University of Rochester

EVENT: Pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski Celebrated through Music and Words

September 28, 2010

Oct. 17 Concert Marks the 150th Anniversary of the Musician's Birth

Pianist and composer, statesman and humanitarian, Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) was one of the most acclaimed figures of his time. But as a 12-year-old Polish music student, he feared he would never master the piano. His first teacher advised him firmly: "do not try to play piano, because you will never be a pianist. Never."

Then a chance encounter with Anton Rubinstein rekindled his confidence. "Nonsense," retorted the Russian keyboard virtuoso. "You should play more, I tell you. You have an inborn technique." Those words, remembered Paderewski years later, "changed my world completely."

On Oct. 17, Rochester audiences will be given a chance to experience the music that Paderewski created and to hear more stories about the celebrated musician's life. In honor of the 150th anniversary of Paderewski's birth, Eastman School of Music master's student Igor Lipinski (BM '09) will perform Paderewski's compositions. Accompanying the music, Matthew Ames, assistant professor of theater arts at Nazareth College, will read excerpts from the pianist's memoirs, letters, and press reviews. Co-sponsored by the University of Rochester's Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies and the Polish Heritage Society of Rochester, the free concert begins at 3 p.m. at the Memorial Art Gallery, 500 University Ave.

Included in the narrative will be descriptions of Paderewski's frequent visits to Rochester, where he performed to sold-out crowds, garnered rave reviews, and won the undying devotion of the city's Polish community. "It was no ordinary piano recital which filled the Eastman Theatre and stage to overflowing last night," effused one Times-Union reporter after a February 1932 concert, "but, rather, an historic and dramatic event centered in one of the few picturesque figures left to us in these matter-of-fact days."

Ignacy Jan Paderewski

Ignacy Jan Paderewski

During World War I, Paderewski became an impassioned advocate for Polish independence and relief aid. On one visit to Rochester, his rousing speech helped to convince the Rochester Chamber of Commerce to allocate $100,000 for assistance to those suffering because of the fighting. After the war, Paderewski served as Poland's Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and represented his homeland at the League of Nations.

But he never gave up music. On May 21, 1939, just shy of 80 years old, Paderewski gave his last concert in Rochester. Unexpectedly, the program also became his last public performance.

Igor Lipinski has been connected to his predecessor's music for many years. In 1998, at age 12, the aspiring artist received the Grand Prix for Young Pianists at the Paderewski Competition in Kasna Dolna, Poland. In 2004 he earned the Grand Prix Award in piano at the Paderewski Festival in Buffalo, N.Y. During that event, he also was tapped to play a lead role in the play, Paderewski's Children. In 2008, he played the Paderewski Piano Concerto as part of his American orchestra debut with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. The performance was featured on NPR's Performance Today.