Duo on mission to bring rich world of Polish classical music to global audience
Two musicians are on a mission to bring the rich world of Polish classical song to a global audience.
Soprano Alexandra Nowakowski and pianist Michał Biel, are currently recording an hour-long CD of Polish classical songs that they will launch on Spotify and iTunes.
While the line-up inevitably includes songs written by Chopin, the duo are keen to bring to a wider audience songs written by Poland’s other classical music heavyweights, Stanisław Moniuszko, Karol Szymanowski and Ignacy Paderewski.
TFN caught up with the duo at a pre-Christmas rehearsal session deep inside Warsaw’s labyrinthine Grand Theatre, where Biel cooperates with the Opera Academy that works with young operatic talent.
“Apart from Chopin, Polish classical music is almost unknown elsewhere in the world. But it is absolutely amazing. There is so much beauty in it,” Nowakowski said.
“When I was studying in the US, I don’t think I ever heard the name of a Polish composer apart from Chopin,” she added.
The pair believe that when it comes to opera, the Italian, German, French and even Spanish repertoires get an extra-large slice of the cake, while Poland lags behind unfairly.
“Even the Czechs have Rusalka,” Biel added referring to the operatic fairy tales of Antonin Dvořák.
The duo believe that with the tools that the internet provides, the time is ideal to create interest in Polish classical song.
Their winning attribute, they say, are their Polish characteristics of determination and perseverance.
Feted by the international opera community for her ‘impassioned singing’ and ‘silvery voice,’ Nowakowski, has appeared at the Washington National Opera and the Kennedy Center in Washington and is a regular understudy at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
This year, she moved back to Poland from Chicago to kick start her professional career after Covid cancellations wiped out a fully booked schedule, adding that “Eighty percent of the opera world is in Europe, so it makes sense to be here.”
In 2019, she was a finalist in the International Stanislaw Moniuszko Vocal Competition in Warsaw, where she met pianist Michał Biel, a graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School in New York who has played at leading recital halls across the globe.
“I think people will be surprised when they hear these songs,” Biel said. “Not only are they very beautiful, but they are special as many were written when Poland had been divided by the three empires,” he added.
The 58-minute CD is a passion project for Nowakowski and its production is only possible thanks to the generosity of private sponsors from the United States.
She said: “We are very lucky to have financial support. In the US, opera is funded primarily from private donations. In Europe public grants play the major role.”
One of the goals of the musicians is to colour the music in a way it has never been done in recordings before.
“A lot of these Polish songs have only received rudimentary and very ‘square’ recordings so we are really trying to add something more to them,” she said.
A key weapon in achieving this will be Nowakowski’s profile as a coloratura soprano, which in the arcane world of opera means a voice that is distinguished by agile runs, leaps and trills.
During last Thursday’s rehearsal, the musicians gave a foretaste of their vision when they performed Karol Szymanowski’s Zarzyj ze kuniu, from the composer’s Kurpian Songs.
The work is one of four songs from the twelve folk melodies that Szymanowski turned into lyrical miniatures based on poetic folk tales from the Kurpie region in Podlasie, which he wrote in the Kurpian dialect.
The pair are recording the CD at the newly-opened Nowa Miodowa concert hall in Warsaw’s Mokotów district, which offers excellent acoustic conditions.
“I’m really glad it is happening in Mokotów as my family can trace its history there going back three hundred years,” Nowakowski said.
The CD, which does not have a name yet, will be available on Spotify and iTunes sometime in the spring next year.