Odyssey in Poland & Fryderyk Chopin

For many years, it had been my dream to see the Chopin Piano Competition live in Warsaw, Poland. It is the world's oldest and most prestigious piano competition. Although it was the fourth time for me to visit Warsaw, Poland, yet I was way excited this time! I could get two tickets; one is to the final day of the final round of the Competition, and the other to the concert performed by the prize winners of the Competition.

The below are the results of 15th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition:

Rafał Blechacz Poland
Dong Hyek Lim & Dong Min Lim South Korea
Shohei Sekimoto & Takashi Yamamoto Japan
Ka Ling Colleen Lee Hong Kong
Best Concerto Performance Rafał Blechacz Poland
Best Mazurka Performance Rafał Blechacz Poland
Best Polonaise Performance Rafał Blechacz Poland

During the Chopin Competition, posters of the Competition and its sponsors could be found everywhere in the streets of Warsaw.

At about 2:00pm on the final day of the Competition, a few hours prior to the performance, TV stations were getting ready for it right next to the Competition site, Filharmonia Narodowa. However, no one else was found nearby. It was nice and quiet at this hour. I thought it might be the lull before the storm...

As the dusk was falling around 5:30pm, people began to gather around the hall. We here were all excited to see the final stage of this competition. I could not believe myself being here - the very final day of the Chopin Competition was just about to begin right here at Filharmonia Naradowa.


Upon entering the hall, I found a set of a commemorative stamp and a postcard sold which I found extremely nice and valuable and decided to get some. When I purchased some sets, they postmarked each of them reading "XV Międzynarodowy Konkurs Pianistyczny im. Fryderyka Chopina 21100518" with Chopin's signature on.
The hall was not as large as I had imagined but definitely a brilliant one. The members of the Warsaw Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra were getting ready. My seat was about in the middle on the first floor. I got astounded to find the man sitting right next to me; he was, as a matter of fact, a famous music critic and pianist in Japan who once had lived here in Warsaw! I could have a few conversations with him.

Anyway, I was just very excited to see this epic event which was just about to take place right in front of my very eyes. Soon the big sound of piano or perhaps pipe organ went off throughout the hall a few times, and this sound was a sign that we all should be seated. There were three finalists on this day; 1) Andrei Yaroshinsky of Russia; 2) Rafał Blechacz of Poland, and 3) Dong Min Lim of South Korea. They all played Piano Concerto No. 1.

Yaroshinsky showed up and the Orchestra started out to play the first Concerto. I still could not believe this is happening... And his performance was followed by Dong Min Lim. I actually found in the program the second performer was Rafał Blechacz of Poland, but Blechacz appeared as the last finalist. I very much liked Lim’s lyrical style and his dynamism.
The intermission commenced before the last performance of Blechacz. It was a little interesting to see the replacement of the piano for the upcoming performer; the next piano emerges from under the stage in exchange for the previous performer's.
We had a long intermission. During this 30-minute break, I enjoyed the displays of the life and times of Fryderyk Chopin in the lounge. Above all, a big placard about Duszniki Zdrój, a spa town in the southwestern part of Poland, where the International Chopin Festivals are held each year, has very good information. There were some commemorative coins and stamps that I had never seen before.
There was a statue of the head of Fryderyk Chopin found in the lounge, created by a Polish sculptor, A. Karny.

Looking back now, it might have been a nice and long break getting ready for witnessing the historic moment any minute.
This last intermission, it seemed to me, was a prelude to the first Polish victor in thirty years...
There was everything about Chopin at souvenir shops dealing in sheet music, CD's, stationaries, postcards, jewelries, etc. I felt some of the stuff there a little far too idolized and wondered how on earth Fryderyk Chopin would say if he sees these things with his portrait or name on. The sound of pipe organ pealed out - time to go back to our seats.

Blechacz, the last finalist, started to play. So, This is it! During the third movement, I think most of us there might have already began to guess who was going to win the Competition. His performance was just amazing, so Chopinistic with high nobility. That way, his performance stood out among others. Some of us had started giving him a big hand just before his play ended, and thunderous applause went on for over five minutes! Sounded unanimous – I believe everyone was thinking the same thing.

Everything was over and I slowly headed outside the hall through the crowd. I had a late dinner at an Italian restaurant nearby. While I was eating, the scenes of Blechacz's performance got flashed back over and over. It was about 10:00pm. Got back to the hotel.

Then returned to the hall for the announcement of the results. Yes - as expected, Rafał Blechacz won the first prize. I was a bit surprized that no one had been awarded the second place.

When I got back to the hotel, it was fairly late. I soon turned on TV and today's performance of Blechacz was on the air at TVP2 with a caption saying "Blechacz won the gold medal for the first time as a Pole since Krystian Zimerman thirty years ago." It was a long, long night...


And on Sunday, October 23, I went to see the six prizewinners' concert at the same hall, Fiharmonia Narodowa. I got a second-floor seat for this concert. As it happened, my seat was pretty close to the area that had been used for the judges. And the view from up here was totally different from the one I had two days ago. I think I liked my seat up here a little better. Since no one had arrived on the second floor as yet, I immersed myself awhile in the world of the Chopin Competition.

Everyone seemed to be more relaxed on this day. It started off with Ka Ling Colleen Lee of Hong Kong. Then four laureates from Japan and South Korea followed. Lastly, Rafał Blechacz played the polonaise Heroic and several mazurkas, which convinced me that he had also won such special awards as Best Polonaise and Best Mazurka Performances along with the gold medal. And of course, he won a storm of applause from the audience on this day, too. He concluded with a non-Chopin music - Debussy's Moonlight. It was superb; It seemed to me he had gracefully closed not just today's concert but the whole stages of the 15th Chopin Piano Competition. I got moved and felt deeply grateful to be here. I thank him over and over in my heart while he was playing the Moonlight.

When the concert finished, it was well past 11pm. The streets were utterly quiet and I felt like I was in the seventh heaven. Although most stores were closed, a familiar restaurant on Nowy Swiat was still open by good luck.

I am very happy for Poles that a Polish pianist won the first prize this time, and I feel honored that I could actually witness it.

Warm congratulations!

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