The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a very active program of study visits for individuals and organisations across all fields for the improvement of bilateral relations between Poland and other countries. The visits are offered on the recommendation of the relevant Embassy, and the Embassy works with the nominee, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Polish Press Association to constrct an itinerary of most practical benefit. After the 2nd edition of the Australian International Chopin Piano Competition, I was lucky enough to be nominated by the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Canberra with a view to improving links between the Australian International Chopin Piano Competition and Poland and furthering the promotion of Chopin in Australia. The study visit was for one week and encompassed meetings with the Polish Government, the National Institute of Fryderyk Chopin and other Chopin-related bodies, as well as cultural events such as visiting Chopin’s birthplace and the Chopin Museum, as well as broader Polish cultural activities and a tour of Kraków. The study visit was conducted at the same time as the Preliminary Round (Eliminations Round) of the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, and the week before the conference being held for the Organisers of Chopin Piano Competitions Around the World by the National Institute of Fryderk Chopin.
The logistics of the tour are organised by the Polish Press Association and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after the Embassy and the applicant work together on a proposed itinerary. With the kind assistance of the Polish Embassy in Canberra, I was able to meet with the Deputy Director of the National Institute of Fryderyk Chopin (NIFC) Mr Wojciech Marchwica, and the Director of VIP Projects for the NIFC Monika Strugała, the Pro-Rector of International and Student Affairs of the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music Professor Ewa Iżykowska-Lipińska, the Director of International Relations for the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage Urszula Ślązak and Senior Advisor Anna Ceynowa, Kają Gzyło and Justyna Szwarc from Wspólnota Polska, Adam Rozlach, Magdalena Łoś and Sławomir Liszewski (International Relations) of Polskie Radio, Anna Bernat and Karolina Cygonek of the Polish Press Association, Professor Kazimierz Gierżod of the Chopin Society of Warsaw, General Secretary of the International Federation of Chopin Societies Professor Elżbieta Artysz and her assistant Mr Jakub Dmeński, and Mr Aleksander Laskowski of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.
Prior to my visit, I had had discussions with Professor Peter Tregear (Head of School, ANU School of Music) with a view to representing the Australian International Chopin Piano Competion as well as the Friends of Chopin Australia in order to help establish links between both the Competition and the School of Music, and the various academic and non-governmental organisations in Poland dealing with Chopin scholarship and performance. The idea being to further the development of the academic symposium that forms part of the Australian International Chopin Piano Competition, and its contribution to original research in history, musicology and performance practices (including historically informed performance).
One of the strong highlights of the study tour is the cultural component. For this tour, the cultural component included guided tours of Warsaw and Kraków. In Warsaw this included visits to the resting place of Chopin's heart in the Holy Cross Church. The story of the return of Chopin's hear to Poland is fascinating and you can read more about it here, Chopin's birthplace in Zelazowa Wola, and the incomparable Łazienki Park in the centre of Warsaw, with it's stunning Chopin monument, which in summer is used for free public musical performances, including of course Chopin.
In Kraków, the visit included a walking tour of the Old Town, which included the fascinating archeological dig underneath Rynek Główny (the Main Square), the breathtaking St Mary's Basilica on the edge of the square, the Kosciol Franciszkanow (Franciscan Church) which was the Pope John-Paul II's favourite chapel. Kraków is a University town, with some 22 school's of higher learning, some like the Jagiellonian University, dating back to 1364. As a city of the intelligentsia, it has had a troubled history, including during WWII when some 80 academics were collected in one meeting and deported to work camps by the occupying forces. The tour also includes the historic Jewish quarter, some of which features in the film Schindler's List, as well as a tour of the Oscar Schindler Museum, one of the most impressively engaging Museum's I have ever experienced. Of particular note was the audio recording of the meeting of the deportation of the Jagiellonian academics playing in the background in one of the rooms. The tour was finished by a trip to Wawel Castle, with it's striking statue of Kościuszko on rearing steed at its entrance, and among the treasures, "Lady with Ermine" by Leonardo da Vinci.
The Embassy in Canberra, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Polish Press Association organised an amazing, seamless and inspiring tour, that formed lasting links between the Friends of Chopin Australia, the Australian International Chopin Piano Competition and Poland, but also deepened my understanding of Poland and spurred my energies to continue developing cultural links between Australia and Poland.