Agerich and an historic event at Teatr Wielki


Last night`s concert, the penultimate in the Chopin Festival, was memorable, historic even. Notwithstanding my reservations about the Orchestra of the 18th Century and Franz Bruggen`s competence as a conductor (actually something that was put into the spotlight during the cadenza at the end of the 1st movement of Beethoven`s second piano concerto where, despite encouragement from the soloist, he failed to bring in the orchestra) what was remarkable was that Marta Agerich played on an early piano for the first time, in a concert and at a day`s notice.

Agerich is a great pianist but she has been spending too much time playing with musicians who relish loudness rather than sensitivity. It was poignant that one 18th Century musician overheard her say that she had never been able to play so quietly as she had on the NIFC`s Erard when she tried it out the day before the concert…there had been a cancellation and she filled in the breach.

The Erard is not the right piano for Beethoven, nor is this a particularly good instrument. Also, much else could be said about this remarkable concert…where two superstar pianists shared one concerto! But for me the wonder of this concert was that a great artist was prepared to risk her reputation, master the instrument in no time, and thrill an audience. Splendid. The organisers deserve a degree of the merit. A great evening.

A night out. Part 1 : Zyradow

Exasperated by the noise coming from the prison, of which I wrote yesterday, on Monday I felt I had to escape the city for a night. I decided to go to Nieborow, surely one of the most delightful places within easy reach of Warsaw.

At about 4, after my daily workout at the Hyatt Hotel, a gym I can highly recommend and remarkably good value with special membership offers in the summer months, I set off on the road to Poznan. I expected light traffic. Ho ho. It took me nearly an hour to reach the outskirts of the city. Yes, last week someone mentioned that Warsaw is the most congested city in Europe, but the sheer number of pantechnicons thundering their way through the narrow village lanes that lead westward is daunting. The poor souls that live by these godforesaken roads are to be pitied. It is quite incredible to think that there is no ring road around Warsaw and no motorway to absorb this bulk of traffic.

After so much starting and stopping I was relieved to get to Zyradow. I dont know whether you saw Jan Cienski`s piece in the Financial Times a few weeks ago praising the renovation of the factory areas, but I thought I`d stop and have a look.

I parked outside the city museum, a 19th century Empire style villa in a large, well maintained, leafy park, and went in. The guard told me that  the museum was closed but that if I came back in September it would be open.  Good to know if you are a  summer tourist.

So then I went to see the “loft” developments.

There are two main factory buildings, one from about 1829, the other later and much larger. Typical of their time, they are handsome, large windowed buildings, of some architectural value, and the one-time generators of this town`s considerable past wealth. Obviously, the developers have been inspired by the redevelopment of industrial sites in London, Manchester, Liverpool, to a lesser extent Lodz and elsewhere. However, and I am afraid there is an however, these developments rarely flourish unless they have  been previously populated by artists, students or small businesses who have already created a buzz before they are redeveloped.

Looking at the plans of the “loft” apartments there is something souless and mean about them. Maybe the photos dont do them justice. 

 I thought about going in to view but I  watched a couple of men, potential clients, trying to get the developer`s answer phone to open the door to  the are shshowroom and decided not to bother. The developer didn`t seem eager to do business. Strange. Doubly strange because the development is clearly not aimed at the locals, most of whom seem very down at heel, but the rising, young commuter class from Warsaw.

There are some shops and spaces to rent but there is a remarkable lack of people in the few disappointingly standard high street shops that have been brave enough to lead the way. One advertises “liquidazia” which cant be very encouraging for others. But there is a  handsome post office with large photographs of how it was before the War effectively displayed on its facade.

I cant imagine that many people will be attracted  to live here until something is done about the awful amount of heavy traffic that seperates the factory from the rest of the town`s municipal buildings. This is a pity because this is a model 19th century German industrial town and much of it, if you dont mind red brick, was designed to be enjoyed.

The church, modelled on Cologne Cathedral, was locked, but looking through the doors it is refreshingly uncluttered, light and well maintained. Close by is the splendid Art Nouveau culture centre dating from 1913, which boasted a workers theatre group and choir. There is a fine school for the workers` children, factory offices, now redundant or used by the city, and the workers` tenements. These two story buildings, mostly in need of renovation, are testaments to enlightened 19th century industrial planning. They are near to the church, school, hospitals and the factories, but are built around large open gardens. Ideal living spaces when built and could be desirable again if the people who live in them now would take more care of them.

The most exciting discovery was a linen factory in the middle of a decaying industrial site, producing some really nice plain coloured materials and clothes for men and women. The stuff for women is imaginative and well made. The men`s clothes are dull, though I bought a nice peasant-like shirt. What I find odd is the way they line linen jackets with viscose. Surely, the whole advantage of wearing linen in summer is lost. It should breathe, be light and cool. Even at half price, these jackets are hardly a bargain.

