A cello-piano duo that champions the music of their home country and tours worldwide is coming to Davenport.
The Deanery School of Music, 1103 Main St., Davenport, is hosting The Cracow Duo for a concert on Sunday, Nov. 12, at 3 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (121 W. 12th St., Davenport). This concert is open to the public with a free-will offering (suggested donation of $20).
Then on Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, at 4:30 p.m. at The Deanery, the two men – cellist Jan Kalinowski and pianist Marek Szlezer — will conduct two separate masterclasses, one for cellists and another for pianists. Performers will be music students from The Deanery School of Music.
Jan is 41, and Marek, 42 – they went to grade school together in Cracow, Poland, and started playing as a duo in 2000.
“We are complementary to each other and quite different in terms of character. We just get along together very well,” Marek said in a recent interview.
The Strad has written about the Cracow Duo: “Kalinowski and Szlezer, friends since childhood, have a wonderfully natural rapport and there is an arresting quality to their playing that gives life to the music.”
They have performed on the some of the world’s most prestigious stages, including Seoul Arts Center in South Korea; Alfred Newman Hall in Los Angeles, Carnegie Hall in New York, Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico, Salle Cortot in Paris, St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London and Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
They made tours promoting Polish music in countries such as the Middle East (2006); Caucasus (2013); Georgia (2014); South Korea (2015); Mexico (2015; 2016); Brazil and Argentina (2016; 2017); USA (2017); China (2018); Georgia (2019); Moldova (2021); Republic of Korea (2022) and Brazil (2023) among others. In 2010, they represented their hometown at Krakow Days in Nanjing, China.
Jan and Marek share a special commitment and fascination with music written by rarely performed Polish composers. Among their many programs, the Cracow Duo frequently presents pieces for cello and piano by Fryderyk Chopin, Aleksander Tansman, Karol Szymanowski, Zygmunt Stojowski, Szymon Laks, Ludomir Rożycki and Tadeusz Majerski, as well as works by contemporary Polish and foreign composers written specially for them.
In 2019, they were recognized with Global Music Awards Outstanding Achievement for the best duo performance in Classical Music.
Their program in Davenport will be:
- Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849) – Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C Major, Op. 3, and Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 65
- Krzysztof Meyer (born 1943) – Canzona Op. 56
- Aleksander Tansman (1897-1986) – Fantaisie for cello and piano (1936)
The duo got connected with The Deanery by knowing its previous director, Anna Clift, from a student of theirs who studied with her. The Cracow Duo did an online lecture for the International Cello Institute, (based at The Deanery in summer 2022), and Clift was briefly executive director of the new music school.
The pair was recommended to Deanery founder and artistic director Hannah Holman, who is principal cellist for the Quad City Symphony Orchestra. They will come to Davenport after a Saturday concert in Chicago.
“We’ve never been there, so we’re looking forward to it,” Marek said.
Jan studied at the Music Academy in Cracow, the École Normale de Musique in Paris and the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Stuttgart.
He is a professor at the Krzysztof Penderecki Academy of Music in Cracow, where he holds his own cello class. For his artistic activity and commitment to promote Polish music, he was awarded the honorary badge Meritorious for Polish Culture by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage.
Marek is one of the most sought-after Polish pianists. His career started with the Grand Prix at the International Piano Competition in Rome at the age of 12. He has studied at the École Normale de Musique in Paris, the Music Academy in Cracow and the Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth in Belgium.
He is a winner of many prestigious competitions in Poland and abroad. His consummate performances of Chopin’s music have won him numerous prizes: 1st Prize at the National Chopin Competition in Warsaw and the special prize of the Chopin National Edition.
Marek had the honor to play a concert on Chopin’s original piano at the Jagiellonian University on May 1, 2004 (the night Poland entered the European Union), held in a museum at the university.
“It was quite a touching experience for me. I did a concert on the night that Poland entered the European Union,” Marek said recently.
“It was really a very importan moment for the country. For me personally, it was a very, very special moment.”
Marek is also a professor at the Krzysztof Penderecki Academy of Music, where he holds his own piano class. For his artistic activity and commitment to promote Polish music, he was awarded the Gloria Artis medal by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage.
What they play
While the Cracow Duo specializes in Polish music, they play a wide range of other composers (traditional and contemporary). Many living composers write for them, Jan said.
“Of course we play a lot of standard classic music like Schumann, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev,” Jan said.
“In Poland during Communism, there was a lot of censorship and many composers were banned,” Marek said. “Some figures were completely not present. For this reason, we started to look and research and we found a lot of beautiful, interesting music for us.”
Looking at 20th-century music, composers connected with Poland were not heard, Jan said.
The duo has had 30 works written for them — a combination of the pair seeking out a composer and vice versa.
Jan said that while Chopin connected intimately with solo piano music, but his chamber music is very interesting.
“The sonata is almost his last work, he finished before he died. Only during his life, he did one more piece.”
“It’s very interesting that it’s his only chamber music connected with cello,” he said. “If you really want to know the style of Chopin, you have to know the chamber piece.”
Marek said it’s very unusual, complex and challenging. They will just play the first movement of the 1846-47 sonata, just one of nine works Chopin wrote for other than solo piano.
“Also for Chopin himself, it was opening of a new style he never had a chance to continue. But it’s a great piece,” Marek said. “It is fascinating.”
They chose a work by Krzysztof Meyer for this concert in part since it’s his 80th birthday year and was a student of Shostakovich.
“He’s quite an exceptional figure in the history of Polish music, who completed some of Shostakovich works,” Marek said.
The Cracow Duo is connected with Aleksander Tansman’s music, which they love. The composer lived a time in Los Angeles, wrote some film scores, important music for guitar and wind instruments.
Marek said his music is very jazzy. “The music of Tansman is quite similar to Gershwin. He knew Gershwin personally,” he said.
In December 1927, Tansman made friends with George Gershwin and invited him to Paris. Gershwin came to the French capital a few months later, when he was composing his symphonic poem An American in Paris. He worked with Tansman on orchestrating this composition, and the two friends went together to the Avenue de la Grande-Armée to listen to the car horns which Gershwin used to represent the urban cacophony of traffic noise in a big city.
“Tansman is a composer close to us — we know his family,” Marek said. “We did a festival dedicated to his music and for many years, we are associated with Tansman’s music, which we really enjoy.”