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Festivals-Italy   Nothing compares with the taste of delicious gelato, amazing Italian wines, and aromatic espressos enjoyed in the heart of Tuscany mountains,

 

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beautiful sunsets, medieval castles 534572_10150975536186298_27429877_n

and above all in the company of amazing musicians and friends.

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It has been an absolutely amazing experience teaching, performing and making new friends with world class musicians at the summer festivals in Italy. I almost wish I could still be a students at those festivals and can only imagine how influential and inspirational those music programs are for students.

 

 

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There is always a reason why I want to visit a particular place. With Portugal, it was the Portuguese folk songs I heard from my Portuguese friends in Thailand in 2008. I  fall in love with the language and the music (the friend was special too:) and it was enough to make me want to explore. I heard so much about the beauty of his country, delicious desserts, the special little town on the rocks next to the sea, beaches, winds…And then the next thing I knew-he was very ill -dying with a cancer a few years later…Sadly, I didn’t make it to Portugal before he died. I made it only to a place he loved the most (picture above.)

(I  didn’t make it to see my grandmother before she died two weeks ego, either. Welcome to  2013! This is the prize performers pay sometimes for being “on the road,” for being “Soldiers of music.”)

Fortunately, there was one more friend in Portugal I wanted to see for years. We went to school together in NYC and we spent countless mornings (around 5;45 AM!!!!) waiting in line to get into MSM, our school, in order to secure a practice space for a few hours. I have not seen her for at least thirteen years! Luckily it was a very happy and inspiring meeting. We had a blast, chatting, exchanging ideas about music, life and everything between. I was so thrilled to see her thriving and well.

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Ana Telles has not only graduated from MSM, NYU and got her PHD from Sorbonne in Paris, but she became one of the most thriving musician, pedagogue and musicologist I have ever known. She has always had a spark, but I was thrilled to see her engaged and active in so many aspects of musical life.

Ana is a professor at Evora University, active performer, recording artist, musicologist and a mother. I have been invited to many institutions around the world on all continents. But I have never met anyone else so interested and eager to share the knowledge about Mazurkas with the world (besides myself of course :). She has organized Symposium at the Evora University (I nicknamed, “Mazurkomania”) dedicated to MAZURKAS. I was so impressed with all of her students performing mazurkas in my master classes, with lectures, talks and the final recital where I performed. Amazing!

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The students were very responsive and enthusiastic, I almost didn’t notice that I have given some 8-10 master classes on one day! The  medieval town of Evora, is  the UNESCO World Heritage Site,  and worthwhile a visit. There are many spectacular sights, and one especially memorable, the Bone Chapel. (Capela dos Ossos  )

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The next stop was Lisbon, and a solo recital at the Palace de Foz,  organized by the Embassy of Poland. It was without a debt one of the most beautiful concert space I have ever performed in.

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(with Polish Ambassador  prof. Mistrzal and his wife)

Moreover, the audience  was wild and receptive. In fact it was one of the warmest audiences I have performed for. People were happy, the scent of pleasure was in the air. The beautiful, delicious dinner at the Ambassador’s Residency only added a special touch to that very special day.

The 5 days road-trip followed.  and…I overdid it again. But I saw all the beautiful places I dreamed about seeing, the amazing medieval churches,monasteries

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wild and wide empty beaches. I ate too much desserts, had too many espressos, and spent way too much time in one of the strongest winds I have ever experienced. The result was rather disturbing: lost hearing in the right ear and three weeks of misery. Was it wort it? You bet! Portugal is amazingly beautiful, fresh and inspiring. Today I got an invitation to perform in Lisbon next year. I will be more careful with the winds!!! 🙂 PS. Antibiotics helped to restore my hearing.

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601991_10151374527526298_1028198759_nI grew up surrounded by music of Fredric Chopin. His music was everywhere: on radio, on TV and in every practice room at every music conservatories. I still remember the moment I heard his Polonaise in G minor at the age of 7…I run home and practiced more that day, so I could play it soon.

Our musical education in Poland was heavily based on Chopin’s music, Chopin competitions, Chopin festivals etc. It was all mostly about Chopin.  And if you won or got to the final of a Chopin Competition in Warsaw, your future as a pianist  was made in Poland. And it is still the case nowadays.

