This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the world's most beloved composers, Frederic Chopin.
The Wichita Symphony Orchestra will celebrate next weekend — just shy of Chopin's actual birthday of March 1 — with performances of his Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor played by soloist Janina Fialkowska.
Dvorak's tuneful Symphony No. 9, "From the New World," will follow. Weber's Euryanthe Overture will open the program.
Fialkowska has played frequently with the Wichita Symphony since the late 1970s; she's also performed with symphony director Andrew Sewell several times. "He's a most sympathetic conductor and such a musical musician," Fialkowska said.
Chopin is one of her favorite composers.
"When you have a name like mine, Chopin was central from the beginning," Fialkowska said. (Fialkowska's father was Polish; her mother Canadian. She was born in Montreal.) Chopin was Polish, too. Many of his pieces are underpinned by the flashy rhythms of mazurkas, polonaises and other Polish folk dances.
"They really find their way into most of his works, the essential Polish rhythms," Fialkowska said. "The third movement of the E minor Concerto (No. 1) is a Polish dance, a krakowiak. So it's very helpful to have that kind of exposure to Chopin early on."
Chopin revolutionized piano playing and piano music. In his music, virtuosity serves to illuminate nuance and artistic expression. A completely original harmonist, he's one of the great composers of the Romantic era. His solo piano works — preludes, nocturnes, impromptus, ballades — are among music's most treasured masterworks, repertoire that is central to most pianists.
"Chopin understood the piano really better than any composer that ever lived," Fialkowska said. "He was the ground-breaker of the modern piano. He understood all the possibilities and he was a genius pianist himself.
"If you have a certain amount of technique then there is no music that feels more comfortable under your fingers than Chopin's music. It's difficult, but it's comfortable."
Chopin played the premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 1 (and of his Piano Concerto No. 2) in Warsaw in 1830. He moved to Paris the next year and largely abandoned the concert stage, electing instead to perform at near-nightly salons, private gatherings attended by rich nobility, celebrities and famous artists and musicians. Chopin died in Paris in 1849 at age 39, succumbing to tuberculosis.
Fialkowska says the three movements of the Piano Concerto No. 1 capture the youthful vitality of a man who had just discovered his genius — and everlasting fame.
"Every piece that Chopin ever wrote he always has a tiny dash of that Slavic melancholy that grows (in his music) as the years go by," Fialkowska said. "But this is probably the happiest piece he ever wrote."
If you go
wichita symphony orchestra
What: Classics concert featuring music by Weber, Chopin and Dvorak, Janina Fialkowska, piano; Andrew Sewell, conductor
Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Feb. 21
How much: Tickets are $20-$42, discounts available. For more information, visit www.wso.org or call 316-267-7658.