In 2018, Poland commemorates one hundred years of independence. In 2016, to mark the occasion, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute came up with an idea to present icons of Polish independence to the world. And thus, a question arose: Can Ignacy Jan Paderewski be the hero of a musical?
Paderewski Cycle – Interviews from Culture.pl on Vimeo.
Paderewski: The Musical
Paula Cizmar’s Golden from Culture.pl on Vimeo.
Eva Sobolevski from the Adam Mickiewicz Institute in Warsaw, Poland, explains:
The answer came in the form of a challenge: if an 18th-century Secretary of the Treasury can be the hero of the most popular, critically acclaimed and culturally influential musical of the last quarter of a century, why not a prime minister?
Alexander Hamilton was not just a cabinet member, but one of the “Founding Fathers” – his signature graces the Constitution of the United States. This fact only strengthens the Hamilton/Paderewski parallel! Paderewski is one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the modern Polish Republic, its intellectual and political champion; his signature graces the Treaty of Versailles. And, he had one trait that trumped even Hamilton: he was the most successful stage performer of his time.
Jeremy Kamps 13th Point from Culture.pl on Vimeo.
In celebration of the centenary of Poland’s Independence, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute organised a competition for a treatment of a musical play based on the life of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Polish pianist and composer, politician and spokesman for Polish independence. Sobolevski continues:
Paderewski presents an irresistible subject for a historical musical as both Polish and American hero, a statesman and an orator but also an artist, a celebrity, and a businessman. Paderewski embodies the best of both national traditions – fierce love of country, loyalty, and willingness to sacrifice for a cause, as well as inventiveness, tireless work ethic, self-improvement and charity.
He counted dignitaries and royalty among his admirers and friends but advocated most passionately for and donated generously to disabled war veterans, orphans and widows, and unemployed musicians. As a young virtuoso, he conquered the hearts of the American public and became the highest paid artist in the world. He admitted that he found his ‘second home in America.
On 7th June 2017, the jury consisting of three theatre professionals from the United States and Poland met in New York to select the winners of the competition. The jury was comprised of: Mark Russell, Artistic Director, Under the Radar Festival in New York; Jim O’Quinn, Editor-in-Chief, American Theatre Magazine; and Joanna Klass, Head of Theatre and Dance Programmes, Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Curator of the Paderewski Musical Project.
Due to the wealth of outstanding proposals received, after careful consideration, the jury named nine finalists – each of them was invited to continue on to the second round of the Paderewski Musical Competition: The Paderewski Cycle. It was an opportunity to develop their musical treatments into 15 or 20-minute live presentations featuring music and performance details from their respective projects. The showcases took place in New York and Los Angeles in November 2017.
Paderewski Cycle: New York City
Mark Hein’s These Hands from Culture.pl on Vimeo.
In New York, Paderewski Cycle took place on the 1st of November 2017 at Joe’s Pub – one of the stages of the legendary Public Theatre in lower Manhattan (The Public, incidentally, is the place where Hamilton was developed, produced and opened its New York run). In its 25-year history, Joe’s Pub welcomed diverse and bold performers, from Leonard Cohen to Amy Winehouse, Alicia Keys to Henry Rollins, Amy Schumer to Gloria Steinem or Lady Rizo, and of course, greats of the Broadway stage, like Patti LuPone or Audra MacDonald.
The New York edition of Paderewski Cycle consisted of five presentations: Rachel Jendrzejewski’s Paderewski! Paderewski! Paderewski!; James Fluhr, Ellie Hayman and Zoe Sarnak’s Blacksmith; Emily Zemba and Lauren Dubowski’s Paddymania; Matthew Hardy’s Virtuoso; and Jeremy Kamps’ 13th Point. The Institute invited professionals from colleges and cultural institutions to watch and evaluate the pitches: Art Power, Cal Arts Center for New Performance, CUNY Drama and Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, Mass MoCA, The Kennedy Center, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and USC School of Drama. The Kościuszko Foundation was a co-producer of the event.
Rachel Jendrzejewski Paderewski! Paderewski! Paderewski! from Culture.pl on Vimeo.
