Polish composer Frédéric Chopin’s life may seem like a breath compared to the 5,000-year-old structure of the Pyramids of Khafra (so the stone-faced Sphinx seemed to say). But timeless music filled the life of the child prodigy born in Warsaw, who began composing as early as the age of six.
On Wednesday, “Chopin at the Pyramids: Classic Jazz Rock from Warsaw” marked the year of the 200th birth anniversary of the composer born in Warsaw in 1810. Starting with classical piano and vocal performances, the evening progressed to jazz interpretations of Chopin’s music, ending with a rock concert entitled “Rock Loves Chopin.”
The project debuted in Warsaw this spring, and visited the Shanghai Expo. The event in Egypt was organized by Sto?eczna Estrada and the Cairo Opera House.
Award-winning pianist Janusz Olejniczak opened the evening with Polonaise in A major, Op. 40/1, nicknamed the “Military Polonaise” as it was used during WWII to rally Poles against the 1939 German invasion. These Polish slow dances were among Chopin’s earliest compositions.
While “scherzo” means “joke” in Italian, Chopin’s compositions of these are known to carry darker shades. Gliding over the many moods of Scherzo in B flat minor, Op. 31/2, Olejniczak’s second piece on the piano was the true opener of the night.
Performing the Fantasy on Polish Themes, Op. 13 Olejniczak’s piano – which features in all of Chopin’s known compositions – gently rose over the strings of the Royal String Quartet.
Soprano Dina Iskander shining in gold beneath the pyramids nevertheless sounded every bit as tentative as the title of her solo. The fin of “A Young Girl’s Wish” was cued in by applause from Olejniczak who accompanied her on piano.
A more confident Leszek Swidzinski performed the “Spring Song” gathering bravos from the impresarios. As the tenor joined with Iskander on the duet, “Leaves are Falling,” it was clear that while the soprano had rich vocals, her gasping for breath (magnified by the microphone) left something to be desired.
One hand stays sane as the other goes mad while Leszek Mozdzer performs jazz on the piano. As the left hand supplied the bass, Mozdzer improvised on the treble clef.
Hunched over the piano, with a mop of hair obscuring his face, for his second piece Mozdzer seemed to reveal quiet secrets hunched over a piano. In following performances, he weighed the strings, muffling them with a cloth, to produce blunter or sharper sounds.
While Mozdzer may have seemed unconventional, he was an appropriate introduction to the rock concert. Strobe lights shone forth as guitarists took over Chopin; after all, the concert was in proximity to the Sound and Light venue. The music that took over was instantly catching, gushing freshness like an open vein.
Unfortunate video-art supported the music – a white-clad woman riding a bicycle through Polish cityscapes, airborne kicks of a dancer (reminiscent of video-games), and ocean swells that were potentially nausea-inducing.
The modern ballet of Folies Dance Company seemed incongruous with guitars rocking Chopin. Dancers featured as notes on a musical bar in one movement, save for which performances were riddled with uninspired motifs — cloth-tearing torment to embraces of once-separated lovers.
Waltzes and preludes were re-interpreted in rock. The keyboard introduced one melody that was sliced by a hit of percussion. The guitars picked up the same melody and re-interpreted in electronic sounds. Another rhythm started with drums as jazz vocalist Anna Saerafinska chimed in.
The final performance featured a country-sounding interpretation of the same polonaise that opened the evening, closing the night in a circle of Chopin. Little of the 39 years of Chopin’s life, but much of his music informed the night.
For more information on Chopin 2010 events, visit http://chopin2010.pl/en.