The cult of Chopin in Honduras brought a new light into his popularity. The Conservatorio Nacional de Música in Tegucigalpa was the poorest school I have ever taught at or visited. I was very much inspired by students dedication and their drive, and I believe my teaching was very inspirational to them.  We worked mostly on Chopin, of course! The school had only 4 upright pianos, and not a single  grand piano. The sound isolation was made out of egg containers,

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and there was  paint missing on most walls. ( They do accept donations, please contact me for the info)

To my surprise the piano studio I was teaching at had a beautiful painting on the wall made by a teacher. It was a portrait of Chopin with the following note: Chopin n excelsis Deo.  🙂

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I have performed many times in the New York City and at the Carnegie Hall, but The Allure of the Muse event on February 23 will stay always in my memory. It was an evening of music and poetry by judge John Charles Thomas.(http://www.distinctionhr.com/2013/02/poetic-justice/) We all travel outside our earthy existence into a world of arts synthesis and creation. We performed, laughed and cried together.

It was an honor to share a stage with the Former Virginia Supreme Court Judge, and to contribute to such an amazing event.

581594_10151386464956298_1778970168_nI love visiting New Zealand, Tuscany, Indonesia, but my heart belongs to Himalayas. I’ve spent the happiest moments of my life on the Everest and Kanchanchunga treks, feeling the most alive. When I visited Nepal for the first time in 2007, I had no idea I will get so addicted to the unbelievably beautiful landscape and will have to return many times…Himalayas became a substitute for Tatra mountains for me, and I am very fortunate to be able to visit the Himalayas so often.
I had no plans for coming back to Nepal the second time this year. But when my concerts and master classes in Indonesia got rescheduled from December to January I was left with 12 free days in Asia. My two top choices were: diving in Philippines or hiking Himalayas! To my surprise, I found quite affordable Airasia flight to Katmandu, fitting perfectly into my schedule. I have craved the view from the Ranjo pass at Gokyo lake for months…I kept thinking about it, dreaming about it….I have been there already but like with the valley of Five Lakes in Tatras, I had a need to return. So I did!

The flight to Lukla was smooth and beautiful as always. But there was no delay this time, for the first time! I started walking shortly before 8 am and kept going (Idecided not to go with a porter or a guide)  until I reached Namche before 4 pm….I so did not want to spend two days on the busy Lukla-Namche part of the trek. So I pushed, and did two days in one, arriving at the Everest hotel in Namche, quite exhausted after the final ascent , but happy. I ordered the famous chicken sizzler just for the sentiment. ( I don’t really eat meat anymore) and was disappointed. I skipped the” rest day” and continued on, the next day, but the body did not like that too much. I was tired. The trek continued sharply up after the initial easy 1 h walk. I had the second breakfast ( delicious vegetable omelet ) and stored some energy. It was a hard morning. I reached my favorite village on the way to Gokyo ( the corner village, cant remember the name…MongaLa?) and could not get enough of the view: Tamboche, Amadablam, Everest, just surrounded by mountains. The sun was strong and happy. I had my favorite food, dal bhat and started to chat with one of the hotel owners.The hotel was very clean and very warm, and I was offered  a free room, which convinced me to stay and do nothing else for the rest of the day but  to stair at the mountains while seating in the sun.
The hotel owner was a Sherpa women married to a Belgian man, who had two sons, and spoke very good English. She was telling me how tired she is of the city life and how much she would prefer to stay high in the mountains. “I hate Kathmandu” she told me many times during our conversation.

I was not looking forward to the next day hike. I knew the trail. It was steep and difficult and in shadows           ( forest). I walked too fast again, reaching the destination point by noon. Continuing up was not an option because my body could have not liked to gain more altitude. I have already covered 4 days in 2, I had to be smart. There was a larger group of tourist at the lodge I stayed at: Australians, British, Greek, Japanese, and Spanish tourists. The Japanese guy brought a coffee grinder with him, and a stove to make sure he could brew his coffee properly. ( there was boiled water at the tea house of course) I enjoyed watching his dedication. Nothing like Japanese precision! The evening was quiet except for a short disco the hotel owner decided to “entertained” us with. We ‘killed’ that idea very quickly.

The next day was a killer day for most people. Again, I got ahead. Unintentionally. The group from South Africa I passed was quite strong and we continued  mostly together. My ‘other friends’  arrived couple hours later. I was so glad to be traveling alone and not to have to wait for anyone! I had no problem with the altitude as far as breathing or headache is concern, but the heavy back pack ( 15kg) started to be a problem. The last 1.5h was tough, but I still made it by 11 ish am and went up the Gokyo RI (17,575′ (5,357 m) after the lunch. I needed to see the full view of Everest! It turned out to be a bad decision on my part, as I struggle to get up this time.  Again, I didn’t feel it in my lungs or head, but it was taking me a while to reach the peak. And I was ALONE again 🙂 The Gokyo Ri was mine for an hour! Just perfect.

