by Mimi Montgomery
Ignacy Jan Paderewski was a man of many roles – pianist and composer, politician and patriot, spokesman and humanitarian. This month, his life and accomplishments will be celebrated in Raleigh at the third annual Paderewski Festival Nov. 5 – 13.
“Few musicians have been accorded such fame and honor,” says Mark Fountain, the festival’s president and treasurer. A renowned classical pianist and the Prime Minister of Poland, Paderewski was an avid supporter of Polish independence post-World War I. His music, charisma, and popularity around the world sparked conversations about diplomacy, the expansion of the arts, and the intersection between the two.
His ties extended to Raleigh as well. Paderewski performed in the Triangle on several occasions, including in Raleigh in 1917 and 1923 at the Raleigh Municipal Auditorium (no longer in existence), and at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in 1939. He performed in Durham, too, appearing at Duke University’s Page Auditorium in 1931. In addition, Raleighite Mary Lee McMillan was Paderewski’s wife’s secretary in New York during World War I. When the Paderewskis moved to Poland to organize war-time relief efforts, McMillan moved to Raleigh, where Paderewski sent her an inscribed piano. Today that piano, which Fountain purchased directly from the McMillan family, resides in his Raleigh home.
In 2016, Paderewski returns to the area once more in spirit with the week-long festival honoring his music and his life. “We now enter the third year with four pianists, some young, some mature, all accomplished,” says Fountain.
On Nov. 5, St. Mary’s School hosts prizewinning Ukrainian pianist Artem Yasynskyy. French concert pianist Jean Dubé will play at the N.C. Museum of History Nov. 6. The N.C. Museum of Art on Nov. 12 will feature Greek-Venezuelan pianist Alexia Mouza, who participated in the Chopin Competition in Warsaw last year; on Nov. 13, the museum will host Polish pianist Janusz Olejniczak, a renowned Chopin interpreter who also appears on the soundtrack of the Oscar-winning film The Pianist, showing at The Cary Theater Nov. 11.
Nov. 5-13; locations and times vary; paderewski-festival.org