However, with these raw materials someone with a bit of design flair could really do something. Do go and look…they also serve excellent tea and cakes.

No peace for the innocent.

As a consequence of Adam`s Fall, we need prisons and prisons have to be somewhere. I live in Mokotow, next to the prison. When I first moved here, I had no objection to living next to the prison. It was quiet and reasonably well maintained. Yes, occasionally at night, friends or relations of  inmates would break into our garden to shout across the the wall but we put a stop to that by putting in a metal gate. (One night this summer someone removed it with a saw, an act of vandalism our administration reported to the police. As a result, we now have a metal fence where the gate used to be and to get to the garages you have to go through the next block`s entrance. I suppose there is some logic to that.)   But, what attracted me to living here was the wonderful silence and calm so hard to find in an urban environment.   Well, that was until a year ago when the silence was broken by the noise of a generator or cooling system. I thought it would stop but it went on for days. I would wake at night, get up, and roam the streets trying to find the source. I concluded, it must be coming from the prison. I went to an office address where, after repeated visitis, I was offered a meeting with the governor. I went to the prison. Going in I met a lawyer coming out whom I know and who had been visiting a very high profile client in the film industry.    I was led down dark, brown painted and carpeted corridors to the governor`s office. The governor assured me that there were no machines in operation until 7 am every morning. And, anyway, I could hear for myself, the prison was silent.   However, as a gesture of good will, he told one of his officials to go home with me so that he could hear for himself. When we got home it was raining heavily. Nothing could be heard except the rain. The official looked at me as if I were mad and left.   The noise continues. It is almost like having a plane constantly flying overhead. Its worse in the summer because of having the windows open. I must say, it is driving me mad.  

“The Do-Nothing Government” Marshal P, where are you?

The Warsaw Business Journal (free in most hotels unless you want to buy it through the normal channels) has an interesting headline this week, “The DO-Nothing Party.”   Underneath, it has a photo of the PO  leaders: the President, Prime Minister, our beloved Mayor, dear Roza Thun (not a good shot of her, eyes shut) and the rest `em.   The piece concludes that PO, now in complete power (not control…remember the Cross), has absolutely no incentive to reform and, in all likelyhood,  wont, can`t and is too scared to. This is a government in paralysis. This is very bad news for us, and even worse for them.   It means that, in the long term, government and its agencies will become irrelevant. Bright young Poles will simply turn to NGOs and private organisations to lead the country. This is not good for  democracy, for the country, for its institutions, but it seems to be what has to happen.   The alternative? It does not bear thinking about unless Marshal Pilsudski can rise from the grave (which I doubt).

NGOs, gird your loins. Prepare for government.

Wrong bed screws: the latest.

You may remember that I had to complain about the awful beds in the Orbis hotel in Zamosc. Their representative wrote to say the the beds had the wrong screws! They squeeked. Beds often squeek but rarely of their own accord. Since I was trying to sleep and not provoking the screws as as they can be provoked,  at almost 400 pln a night was none too happy.   Orbis has come clean and taken the “unusual step” (their words) of refunding me half the cost of my stay…no doubt in the mistaken assumption that I will spend it in one of their wretched hotels. Ha ha! They must be mad if they think so mean a gesture will make up for the loss of a good night`s sleep and make me think any the better of them. What a cheek to offer the innocent traveller a bed which you know will not allow him or her a moment`s peace.   No news about the maltreatment of the Hotel Bristol, which they own, nor the sacking of the great hotel (whose name I forget, but you know which one I mean) in Sopot.
However, may I urge you all to boycott Orbis/Accor hotels!

Young Chinese and a silly photographer

We had a lovely concert last night. Two Chinese pianists, boys of nine and ten years old. One played a Mendelsohnn concerto, the other the Mozart A major concerto. Obviously, they didnt have the power or range of colour of older pianists, (so they were not able to thump like so many modern pianists) but they were charming, dear little chaps and were note perfect. Incredible memories and nerves though they tended to play  too fast. Nerves I suppose. One spoke English quite well. The other only had a few words.

We had a full house, partly I suspect because the concert was free.

One negative note was the photographer we had to take photos. She came to me afterwards to complain that the audience had stopped her photographing. One person. I ask you, how much brains do you need to move somewhere where you wont disurb people? She would not get far as a paparazzo. I remember Aldo Durazzi in Rome. He worked mainly for Time Magazine in the good old days when those magazines had bureaux and large staffs. He had the enormous advantage of being very short so it was easy for him to get to the front of the crush and get the best shots. His most famous failure was when he went with Life bureau chief Dodie Hamblin to take illicit photos of a nude sunbathing Sophia Loren on her private beach. They hired a boat and Aldo got three cameras full of snaps. When he got back to the studio he found that his assistant had not loaded the cameras. I dont know what happened to the assistant but Life lost a big scoop, even pair of scoops. This could not happen today with digital cameras.