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Chopin's 200th birthday celebration, live from Warsaw

March 1, 2010 |  7:00 am


This is it, Chopin’s big one. The Polish composer was born March 1, 1810. And Warsaw, it is hardly surprising, is the place to be for the mother of all the Chopin celebrations. If you've got a few hundred of the new 20 zloty Chopin banknotes (pictured, and worth about $7) and happen to be in the Polish capital -- and if you know a black marketeer dealing in scalped concert tickets -- you might be able to catch the Galowy Koncert Symfoniczny birthday event Monday night. The rest of us can, at 11 a.m. (West Coast time), click on to Chopin 2010 for a live webcast.

The program will begin with the Chinese pianist Yundi (who won Warsaw's Chopin Competition in 2000 when he was Yundi Li ) playing solo Chopin selections. Next Garrick Ohlsson (1970 Chopin Competition winner replacing an indisposed Martha Argerich, class of '66) will be soloist in the First Piano Concerto conducted by Antoni Wit, leading the Warsaw Philharmonic in music they’ve played a million times. The most intriguing aspect of the program, though, will be the Vietnamese pianist Dang Thai Son (who was the first Asian to take top honors at the Chopin Competition in 1980) performing the Second Concerto on a 19th century period piano. He will be accompanied by the Dutch early music specialist Frans Bruggen leading his Orchestra of the 18th Century, which hasn’t played the Chopin concertos a million times.

And to make up for another Argerich no-show, Deutsche Grammophon has just released “Argerich Plays Chopin,” a CD of recently discovered early broadcast recordings she made in Germany. It begins with her setting afire Chopin’s First Ballade in a studio in Berlin in 1959, when “the exceptionally attractive Argentine pianist,” to quote the CD booklet notes, was an impressively impulsive 17.

The remainder of the disc contains performances from 1967, two years after Argerich won the Chopin Competition, which turned her into a star. According to DG’s breathless prose, that win proved more dazzling than such 1965 news as a Soviet cosmonaut’s first walk in space, Louis Armstrong’s first East Berlin appearance or the first woman to win the Peace Prize from the German Publishers Guild.

Well, she really was exciting (still is), and it is a thrill indeed to hear her find hidden messages in mazurkas and set the sparks flying one moment and turn impossibly seductive the next in the Third Piano Sonata.

Happy birthday Fryderyk.

-- Mark Swed

Related story:

Poland throws bash for Chopin's 200th

Photo credit: Associated Press