April 12, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 14

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    Polish music impetus for festival, conference on national identity

    By Arthur Fournier
    News Office

    Contemporary Chamber Players mezzo-soprano soloist Constance Beavon (above) and tenor soloist Kenneth Gayle (below) will perform during the festival.

    Beginning Friday, April 20, a conference and festival titled “Poland–Music, Lyric, Nation” will bring together a diverse group of scholars and artists from the United States and Poland for three days of performances, presentations and discussions centered around Polish music and expressions of Polish national identity.

    At venues around the University and the city, the gathering will address various ways in which Polish music has taken shape against a complex, often turbulent cultural and political history.

    According to conference co-organizer Philip Bohlman, Professor in Music, it is significant that the event is taking place in Chicago. With nearly 100,000 Polish speakers and several hundred thousand residents of Polish descent among its inhabitants, Chicago has often been observed as the largest Polish municipality outside of Poland. Particularly through their music, multiple generations of Poles in Chicago have shaped imaginations of Polish national identity that are meaningful not only in the United States, but in Poland as well.

    As an example, Bohlman brought up the lasting influence of early folk music recordings made by Poles in Chicago.

    “A large number of the Polish folk musicians who pressed records in Chicago during the 1920s came from a particular area in the southern, mountainous region of Poland known as Górale,” he explained. In part, through wide commercial success of their records, the Górale region began to represent the essence of “authentic” Polish folk music for both scholars and tourists.

    “In fact, the records that were made in Chicago were taken to Poland where they were transcribed and came to be highly regarded,” said Bohlman. “You can still hear their influence–the songs of the Chicago Górale musicians have been rediscovered and are being revived at folk music festivals in Poland today.”

    Bohlman said it becomes easier to understand the complex interplay of ethnicity, national identity and global diaspora in Polish music when one takes into account that Polish lands have been occupied by foreign powers throughout much of recorded history. He pointed out that for most of the modern era, Poland was a territory divided among and controlled by Germany, Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and during the 20th century it existed largely as a battleground for two world wars and the ideological struggles of the Cold War. “In a very real sense, you can say that the idea of Polish national identity survived through its poetry and music. Polish political independence is a comparatively recent phenomenon, so it sets up this dynamic that’s still in the process of being worked out”

    Bohlman said he and conference co-organizer Marta Ptaszynska, a well-known Polish-born composer and Professor in Music, have challenged conference participants to approach Polish music from the most expansive perspectives possible. “In that spirit, we’ve arranged things such that music will share its stage with poetry and film–media that have exerted a powerful influence on the ways in which the arts intersect to form the fabric from which Polish national identity has taken shape,” he said.

    In order to highlight a few of the various ways music has been used to encode and preserve different conceptions of the Polish nation, several performances have been scheduled alongside academic paper presentations and panel discussions at the conference.

    Pianist Zygmunt Krauze, president of the International Society for Contemporary Music, will play a selection of works by Polish art music composers at 8 p.m., Friday, April 20, in Fulton Recital Hall, 1010 E. 59th St. The Chicago group Kapela Goralska will perform traditional folk music at the Polish Consulate General, 1530 N. Lake Shore Drive, at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 21. Following the folk concert, mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley and Philip Morehead, head of musical staff at Lyric Opera Chicago, will present a program of contemporary Polish songs.

    In a concert at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 22, in Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th St., the Contemporary Chamber Players will perform a series of works anchored by Lutoslawski’s masterpiece Paroles tissées: Quatre Tapisseries. The performance will explore the complex balance between folk traditions, poetry and the musical avant-garde in Poland. Before the concert at 2 p.m., Ptaszynska will moderate a roundtable discussion of issues related to contemporary Polish composition.

    Other cultural events associated with “Poland–Music, Lyric, Nation” include a reading by poet Adam Zagajewski at 3:30 p.m., Saturday, April 21, at the Franke Institute for the Humanities, 1100 E. 57th St. Two new films by distinguished Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi will be shown on Sunday, April 22, in the Film Studies Center, on the third floor of Cobb Hall, 5811 S. Ellis Ave. Zanussi will be on hand for the screenings The Touch of a Hand at noon and The Soul of Singing at 7:30 p.m.

    Presentations and discussions will begin at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, April 20, with a selection of documentaries on the history of Polish music at the Franke Institute. A symposium on new scholarship in Polish music at 1:30 p.m., will include presentations by four graduate students in Music–Daniel Barolsky, Jeffers Engelhardt, Joshua Pilzer and Kasia Grochowska. Following the symposium, Anna Czekanowska, professor emerita of the University of Warsaw, will deliver a keynote address, also at the Franke Institute for the Humanities. The symposium will reconvene at 12:30 p.m., Saturday, April 21, to examine postmodern issues in Polish music.

    “Poland–Music, Lyric, Nation” is co-sponsored by the Department of Music and the Franke Institute for the Humanities, with additional support from the Center for Film Studies, LOT-Polish Airlines, the Chicago chapter of the Kosciuszko Foundation, the Polish-American Congress and the Polish Consulate General of Chicago. For further information about the conference or related events, please call (773) 702-8484.

    General admission to the Contemporary Chamber Players concert will be $15, and the cost will be $8 for students with proper ID. To purchase tickets, or for more information, please call (773) 702-7300. All other conference presentations are free.