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The next day was a well deserved “rest day”, with three huge meals and plenty of hot tea and chocolate.  I wondered around, took pictures at glaciers and managed to drop my new camera, or rather let the wind drop it down. It survived the fall 🙂

I decided not to go through the  Cho La Pass towards Everest base camp ( I have been at the Everest Base Camp before)but instead to visit the quiet valley behind the Ranjo Pass. I knew the next day would be very difficult. I had to carry my backpack (15 kg) and myself  1000 m up and reach 5360 m (17585feet)  and do it quickly enough to continue down the valley and reach a tea house before the darkness swings in.
It was strangely cloudy in the morning and looked like snow.

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I knew it usually doesn’t snow in December but it just did a week before for couple days, so it was a possibility. I was not thrilled about the clouds because I was worried about having enough light for my photography, but it turned out to be quite spectacular, especially the Everest looked intriguing with a rounded cloud- umbrella above the peak. It was windy!!!! I was happy I had all my hats, gloves, wind breakers and down jacket. I used it all. The last 30 min were brutal, but I felt the altitude for maybe couple minutes on the last 10 minute assent. I made it again!

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I can survive above 5000 meters without much problems as long as I don’t get too cold.

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I wish I could had stayed for a few hours there… But the way down was very very long and very down. I think it was over 1500 meters down. And there was NOONE there! Empty valley with lakes and white peaks, a few yaks were saying goodbye.

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It’s always so hard to descent ….I wish there were only assents in the mountains. The sun was brutal. I had to reapply the sun block several times and I was extremely grateful for my new sunglasses as my eyes were finally comfortable.  (I learned my lesson in Kanchenjunga! ) Sun, snow and altitude is not a good mixture.

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I arrived at the village and was greeted by a women collecting yaks shit. She said in her broken English:  last hotel, left, much food.” sounded great as I was hungry. I had only omelet and chapati and it was 4 pm. I found the hotel but there was only a guy there and he was drinking….I   thought about  leaving, but decided against it.  I needed to have some warm tea. He brought me an entire thermos of milk tea and it made me very happy. It turned out to be one of the best nights in the mountains. The women who suggested this hotel to me turned out to be his wife.  She came back with a lot of yaks shit, and made a beautiful fire a few hours later.  She also cooked a delicious dal bhat, and made a delicious  hot chocolate for me.There was also a couple from the USA staying there, and the guy spoke Nepali! He was able to communicate with the Nepali family, who shared with us many  amazing stories about their lives and Tibetans. (It was the last  Nepali village  on the route to Tibet) We laughed and talked long into the night. The next two days were peaceful and beautiful. I met no tourists and just a few yaks … on the trek. The trek was  finished when I reached Namche Bazar: the city life was very present here and the peace was over. Returning is never easy. But this time, I had something to look forward to: warm, summer weather in Australia, where I was performing shortly.  If I only knew how hot and difficult it was going to be to adjust from Himalayan winter to Australian summer!

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Interview for TV THE WEST, Perth, Australia

It has been an eventful morning and afternoon! Four-hour rehearsal  with  three fascinating characters: Judge John Thomas; composer Sophia Serghi and jazz pianist Harris Simon. The event is titled Allure of the Muse (http://www.carnegiehall.org/Calendar/2013/2/21/0800/PM/The-Allure-of-the-Muse/) and it is a fusion of  poetry with classical music and jazz.  I am performing the “Allure” by Sophia Serghi and My Windows by Lei Liang and…some Schumann. The Poet will speak…

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(Overnight in Kuala Lumpur due to  6 am flight to Hanoi)
It was not a good start of the day ….3.5 hours of napping with breaks, getting up at 3 am and of course! The taxi didn’t show up at all. Fortunately, the Malaysian manager seemed particularly nice and carrying and called for another taxi. The guy was driving like a maniac, and suddenly I saw an animal jumping right in front of the car and shortly after heard a dull hit-noise. DEAD! The driver didn’t even get a chance to notice it coming….I kept thinking, was it a dog or something else? It run out of the forest… I felt guilty of not staying at the airport Tune hotel and taking that damn taxi! Poor animal.

