Chopin As He Was Meant To Be Heard: Without the piano

Frédéric François Chopin’s expressive and technically demanding piano concertos are among the finest in the classical music canon. So naturally, Polish actor Barbara Wysocka and director Michael Zadara (who make up the group CENTRALA) decided to perform them both without a piano. This radically original theater production runs this Fall at Swarthmore College and at the FringeArts headquarters in Philadelphia.

“CHOPIN WITHOUT PIANO is a guerrilla piece,” declares Zadara,  the most distinguished Polish director-playwright of his generation . “It bears the marks of violation or sacrilege. It aims to reinvent the possibility of a dialogue about the event of a concert, about music, Poland, and about culture in the broadest sense.”

Wysocka and Zadara replace Chopin’s piano parts with dramatic monologues, exploring cultural, political, and philosophical tensions of the composer’s time that feel strikingly contemporary.The work tells the story of a young composer who writes two piano concertos months before he leaves Poland, furious at the political reality of his situation and suffering the loss of both his family and his country. It also traces generation who feels his anguish and his uncertainty as to what will come next.

“In his native Poland, Chopin’s legacy has been turned into a paralyzing myth that ignores the fact that he was an artistic revolutionary and innovator,” observes Zadara. “To challenge this, we created a piece that is unquestionably still 100% Chopin and simultaneously 100% new music.”

Photo by Natalia Kabanow.

Photo by Natalia Kabanow.

“Chopin has a reputation as a composer of virtuosic piano music, and that has kind of put him in a restrictive box,” says Swarthmore professor Barbara Milewski. “It may be a stretch to convince classical audiences otherwise, but I think when they hear his orchestral writing exposed in this way, they may be surprised to learn that what has historically been understood as compositional shortcomings may actually be revealed as intentional delicacy and individual formal experimentation. They’ll have a chance to hear the concertos with new insight.”

In Philadelphia, Wysocka is accompanied by the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, led by conductor Bassem Akiki from the Warsaw National Opera. The area performances coincide with Wysocka and Zadara’s two-week residency at Swarthmore College outside Philadelphia. CHOPIN WITHOUT PIANO will get its North American premiere on Saturday, October 24, 2015 with a FREE performance in Lang Concert Hall on the Swarthmore campus. The next day, Milewski will moderate “Chopin’s Voice: Chopin’s Music in Performance” with Michał Zadara, Barbara Wysocka and Bassem Akiki with Jeffrey Kallberg (University of Pennsylvania) and David Kasunic (Occidental College).

CHOPIN WITHOUT PIANO then moves to FringeArts in Philadelphia for four performances, October 28 through 31. On Saturday October 31, Allen Kuharski of Swarthmore will moderate “Chopin’s Body: Chopin as Theater” with Michał Zadara, Barbara Wysocka and Bassem Akiki with Tom Sellar (Yale School of Drama) and Tamara Trojanowska (University of Toronto).

“I’m a big fan of Michał Zadara,” says FringeArts president and producing artistic director Nick Stuccio. “He’s a young, bright voice in international theater. He’s a rule breaker who takes epic risks. In CHOPIN WITHOUT PIANO, he is rendering these classical concertos through the sieve of his physical theater practice and creating something brand new.” The Fringe Festival was the first arts venue anywhere in the United States to present a CENTRALA theater piece: 2009′s Operetta, written by Witold Gombrowicz and directed by Zadara, also a coproduction with Swarthmore.

[Lang Concert Hall, Swarthmore College, 500 College Ave., Swarthmore, PA] October 24, 2015; chopinwithoutpiano.com.

[FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard] October 28-31, 2015; fringearts.com.

[Paramount Theatre, Arts Emerson, 559 Washington Street, Boston, MA] November 11-14, 2015 (with the Boston Conservatory Orchestra); artsemerson.org.

Photo by Natalia Kabanow.

Photo by Natalia Kabanow.

Features, Music, Previews, Theater - 2 comments

About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.