Music festival connects Poland and Paso Robles

Poland’s president and his wife died in a plane crash Saturday in western Russia

jhickey@thetribunenews.comApril 13, 2010 

Frank Mecham (then Mayor of Paso) and the Polish First Lady, the late Maria Kaczynska, during a visit in the Polish Presidential Palace in Warsaw in June of 2008. They received Paso Roblans and Board members of the Paderewski festival in the palace. photo courtesy of Marek Zebrowski 04-14-10

The deaths of the Polish president and his wife in the weekend plane crash in Russia have reverberated in Paso Robles, where the board of a classical music festival has developed close ties with the Polish government.

Killed were Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria Kaczynska. They were among 96 people who died Saturday in a plane crash in western Russia. Investigators are pointing to human error as the cause.

In June 2008, Kaczynska received several Paso Robles Paderewski Festival board members in the Presidential Palace at Warsaw. Among them was Festival president and Paso Robles Planning Commission member Joel Peterson.

Peterson described the hour-long visit with first lady Maria Kaczyńska as a day he "will never forget," in which she greeted each visitor by name and spoke with them over tea about the goals of the festival, among other topics.

They exchanged gifts, and the group gave Kaczynska an open invitation to visit Paso Robles.

Also on the 2008 trip was then-Paso Robles Mayor Frank Mecham. Now chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, Mecham opened Tuesday's board meeting with a moment of silence to mourn those killed in the crash.

In Paso Robles, the festival has brought Paderewski board member and City Councilman Gary Nemeth in contact with several Polish dignitiaries, who he described as "so warm and engaging. Always smiling and intense, especially when you talk about politics. They are passionate about their country."

The Paderewski Festival, started in 1991 and held every November in Paso Robles, honors world-renowned Polish musician, composer and statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski -- who visited Paso Robles frequently between 1914 and 1939 and cultivated crops on nearly 3,000 acres of farmland.

“The festival has incredibly close ties to the highest levels of the Polish government,” said Marek Zebrowski, program director for the Polish Music Center at USC and artistic director for the Paderewski Festival.

He noted that three young pianists from the Central Coast were invited last June to participate in piano workshops and master classes, and to perform concerts in Paderewski’s former manor house in Kasna Dolna, near Tarnow.

In exchange, two young pianists from Poland will be guests of the festival in November, Zebrowski said.

“About two weeks ago, I wrote to Madame Kaczynska, thanking her for her patronage over the festival and her support of the youth exchange program,” Zebrowski said. “I’m not sure if my letter and another note addressed to Izabela Tomaszewska, the first lady’s chief of staff and director of the president’s office of protocol, reached them before they left on their last journey.”

Already scheduled was a trip to Paso Robles by three high-ranking dignitaries from Tarnow, Poland, to plan the 2010 festival. They will meet with the City Council on April 23 and then attend the county supervisors’ meeting April 27, Zebrowski said.

Upcoming concert

A Toast To Paderewski concert is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 24 at Pear Valley Winery, 4900 Union Road, Paso Robles. Proceeds will help fund a musician exchange program between the Paso Robles Paderewski Festival and Poland.

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