This Saturday, on six stages and some less conventional locales all over Kraków, there will be a whole lot of free music in celebration of Wianki – the annual Krakovian celebration of wreaths. This link contains the full schedule:

The climax of the event will be composer/pianist/vocalist Grzegorz Turnau’s presentation of his Seven Views On The Way To Kraków song cycle with the Sinfionetta Cracovia in the Main Market Square at 21:00. He was kind enough to take a break from rehearsals to talk about the show, and the amazing back story of the album he’ll be performing.

(Intergenerations Stage – Main Market Square / 21:00)

We all know that Poland is a land rich in both art and history – so much so that the daily evidence all around us can be overwhelming. The irony is that if you allow yourself to become apathetic to it, the fantastic can begin to seem almost ordinary. Sometimes Poles themselves take the magnificence of their own culture for granted. But think back to when you were new here; who amongst us (I’m talking particularly but not exclusively to expats now) wasn’t overwhelmed that first time wandering around Plac Nowy or Hala Targowa, and had to resist the temptation to buy every little trinket, or work of art, because people back home who would never believe that the equivalent of 3 or 4 dollars could get you, say, an army medallion from the 19th century?

Of course, to Polish people, it is just normal. Which is one of the things that makes the story of Grzegorz Turnau’s latest album, 7 Widoków w Drodze do Krakowa (Seven Views on the Way to Kraków) such a very special one.

When friend (and oboe player) Mariusz Pędziałek began renovating his flat, he made an astounding find; underneath the layers of old paint and plaster were seven paintings, dating back nearly two centuries, detailing village life in various locales adjacent to Kraków. But whereas many people might have thought little of obliterating some old wall decorations in the name of modernizing their investment, Mariusz realized that he had stumbled across a treasure that represented something much more meaningful than just painted landscapes in an old flat. “They were probably painted around 1830. At that time, there was no Poland as a state, of course,” Turnau explains, “but Kraków had this special…it was one of the few places (perhaps the only place in the territory of former Poland) that preserved the spirit of the Polish Kings, of Polish tradition, of the historical values and so on. The Galician Autonomy was introduced in Kraków a little later, in 1860, but somehow the paintings seem to anticipate this kind of atmosphere.

“So the paintings have the tendency to be arcadian – an idealized world on those walls. The views, the landscape, the way they were presented were, in a way, idealized. They were not real. So the weather is beautiful, the trees are all more green than they were in real life – it all has this warm atmosphere.” Over the next few years, they were restored to their original luster, “and now the seven views of Korzkiew, Tenczyn, etc. are on display there in Mariusz’s flat, and they look as if they were painted yesterday.”

And sometime during that process, the idea for an album was born. “Why did Mariusz and I start writing this musical suite? We thought it would be inspiring – for me, to write the music, and for Mariusz, as the person who discovered and who gave these paintings a second life, because they were just covered with plaster and paint and could have well stayed that way for another 200 years. But now that they are back in the world, we can witness this time past.”

But the suite is about more than local village life or Polish history. “It’s not about those places, it’s about time, about something which is connected with the process of touching time. You can actually touch this when you see it, when you are in Mariusz’s flat, you can have this metaphysical moment of meeting the past…”, he grins, “sounds very pathetic, yes? But…there’s something there.”

That ‘something’ has translated into something equally special in a musical sense. Even without the visuals that inspired the album, there is a sense of adventure, a kind of time-travelogue, if you will, that gives Seven Views on the Way to Kraków a very unique magic, while still clearly bearing the unmistakable stamp of Mr. Turnau’s superior melodic sense and unique compositional skill. But getting the piece from concept to fruition wasn’t always an easy ride, and this Saturday night’s presentation in the Main Market Square will be the first (and possibly last) time that he has had the opportunity to present the complete piece with full orchestration to the city that bears its name. “The premiere of the suite was on the 31st of May, 2014, in the Kraków Philharmonic Hall but it was not yet complete – it was about 2/3rds finished, I think. And then after the premiere, we wrote some more music and recorded the album.

“I couldn’t find the lyrics for a long time. I was trying to find some 19th century poetry which was connected with Kraków, and I did, but it didn’t work. It was dead. There was nothing to be told to accompany my musical ideas. And we were really scared because we had this premiere on the calendar of the Philharmonia, and I still didn’t have the words.”

In desperation, he reached out to friend and renowned poet and lecturer Bronisław Maj for help. “I gave him some hints; ‘let’s imagine that there’s a guy, he’s traveling, he wakes up in a carriage, he doesn’t know where is. He’s thirsty so he drinks some beer, some beggar by a church tells him a story or something and he gets this…there’s a Polish word, ‘oniryczny’ (meaning phantasmagoric or hallucinatory) – he doesn’t know if it’s still real or if it’s a dream.’

