In the 19th century, the work of composer and pianist Fryderyk Chopin served as a symbol of liberation and revolution for his Polish homeland. Chopin became a symbol of 19th- and 20th-century freedom movements.
It is one reason why Kevin Kenner, founder and artistic director of the fourth-annual Frost Chopin Festival and Academy, has dedicated a weeklong series of lectures, workshops, and world-class performances of Chopin's life and work to the people of Ukraine.
"There are very few musicians and arts presenters who do not feel the shame that we all feel that our world cannot somehow live in peace," says Kenner, who is also an associate professor of piano at the University of Miami Frost School of Music. "Seeing what is currently going on in the world that is currently unthinkable...it would have been somehow negligent on my part as a musician to not respond in some way to what is going on in Ukraine."
The festival runs from Sunday, June 19 through Sunday, June 26, at Maurice Gusman Concert Hall at the University of Miami's Coral Gables campus. Donor support has made admission free to the 2022 festival's lectures and performances, which the public can attend in person or virtually.
Kenner explains that the decision to make the festival free follows the example set by the Chopin Foundation of the United States, which provides scholarships for the young musicians who attend the Frost Chopin Academy, as well as free admission to the Foundation's "Chopin For All" concerts presented throughout South Florida during the year.
Kenner views the current war in Eastern Europe as not only a political war but a cultural one that has gravely impacted Ukrainian artists and the country's art institutions. Despite no admission charge, festival organizers are encouraging donations that will go to support Ukrainian arts and artists.
Guest pianist Garrick Ohlsson, a 1970 Gold medalist at the Eighth International Chopin Competition held in Warsaw and currently a faculty member of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, says the festival's support of the Ukrainian people is a natural tie-in.
"Chopin (was a) patriotic Pole, no question about it, but it's true," says Kenner. He cites the composer's Étude Opus 10, No. 12, known as the Revolutionary Étude. "Even [German critic] Theodor Adorno said it would be impossible to listen to this masterpiece without knowing there is a patriotic, even revolutionary fervor, to the music."
Ohlsson — whose book The Pianist: Conversations with Garrick Ohlsson was just released through the Fryderyk Chopin Institute — will close out the festival on Sunday, June 26, with a mixed program featuring the works of Johannes Brahms and Chopin.
The Germans and Austrians were compiling a "Gesamtausgabe," according to Ohlsson, which is a complete work of all the great masters, and Brahms was one of the editors.
"Basically, a lot of people wanted it to be a 'German boys only' club," he says. Brahms insisted that foreign masters were included, and that meant Chopin, according to Ohlsson.
Ohlsson emphasizes that mastery of Chopin's style is crucial to being a great pianist. While additionally, the qualities needed to be a good Chopin player are the same qualities needed to be a great interpreter of any classical music.
"Chopin is intrinsic to everybody who plays the piano because he is the Rosetta Stone who teaches you how," says Ohlsson.
In addition to Ohlsson and Kenner, festival performances are by many of Chopin's top interpreters, including Ewa Poblocka, Dina Yoffe, and Ukrainian-born soprano Olga Pasichnyk. Performing in the Academy's "Young Virtuosos" program is 16-year-old Ukrainian refugee Khrystyna Mykhailichenko.
Exposure to master pianists and scholars of Chopin's works has motivated student pianist Eric Guo to attend the Chopin Academy for the third time. The Academy offers pianists up to the age of 30 the opportunity to immerse themselves in all things Chopin.
"The first time (I attended) was in 2019. I felt that I benefitted from learning from all these masters of Chopin, to hear them, and this has made me want to return," says Guo.
Kenner points out that the social atmosphere provided for the pianists who attend the Academy is another important element of its success.
"To have people together not as competitors but to work with each other as siblings, that's an important thing for the students," says Kenner.
– Sean Erwin, ArtburstMiami.com
Frost Chopin Academy and Festival. Sunday, June 19, through Sunday, June 26, at University of Miami Maurice Gusman Concert Hall, 1314 Miller Dr., Coral Gables; piano.frost.miami.edu. Admission is free with RSVP.