Na zdrowie!

That’s Polish for cheers. It’s pretty much the only Polish word I picked up during our week in Wroclaw participating in the 50th anniversary of the Wratislavia Cantans Festival. The Polish language is a hard nut to crack! The people we encountered, on the other hand, were uniformly warm and open. We met up with the extraordinary Agata Zubel, who collaborated with us on a fiendishly difficult program including her work Cascando, and who just knocked our socks off with her virtuosity and non-diva-ness. With only two days of rehearsal, we pulled off three concerts in Wroclaw, Krotoszyn, and Olawa. Agata took us for pierogies our first day of rehearsal, and some of us topped that evening off with a second helping plus many pitchers of beer. There was, in general, a lot of drinking. Yes, we had sausages; in fact, our hotel breakfast was a veritable smorgasbord of sausages, many wrapped in bacon. But in my mind, the star of the show was the potato. I challenge anyone to find a way of cooking the humble potato that the Polish haven’t already thought of and mastered. My favorite were served on a skewer and, of course, wrapped in bacon. But enough about food. Wroclaw is a charming cathedral-studded European city with a mix of Bohemian, Austrian, and Prussian influences, reflecting the long and complicated history of the city.

It does have some surprising quirks, namely, the whimsical dwarves scattered about the old town center. I had a map of them, fully intending to go dwarf-hunting, but only managed to catch the few that I happened upon during my forays for shopping or food. They are a commemoration of the surrealist dwarf graffiti that was the signature of the underground anti-communist Orange Alternative. I also happened upon a striking and creepy sidewalk sculpture depicting a dark time of martial law. The hall we played in is a grand addition twelve years in the making, just opened three days before we arrived. The acoustic treatment in the gorgeous main hall was truly state-of-the-art, with completely retractable ceiling clouds and wall panels. We didn’t play in that hall but we were treated to a private tour. Our concert took place downstairs in the Red Hall, so named for its red walls, and we had the distinct honor of being not only the first amplified program, but the only new music program on the festival. I think the audience liked it, judging from the rhythmic clapping that seems to be a thing in Europe. We treated them to Brushy Fork as an encore, which they may have liked best of all. The next day took us to Krotoszyn, a quaint old city that we were told was a military base, and as such, was not searchable by GPS until a year and a half ago. We were in a tiny, sweltering venue that had the audience right up in our grill. We ended our tour in Olawa, at a newly-built hall converted from an old movie theater. We all had a great time exploring Wroclaw. I especially want to thank our new friends Karol and Alicja, who took care of us every step of our trip – even sitting through our rehearsals. You guys are the best and we hope to see you again soon!

WebThis engagement is supported by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation through USArtists International in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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