“And so, Bronisław wrote those pieces. It was very late. I was really scared. We might have had to cancel which would have been a scandal. But fortunately we made it and this process was surprisingly successful because it all came out quickly. I didn’t spend months and months on each and every detail of it – I just got the words and we worked straight on through and it was ready in perhaps two weeks.
“Of course, the process had started many, many months before. Sometimes you have to think for a long time, and the actual act is short. It was very spontaneous.” The album itself was recorded in September of 2014, almost entirely live with orchestra, mostly at Alvernia Studios.

“Since then, we haven’t had the chance to present the whole album as it was recorded with the orchestra to the Kraków audience. So this is the first, and perhaps the only performance – you know, you need quite a budget for performing with an orchestra, etc.” Because of time limitations, this won’t be the full length concert that he’s performed with various orchestras all over Poland, but it will feature a number of Turnau’s older pieces in addition to the entire Seven Views… suite, and “it seems that this is, as we say, the cherry on top of the cake; Kraków, at night, in the Main Market Square, and the presentation of an album that…it’s not ABOUT Kraków but about a journey towards Kraków or around Kraków, in which Kraków becomes a destination which is very hard or even impossible to reach, some kind of dreamland.”

In a future feature, we will explore Mr. Turnau’s history, his catalogue of over a dozen albums, and his place in the culture of Poland and particularly Kraków. But for the purposes of giving subtext to this concert and the choice of the Rynek for its location, it’s worth noting that, although not yet 50 years old, Mr. Turnau was a big part (albeit one of the younger members) of the Piwnica Pod Baranami cabaret during it’s zenith, and he is known worldwide as one of the great visionary voices in folk, jazz, and that uniquely Polish genre known as sung poetry, from the days before communism fell. But unlike many of that era, he has never coasted by on his illustrious past, always creating new music and touring.

On Saturday night, he’ll be performing mere steps away from that legendary place – Piwnica Pod Baranami – where he served his apprenticeship under the influence of such legendary masters as Jan Kanty Pawluśkiewicz and Marek Grechuta. Given that context, along with the subtext of the passage of time that runs throughout the Seven Views suite, I wondered if he was concerned about the emotions this performance, in this location, might conjure. Could he become a victim of a nostalgic melancholy, or perhaps just a wistfulness, as he looked around his city and saw …oh, you know, the Hard Rock Cafe, or Coffee Heaven or the Starbucks that actually resides in the same building as Pod Baranami?

But Mr. Turnau is a wise man – one who understands the implications of such thoughts and where they lead. “I guess the worst way of coping with the passage of time is to resent it,” he replies thoughtfully. “In Polish, we have this great word, which is funny because it’s probably the only word in the Polish language which is written exclusively with letters that are only in the Polish alphabet. It’s ‘żółć’ – four letters which don’t exist in any other language. And the word literally means the yellow paint on the canvas. But it’s really something that’s connected with the liver – the yellow substance that the liver produces (in English, bile.) People in Poland believe, and it’s probably true, that when you’re angry inside – angry with someone or with something – then you produce żółć.

“So the worst way of coping with the fact that all things must pass is to produce this kind of attitude, that everything is getting worse when compared to what was. If I ever find this tendency in my mind, I stop it.”

The only constant is change, and ironically, change is what always remains. “It’s different now. There are more things to choose from and each generation has its own way of looking at the city – and they discover the same things again and again…I think the contrast is good, and people have choices that were not so obvious in the communist years.”

The man who immortalized Bracka Street in song two decades ago is still just as connected to his hometown as he is humble about himself. When I express the belief that he, and his music, embody the spirit of Kraków, he shrugs and simply says, “what can I do?”, but when I worry that the subtle musical nuances of the Seven Views on the Way to Kraków suite might be lost on such a large crowd in a big space, he’s clearly already thought it through, and is passionate in his convictions. “No, I think it’s good because I think one of the problems with live music on the Rynek is that usually people play too loud. It’s not a place for loud music, in my opinion. And that New Year’s Eve television production…that’s a horror! If I were the president of this city, I would never agree to that. We have other venues – that are NOT the Main Market Square – to do this. It is Hell, actually, for both the people and the stones – the buildings and the churches.
“So I think this concert with a chamber orchestra – it is not a chamber concert, we have drums, we have bass, and so on – but it’s a concert of MUSIC, and not of noise.”

But his humility gets the best of him, and he quickly adds, “and if this sounds like I’m being too proud of myself, it’s not true. I think that this kind of music that I am going to play on the 25th is appropriate, and is in harmony with the character of the place.”

And of course, he’s absolutely right. In fact, this suite is in perfect harmony with the character not only of the Kraków of 2016, but of all the Krakóws that have existed throughout Poland’s long and tangled history. Perhaps, ultimately, the Kraków it most harmonizes with is the one that exists foremost as a state of mind; a convergence of past, present, and future, PLUS a magical realm somewhere in between where all roads lead to Kraków but are elusive, and somehow never quite arrive. All of this will find resolution on Saturday night in an hour of glorious musical eloquence.

