Two extraordinarily talented musicians are tasked with bringing the rich world of Polish classical song to a global audience.
Soprano Alexandra Nowakowski and pianist Michał Biel are currently recording an hour-long CD of Polish classical songs which they will release on Spotify and iTunes.
While the lineup inevitably includes songs written by Chopin, the duo want to bring songs written by other Polish classical heavyweights Stanisław Moniuszko, Karol Szymanowski and Ignacy Paderewski to a wider audience.
TFN met the duo during a pre-Christmas rehearsal in the heart of Warsaw’s Grand Theater labyrinth, where Biel cooperates with the Opera Academy which works with young lyric talents.
“Apart from Chopin, Polish classical music is almost unknown elsewhere in the world. But it is absolutely amazing. There is so much beauty in there, ”Nowakowski said.
“When I was studying in the United States, I don’t think I ever heard the name of a Polish composer other than Chopin,” she added.
The duo believe that when it comes to opera, the Italian, German, French and even Spanish repertoires get a huge slice of the pie, while Poland unfairly lags behind.
“Even the Czechs have Rusalka,” Biel added, referring to the lyrical fairy tales of Antonin Dvořák.
The duo believe that with the tools provided by the internet, now is the perfect time to spark interest in classical Polish song.
Their winning attribute, they say, is their Polish characteristics of determination and perseverance.
Celebrated by the international lyric community for her “passionate song” and “silver voice,” Nowakowski has performed at the Washington National Opera and Kennedy Center in Washington and is a regular double at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
This year, she returned to Poland from Chicago to launch her professional career after Covid cancellations erased an entire schedule, adding that “80% of the opera world is in Europe, so it makes sense to be here”.
In 2019, she was a finalist in the Stanislaw Moniuszko International Singing Competition in Warsaw, where she met pianist Michał Biel, a graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School in New York who has performed in major recital halls around the world.
“I think people will be surprised when they hear these songs,” Biel said. “Not only are they very beautiful, but they are special because a lot was written when Poland was divided by the three empires,” he added.
The 58-minute CD is a passionate project for Nowakowski and its production is only possible thanks to the generosity of private sponsors in the United States.
She said: “We are very fortunate to have financial support. In the United States, opera is funded primarily by private donations. In Europe, public subsidies play a major role.
One of the goals of musicians is to color music in a way that has never been done in recordings before.
“A lot of these Polish songs only got rudimentary and very ‘square’ recordings, so we’re really trying to add something more to it,” she said.
A key weapon in achieving this will be Nowakowski’s profile as a coloratura soprano, which in the mysterious world of opera means a voice that is distinguished by running, jumping and agile trills.
During last Thursday’s rehearsal, the musicians gave a taste of their vision by performing Zarzyj ze kuniu by Karol Szymanowski, from the Songwriter’s Kurp Songs.
The work is one of four songs from the twelve folk melodies that Szymanowski transformed into lyrical miniatures based on poetic folk tales from the Kurpie region of Podlasie, which he wrote in the Kurpian dialect.
The duo recorded the CD in the new Nowa Miodowa concert hall in the Mokotów district of Warsaw, which offers excellent acoustic conditions.
“I am really happy that this is happening in Mokotów because my family can trace its history three hundred years ago,” Nowakowski said.
The CD, which does not yet have a name, will be available on Spotify and iTunes during the spring of next year.