CHOPIN WITHOUT PIANO (CENTRALA / Fringearts): A story of a revolutionary musician

Illustration of CHOPIN WITHOUT PIANO by Mike Jackson.

Born in 1810 in Duchy of Warsaw (now Warsaw, Poland), Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin is recognized as a symbol of romantic era of music.  A virtuoso pianist, he composed numerous piano pieces including two piano concertos starting when he was 7 years old.  He is also the pride of Poland even though he left his mother country at the age of 20 and never returned. His music is often described as sentimental and melancholic, or relaxing and romantic. In CHOPIN WITHOUT PIANO, an alumni of Swarthmore College and a polish director, Michał Zadara, and a polish actor, Barbara Wysocka, bravely project a new image of the musician in the most revolutionary manner by playing his two piano concertos with an orchestra and no pianist—instead an actor plays the piano part.

The performance starts with the dramatic introduction of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, played by the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia with a conductor, Bassem Akiki.  Wysocka sits at a piano on the stage like a pianist waiting for her entry. The piano is covered with scattered pieces of papers that look like some scores or letters.  When the orchestra concludes their introduction with pianissimo, her voice comes in fortessimo, as the piano parts would begin.  The narration starts with describing how the piano melody would sound. It starts with “exposition of the majestic theme. It has to be played fortissimo. Up three octaves and down again. a descending whirl of sixteenth-note figurations. And a modulation to the key of A minor.” Then it leads to abstract impression of the music to let the listener’s imagination broaden—”a yearning melody that Iwaszkiewicz described as the kind that boys would whistle to each other in public baths.”  The story continues to various episodes and records related to Chopin: excerpts of his letters, his life events, a patriotic speech by a polish general Wojciech Jaruzelski in 1981, and Chopin’s desperate scream before his death. Wysocka’s rapidly changing voice and hectic movements bring confusion and disruption to the stage, reflecting the political disorders in Chopin’s era which greatly affected his life. Then it reaches an exciting conclusion—Chopin was a radical of cultures, a revolutionary artist who created a new way of life.

Even though it is not easy for the listeners to find connections between her play and the actual piano melodies of the two concertos, the ground-breaking idea of playing the music with her voice and her body is successful in putting various aspects of his music and his life together with the orchestra and in composing a whole new concertos. It brings the new insight of who the well-known musician was and the insights certainly can be a tool to deepen the viewer’s experience of Chopin’s music.

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

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

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

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