Aleksandra Chmielewska is a Polish composer based in Warsaw whose intricate, melodic works have been performed worldwide. We are delighted to feature her as one of the composers on Parallels. Pianist Jill Jantzen and the 4-Way String Quartet will premiere her latest piece, Postcards from Warsaw, tomorrow night at the Weston Art Gallery.
CSB: Could you tell us a little about your activities as a composer?
AC: I graduated from the Fryderyk Chopin Music University in Warsaw, where I studied composition. Currently I am a Ph.D. candidate at the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice, working on my debut opera about Frida Kahlo’s life. In 2018 I was a composer-in-residence at Feliks Nowowiejski’s Music Salon in Poznań and now I am a chairwoman of The Young Circle of the Polish Composers’ Union. My compositions – choral, orchestral and chamber – have been performed in numerous countries in Europe as well as in the United States and released on CDs by such music publishings as DUX, CD Accord and Ars Sonora. I have collaborated with Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra, Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, Fryderyk Chopin Music University Symphony Orchestra, Unplugged Orchestra, Leopoldinum Orchestra, National Forum of Music Choir, Polish Chamber Choir, Vogler Quartett, E-MEX Ensemble, and many other ensembles. My compositions have been recognized at composition competitions of both Polish and international range, such as: Transatlantyk Instant Composition Contest, Musica Sacra Nova Composers Competition, Patri Patriae Composers Composition and many others.
CSB: Describe the work being premiered on this concert.
AC: Postcards from Warsaw is a composition for piano quintet, which, in general, refers to the phenomenon of human memory. Each of the three movements contains clichés – such as a tango-like part in the II movement or Dies Irae motif in the III movement. Working on this composition, I was absorbed by the idea of how our mind distorts what we have experienced. Playing with both well-known and not so well-known motifs, I tried to translate to the language of music the dissonance between what has truly happened and how we retell these things in our letters or old-fashioned postcards.
What does the imaginary author of my postcards write about? This question I leave open to the listener’s imagination…
CSB: What are you hoping audiences will experience during the piece?
AC: I always hope to deeply touch audiences’ emotions with my music. For me, music is the language of all languages, that lets us communicate on a far deeper level than we do in everyday life. Emotions that I convey in Postcards from Warsaw are connected with the piece’s relation to the past, so I expect to evoke rather blue-colored moods: sentiments, longing, grief or simply a sad reflection on how some things will never happen again.
CSB: How would you describe the musical scene in Warsaw, and in Poland in general?
AC: It is full of contrasts. On the one hand, we have a great, yet quite conservative, school of choral writing with excellent composers of all generations who often combine writing for choir with singing or conducting as well. On the other hand, we have interesting avant-garde composers keen on electronic and electro-acoustic music. They collaborate with visual artists to create really amazing large-scale multimedia projects. What upsets me is that the representatives of these two groups usually don’t treat composers with contrasting musical ideas entirely seriously.
We are unfortunately a very divided society, and not only in terms of music.
CSB: What upcoming projects are on your radar?
AC: First of all, we are going to repeat Cincinnati Soundbox and Salon 21’s Parallels program in Warsaw. I think it’s fantastic, not only because of the idea of building the transatlantic bridge for composers, but also because there are not so many female-composers’ concerts in our country. As a chairwoman of The Young Circle of the Polish Composers’ Union I’m slowly starting to think about young composers’ concerts during the upcoming Warsaw Autumn Festival. It’s a wonderful chance for many young artists to present their works at this renowned festival of contemporary music, but it requires a lot of preparation. However, the project that currently absorbs me the most is my upcoming opera about Frida Kahlo, which is my Ph.D. dissertation piece. I myself was surprised by how deep one must dig into the painter’s life and art not just to tell a story, but to draw out something unusual. It is a big challenge, but also a great adventure.