The flight to Hanoi was not full, thanks God I got the entire raw for myself. I listened to forest music on my iPad and had a dream about being in a jungle…when I woke up there was a fresh coconut in front of me! It confused me first, as I totally forgot I ordered it on line. It was more than delicious! Young coconut for a breakfast on the flight! I wish united airlines could serve this type of breakfast….(or any eatable breakfast would be just fine.)
The emigration took forever. The airport was empty, the air was static. The colors were grey….very grey. The communism was undoubtedly in the air. The emigration officers acted powerful and enjoyed intimidating people. I knew that “game” from my childhood well… Mr. J was waiting for me with a driver, and I was very grateful for not having to deal with the taxi drivers again! As we were getting closer to the center, it became clear to me that Vietnam is poorer than Indonesia but richer than Nepal. The presence of communism was evident and present on the streets. But the colonial architecture and vivid colors of some houses brighten the mood up.

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It was 9 am and I was exhausted after short night, and a week of teaching. Well… I had to handle several hours of practice in the afternoon, tv interview and preparation. I was starving! But all my snacks were gone. It was week number something 6 perhaps… I ordered some unknown soup and even less known green vegetable, which was delivered to the Embassy. The Embassy guest suite was spectacular. I also needed to get my hair done for the interview and went to a local salon.
I was asked if I want a mask, which I assumed was a hair mask, like in Indonesia. But to my surprise I was shown cucumbers and yogurt as my choices. I thought it was just coincident that cucumbers were laying next to shampoo. Shortly after I heard the hair stylist grinding the cucumbers and soon I was all covered in cucumbers! My face that is. I was hungry, and considered eating it for a moment, but most likely they were unpeeled.
The stylist started her work, without stopping to chat with her friends. Unfortunately for me she had long nails and kept hurting my scalp. I told her a few times to be more gently, but her memory lasted for maybe 5 seconds. My head was on fire.

The TV interview was enjoyable. I was also asked to perform, but hoped they would only play the images, as the piano was very run down and terribly out of tune. I got a chance to talk a little bit about program and my mission to promote classical music around the world.

I woke the next morning in my down jacket…. I forgot to check the weather and wrongly assumed it would be warm as it was in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia… Bad idea! I was glad I didn’t sent all my warm clothes by mail from Indonesia so I still had my jeans, wool top and hiking long pants and a wind breaker. It was gloomy and foggy but not terribly cold, just 15c down from Kuala Lumpur, so my body was in shocked.

I had to do two more TV interviews. And of course they want to record the concert live and use on their programs . I agreed to partial recording but made it clear that there is no on stage filming or moving permitted. To my surprise, during my concert! I see THREE men with cameras walking on the stage DURING my second piece and setting up the equipment, making terrible noise and smiling to me at the same time. I almost stopped! And I was furious. I looked at them between the pieces and gave them no sign waiting for them to get off the stage. They moved to the center of the stage! And kept starring at me. I was not going to play until they got off the stage. Finally they did. The stage was mine, but they continued making noise and walking around…. I knew there were several ambassadors in the audience so I tried to be diplomatic. I was not happy!
The concert was very successful, the theater was packed. I managed to forget during the performance about uneven stage ( piano was leaning downwards creating weight imbalance in my arms and spine ) and a horribly run down Petrof piano. That said, I really had fun on stage. How strange!

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I had only two days left in Vietnam after the concerts and all interviews. It was a really difficult decision what to do. I wanted to see the mountains and go to the North-land, but there was not enough time…. I decided to go to the touristy Halong Bay and bought a rather expensive two day tour with Glory Cruises, with the overnight stay on the boat. Everything was great except for the weather. It was still nice to be cruising along the beautiful picks and green water, but it was a bit grim and gray. The food was fantastic though , plenty of seafood, fruits and deserts. All kind of drinks could be purchased on board and the cabin was luxurious. Money well spent!
On the last evening I saw the Temple of Literature and went to buy a few souvenirs. Passing by some street food vendors I noticed  a women selling some strangely looking white balls of different sizes. I asked two white women who were eating them what those were. They said they had no clue but recommend trying it . I joined them and ordered the mysterious balls with ginger syrup and we started to talk. They asked me if I was the famous Polish pianist who gave a concert couple days ago.. Apparently it was well advertised. I was with my osprey backpack and in jeans, nothing like Anna Kijanowska from the publicity photo and I was glad! The evening ended with the delicious pho soup  and a  fresh coconut, bought on the street and shared with the locals. The locals stared at me and smiled and I hoped they didn’t know I was that famous pianist in town…

Indonesia- one of my favorite oasis!!!