Four of the five ideas were rooted firmly in Broadway traditions: Blacksmith adopted a rock-opera convention with its signature rock anthems (not unlike Jesus Christ Superstar) casting the figure of Paderewski as a charismatic rock idol, whereas Virtuoso went for a female-driven soul-inflected sound and featured Paderewski’s complicated relationships with influential women as a driving force in his life. Paddymania! enchanted the audience with echoes of operettas and vaudeville with a playful sense of humour. Paderewski was spoken of, but not heard from, however, his muse, the actress Helena Modjeska, was given centre stage. 13th Point’s progressive rock sounds were employed in the service of political challenge culminating in a confrontation between Paderewski and Woodrow Wilson staged as an erudite rhymed dialogue. In turn, the fifth project, Paderewski! Paderewski! Paderewski! looked to experimental theatre and minimalist music reminiscent of Phillip Glass to give us a philosophical meditation on the little details of a life of a ‘great’ man.
Paderewski Cycle: Los Angeles
Katharine Noon and Mark Seldis’ Paderewski in America from Culture.pl on Vimeo.
On 3rd November 2017, four Paderewski presentations took place at the Cammillieri Hall at the University of Southern California campus: Paula Cizmar’s Golden; Oliver Jai’Sen Mayer’s Three Paderewskis; Katharine Noon’s Paderewski in America; and Mark Hein’s These Hands. This choice of venue was no coincidence – Paderewski was given an honourary Doctor Honoris Causa degree in 1924, and an archive of his work is housed at the USC’s Polish Music Centre.
The LA projects were very different in tone and vision from those in New York. While New York artists were unquestionably inspired by Broadway tradition, in Los Angeles creators took a more unconventional path.
The librettists, coming mainly from an academic background, preferred hybrid formal structures and poetic, metaphorical texts, as well as, classically trained non-amplified voices and instrumentation. Another discernible LA trend was the attention given to the natural world, and especially the rich natural beauty of California, as the backdrop of the presentations.
Lauren Dubowski & Emily Zemba’s PADDYMANIA! from Culture.pl on Vimeo.
Three Paderewskis gave us the main character wandering the hills of his Paso Robles ranch in three spiritual versions – one of them female – expressed in music that can be described as a modern opera/musical hybrid of the kind we’re familiar with from Les Miserables. Golden, which also referred to Paderewski’s Paso Robles period, conjured up images of the striking Central Coast vistas, as the exhausted performer-statesman pondered the possibility of retiring from public life. Musically, the piece was closest to a cantata, as it featured very little dialogue in favour of formal duets, trios and quartets for an SATB voice ensemble supported by a classical instrumental quintet.
These Hands was a seemingly straight coming-of-age story of the young composer’s extraordinary meeting with Helena Modjeska, which transformed his life – took the approach of deriving its musical material from melodies and motives found in Paderewski’s compositions thus striving for an all-embracing Paderewski immersion. Paderewski in America, a fictional, yet plausible, story had the young pianist on an American tour stumble into a famous St. Louis brothel, The Castle, where Mama Lou, the real-life proprietress and song writer, engaged him in battle of the wits to the music of turn-of-the-century American vaudeville. The tunes evoked marches and waltzes of the era while staying true to contemporary pop musical sound.
Matthew Hardy’s Virtuoso from Culture.pl on Vimeo.
The response to the Paderewski Cycle in New York and Los Angeles was overwhelmingly positive. Over a 100 artists took part in crafting and presenting the live pitches, and another 450 people saw the live performances. Both theatres, in New York and Los Angeles, were sold out.
The Paderewski Cycle attracted accomplished veteran artists such as composer David O, whose music for theatre, concert stage and film has been rewarded by Ovation Awards, LA Weekly and LA Drama Critics Circle, and Nathan Wang, film, documentary, animation, and TV composer and the author of the Broadway musical Imelda about the life of Imelda Marcos; as well as directors Nancy Keystone and Jon Lawrence Rivera. Many young up-and-coming artists were also involved, such as the New York composer and pianist Or Matias, who is currently the Music Director of the Tony-winning Natasha Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812 a musical adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
James Fluhr, Zoe Sarnak and Ellie Heyman’s Blacksmith from Culture.pl on Vimeo.
Several partner institutions of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute in the U.S. are interested in developing several projects! It’s an outcome we could never have predicted. It seems an invasion of Paderewskis on American theatre stages is inevitable. Stay tuned!
Sources: primary source Eva Sobolevski, adapted by NR, Feb 2018