And it’s all happening because of a seemingly impossible sequence of events – the right person, with the right artistic temperament, renovating the one flat that happened to contain works of art that now appear to have been destined to inspire an artistic endeavor two centuries later. Call it fate, or call it a miracle, but when you consider the confluence of circumstances that had to conspire to create 7 widoków w drodze do Krakowa, the word ‘supernatural’ seems wildly insufficient to describe it.

Of course, if all of that’s a little bit too cosmic for you, how about this; whether or not you are already aware of the music of Grzegorz Turnau, whether or not you even care about live music in general, this is nothing less than a chance to witness a small slice of Polish history. It may be impossible to predict what events will be considered quintessential or significant in years to come, but it doesn’t take a prophet to assure you that something very memorable is going to happen in the Rynek on Saturday night.

On a long day of very cool events, this is the one not to be missed.

There are, of course, many other things of note occurring on Saturday, and here are a few additional points of interest. But be sure to click on the above link for the complete schedule, as there really is something for just about everyone.

(Intergenerations Stage – Main Market Square / 19:00)

If you plan on attending the Grzegorz Turnau performance (and just in case I haven’t yet made my opinion clear, you really should!), why not go a bit early for a chance to see a performer who is truly royalty of Polish stage, screen, and music? Ms. Celińska’s career began in the theater in 1968, and her most recent album, 2015’s Atramentowa, was certified Gold, no mean feat for a senior artist anywhere in the world. The reason for that becomes obvious when you hear her sing – she has a kind of lounge-vibe coolness that would be called ‘Hipster’ in someone 40 years her junior. But for her, it’s just cool.

(Hard Rock Cafe Stage – Mały Rynek / 20:30)
For serious music people, few phrases inspire dread quite like “top selling artist of the year” or, worse still, “Television singing competition winner.” But Podisiadło is the exception. After winning the X Factor in 2012, his debut album, Comfort And Happiness, was not only the best selling album in Poland of 2013 but is one of a handful of homegrown albums to attain Diamond status in sales. He managed to avoid the sophomore slump with the follow up (humorously titled Annoyance and Disappointment), which went platinum within a week of its release late last year, and is still going strong. Of course, none of that would matter were he just another contrived faceless singer with a team of producers and writers pulling the strings of the pop mainstream, but Podisiadło is anything but. He is that rare combination of artist and pop star that resonates with fans of different genre, both young and old, simply because he’s that talented, and it’s just a shame that his set overlaps with Turnau’s!

SPRAGNIENI LATA BAND presents The White Album Project
(Spragnieni Lata Stage – Powiślie 11 / 21:10)
Yep, THAT White Album! A bit of a local supergroup featuring R&B singer Natalia Przybysz, trip hop composer/performer Natalia Grosiak, and Polish Idol season two winner Krystof Zalewski, along with artistic director (and film score composer) Tymon Tymański, will be (and I say this with a tiny bit of dread) “deconstructing” – breaking down and reimagining – The Beatles’ 1968 classic in an act of either avant grade artistry or cultural vandalism. You be the judge.

(Intergenerations Stage – Main Market Square / 23:00 – 02:00 am)

There’s a famous Nietzsche quote: “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”

Forget for the moment that there is no reliable record of him actually saying that – it’s still a great metaphor for the pursuit of individuality in the face of misunderstanding.

But…what if you were to take it literally?

Those purveyors of the strange and unusual who bring you the Unsound Festival are sponsoring what they are calling a ‘silent disco’ in which the attendees will be wearing headphones and dancing to live DJ sets by such experimental techno artists as Olivia, Chino, and Awesome Tapes From Africa. But here’s the really fun bit (apparently); you’ll be able to choose from two different headphone options, which will determine whose set of music you’re hearing. And the cool thing about that – again, apparently, – is that the folks around you won’t be able to tell which DJ you’re actually dancing to!

Because you care about that. Really, you do.

I don’t know. Maybe you do? A few years ago, I was struck by the realization at a concert that people used to take photos of the musicians they loved, as a memory of what the music you love LOOKED like that night – a keepsake, a memory of how you saw THE ARTIST that night, but now, they had to be in the photos – the focus had somehow switched from the importance of the musician to the importance of themselves.

Look, I know I sound like an old man. I’m really not judging. There are just so many things about this concept that perplex me. But it IS original, and at least it’s interesting and different, right?

If I were taking part in such a thing, I’d probably play something completely unrelated in my headphones – Johnny Cash or Deep Purple or perhaps British shoegazer music of the 1990s, – now THAT would make for some interesting dancing!

One thought on “THIS SATURDAY: GRZEGORZ TURNAU BRINGS HIS ‘SEVEN VIEWS’ TO WIANKI and other festival highlights

  • June 24, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Some much-appreciated refreshment at the Krakow Post’s musical oasis.


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