Fourteen-year-old Evan Lin explored the historic city of Krakow, sampled pierogi and studied piano during a recent trip to Poland sponsored by Paso Robles’ Paderewski Festival.
“It was a life-changing experience,” said the San Luis Obispo teen, one of the winners of the 2010 Paderewski Festival Youth Piano Competition. “It motivated me a lot.”
Evan and his mother, Bianca Lin, visited the homeland of legendary Polish musician, composer and statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski earlier this summer as part of the festival’s youth exchange program.
Fellow competition winners Jordan Adams, 16, and Madeline Anderson, 15, both of Monterey, also participated in the all-expenses-paid trip.
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The students and their chaperones left California on June 22 with an official delegation that included Paso Robles Mayor Pro Tem John Hamon, Paso Robles winemaker Steve Cass and Marek Zebrowski, program director of USC’s Polish Music Center.
Their 12-day trip included the unveiling of the new Paderewski Monument at the Institute of Musicology at Jagiellonion University in Krakow. It features a replica of a statue of Paderewski owned by Paso Robles resident Harry E. Blythe.
According to Cass, the event drew about 250 people and was covered by Polish newspapers and television stations.
Known as the George Washington of Poland, Paderewski used his status as a popular concert pianist to raise millions in humanitarian aid during World War I. He signed the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, restoring Polishsovereignty, and served as independent Poland’s first prime minister.
Although Paderewski is well known in Poland, Cass said, “A lot of people didn’t understand his investment in time and resources in California.”
The pianist visited Paso Robles frequently between 1914 and 1939, staying at the El Paso de Robles Hotel, soaking in the hot springs and even cultivating crops on nearly 3,000 acres of farmland.
The Paderewski Festival, created in 1991, honors his local legacy.
In 2008, Paso Robles signed an informal sister city agreement with visiting officials from the Tarnow region of Poland, site of Paderewski’s former home.
Three Central Coast students visited Poland in 2009. Polish musicians made the trip to Paso Robles in 2010.
“We want to spread the word on the Central Coast about this great relationship we have going,” said Cass, a festival board member.
This year, Evan Lin and his fellow Americans shared a house with two Ukrainian students and three Polish students. Despite a language barrier, Bianca Lin said, the kids had fun playing on her iPad and became Facebook friends.
The exchange students studied piano and chamber music with Zebrowski, pianist Igor Lipinski and cellist Lars Hoefs at Paderewski’s Kasna Dolna estate. They also performed twice — at the Paderewski Monument dedication and a recital at Kasna Dolna.
The trip, which ended July 4, included visits to Warsaw, the mountain resort of Krynica and the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
Central Coast travelers said they were struck by the Polish people’s generous spirit.
“The people are so hospitable. They’re so enthusiastic and they love music,” said Bianca Lin, ICU director at French Hospital in San Luis Obispo. “They love to sing. They love to dance. They love to entertain people.”
In fact, she added, their Polish hosts broke into song after every meal.
Evan Lin said the trip encouraged him to work harder to accomplish his goal of becoming “a really good and famous concert pianist.”
“After I realized how hard everybody worked, all that hard work motivated me to (practice more),” the teen said.
An incoming freshman at San Luis Obispo High School, he practices more than two hours every day.
Evan’s mother said she’s thrilled that the Paderewski Festival has inspired her son.
“This competition opens a lot of doors,” Bianca Lin said.
Want to take a trip to Poland?
Organizers are seeking applicants for the 2011 Paderewski Festival Youth Piano Competition.
The competition is open to piano students in two age groups: junior (ages 10 to 14) and senior (ages 15 to 18). All competitors must study with an established piano teacher and live in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara or Monterey counties.
The top three performers in each category will receive $200 to $750 in prize money plus the opportunity to perform at the Paderewski Festival on Nov. 12. Select winners may also travel to Poland in the summer of 2013 as part of the festival’s youth exchange program.
Applications are due Sept. 30, with auditions held Oct. 22 at Cuesta College’s North County Campus in Paso Robles. Visit www.paderewskifest.com for more details.
— Sarah Linn