rigoletto and performed with the National Philharmonic in Bach’s Mass in B minor and Handel’s Messiah. In 2011-2012, Wór performed in Carmen for Lyric Opera of Virginia, Handel’s Messiah with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Alabama Symphony Orchestra, was a soloist for Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass with the Cathedral Choral Society of the Washington National Cathedral, Bach’s Magnificat with the National Philharmonic, and gave recitals at the Polish and Hungarian Embassies in Washington, D.C. Wór is winner of the Heinz Rehfuss Vocal Competition, a Metropolitan Opera Competition National finalist, and an alumna of the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Summer Opera Program and Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at the Washington National Opera.
Led by Maestro Gajewski, the National Philharmonic is known for performances that are “powerful,” “impeccable,” and “thrilling” (The Washington Post). In July 2003, the National Chamber Orchestra and Masterworks Chorus merged to create the National Philharmonic, an ensemble with more than 50 years of combined history, bringing high caliber musical performances to the Washington area. The National Philharmonic took up residence at the state-of-the-art Music Center at Strathmore upon its opening in February 2005. Now, more than 250 performances later, and with far-reaching educational programming, the National Philharmonic is the largest and most active professional orchestra based in Montgomery County.
The National Philharmonic boasts a long-standing tradition of reasonably priced tickets and free admission to all young people age 7-17, assuring its place as an accessible and enriching component in Montgomery County and the greater Washington, D.C., area.
As the Music Center at Strathmore’s orchestra-in-residence, the National Philharmonic showcases world-renowned guest artists in time-honored symphonic masterpieces conducted by Maestro Gajewski, with additional conducting by Associate Conductor Victoria Gau, and monumental choral masterworks under National Philharmonic Chorale Artistic Director Stan Engebretson.
To purchase tickets for the performances and for information about the Philharmonic’s 2018-19 season, please visit www.nationalphilharmonic.org or call the Strathmore Ticket Office at 301.581.5100. Tickets are $34-$88; young people 7-17 are free through the ALL KIDS, ALL FREE, ALL THE TIME program. ALL KIDS tickets must be purchased in person or by phone. Complimentary parking is available.
Photo Cut Line: Pianist Brian Ganz and Messo-Soprano Magdalena Wor will perform Chopin works in “Recollections of Home” at Strathmore Hall on February 2, 8 pm.
Photo Credit: Jay Mallin