Poles celebrate Chopin with marathon concert, museum

Wed Feb 24, 2010 9:38am EST
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By Gareth Jones

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland is celebrating the 200th birthday of one of its most famous sons, composer Frederic Chopin, with a week-long marathon of recitals of his music, a commemorative bank note and a new state-of-the-art museum.

Internationally famed pianists including China's Lang Lang, Israel's Daniel Barenboim, Polish prodigy Rafal Blechacz and American Garrick Ohlsson are playing to packed concert halls and Chopin's wistful face gazes from posters on every street corner.

Long considered a national treasure, Chopin's bicentenary provides a timely opportunity to market Poland as a land of high culture, firmly back in the European mainstream after a tragic 20th century, and should help lure large numbers of tourists.

But a recent poll shows many ordinary Poles know woefully little about their illustrious compatriot and some say Poland would honor Chopin's memory much better by investing more in music education than in paying foreign artists to come here.

With experts split on whether Chopin was born on February 22 or March 1, 1810, festival organizers have decided to bridge the two dates with round-the-clock recitals of his work lasting 171 hours at a neo-classical building in Warsaw's old town.

"People of all ages are coming to our recitals and that is exactly what we were aiming for," said Edyta Duda-Olechowska, one of the organizers.

"Pensioners who have not been to a concert for more than 10 years are very happy, they can't believe it is all for free."

Japanese pianist Ai Kayukawa, 25, performed on Monday evening, one of the first of around 250 musicians taking part.   Continued...

<p>Rafal Blechacz smiles as he plays during a rehearsal of the 200th Anniversary of Fryderyk (Frederic) Chopin's Birthday Special Concert at the Warsaw Philharmonic concert hall February 22, 2010. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel</p>