I can’t even remember how many times I have been to Indonesia….maybe 4-5 times. I remember clearly the first visit and my first Festival run by the ” famous” Dr. “Queen Pin”.
Well, it was not a good introduction! Doubled work load, bad food, and shared accommodations ( we were promised private rooms) Fortunately, my lovely roommate happened to be a fantastic violinist ( now the first violinist in the leading american quartet and a professor in one of the top music school in the USA) who would get up every morning and talk to her Stradivarius first before the two lazy pianists where up. There was something very meditative about those mornings… I had so much respect for her and she never missed a day… Well almost! She did, when we all got poisoned ( food) on our excursion. In fact, she ended up in a local hospital with running cats. I didn’t get to see the running cats or the hospital, because I got sick 12 hours later ( I am bigger) and by than The Queen realized it is less work to get us medicine than to have us all go to the hospital. I had such a high fever that don’t remember much of the two days.
This was the first time moments in Indonesia Hot summer, bad food, too much work ( in fact it felt like a work camp) and food poisoning at the end….
Fortunately, there is always something good coming out of every bad situation and diverse experience…. Most of the parents seeing the faculty sick, weak and unhappy towards the end of the festival, felt quite ashamed. One of them in particular, a mother of one of the most gifted student attending the festival, invited some faculty over her place and decided that she wants us to show the real Indonesia and the real Indonesian culture. Luckily for me, I gave it a chance and fall in love with the country and the people. I always stay with the same generous and loving family, and I know that I can just call a week before and there will be a driver waiting for me at the airport (even in the middle of the night) as it was the case this time. But what’s even more important there is a grand piano I can practice on and a kitchen full of fruits.

I have arrived really late at night this time, exhausted after what I thought would be an easy day…. Well. I forgot about 4 h time difference between Sydney and Jakarta, I didn’t notice 5 hours lay over in Kuala Lumpur and there was an hour delay, so I arrived after 1 am! But as soon as I let out of the aircraft in Jakarta I smelled the country, its warmth, fruits and diversity…I was happy.
To my surprise my friend was still up waiting for me to arrive home. In the morning I was surprised by a welcome massage at home!, and a beautiful breakfast. Some several tons of fruits were bought, clothes beautifully washed and ironed. I could ask for anything at any time and I am sure it would be all brought to me.

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This visit was devoted to master classes and I was very busy teaching, but I manage to squeeze in some amazing massages, body scrubs, hair spa, facials etc…I felt in heaven! In the USA I would have to work more than an hour to get an hour massage. In Indonesia I can get more than 6 massages ( Jakarta price) for an hour of teaching. Hm….
The students were fantastic. I gave 50 sessions ( from 45-90 minutes each) over 5 days and in three different cities: Jakarta, Medan and Surabaya. I have taught in 5 different schools, students of all ages ( 6-30 yea old) I was very happy to see much higher level of playing and understanding of music than several years ago. The repertoire also got more diverse, students were respectful and eager to learn as always.It was a really fantastic experience! IMG-20130117-00414

Each host would invite me for a lunch and dinner and they would send their drivers to pick me up. ( Note, traffic in Jakarta and Indonesia is one of the worst in the world. I have driven in Los Angeles and Washington, but there is just nothing like Jakarta. to get anywhere, you must have an hour, to get to the airport, usually at last 2, not it’s not far, it just takes forever).
The food in Medan was spectacular. I especially enjoyed delicious lunch in a small, local restaurant, where dishes were spicy and genuine, not altered for tourists. The baked giant crab at a seafood restaurant ( which I almost ate by myself) was quite an experience.
I was sad I didn’t have enough time to travel and see more places in Indonesia. I am ready to come back and see Papua…I think its about time!

AK13-347-2I was honored to have one of the most amazing violinist and musicians, Wanda Wiłkomirska, to attend my last two concerts in Sydney in 2010 and 2011. I was sad to learn that she left Australia. We used to wonder at Bondi beach, eating fish and chatting about Music and life. I loved every minute of the time we spent together. I though my visit to Sydney would never be the same without her company. To my great surprise she came again to my recital last night! I felt so previladged and happy to see her again. She was visiting Sydney….Just like Christian Zimmerman a few heard ago during my recital at the Merkin Hall in NYC. He just showed up, stayed for the entire concert and came to congratulate me afterwords.
The recital was very well received. In fact it was overbooked and only because of the 40C weather, we had enough space in the hall. It felt great to be welcomed and appreciated. It has always been wonderful in Sydney.

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