Chopin' Around

A modern take on Chopin’s Preludes Op. 28. The musical layer comprises the voice, computers and electronically enhanced traditional instruments – cello, piano and percussion. It is marked by freedom of improvisation as well as interaction between sound and image created live. The authors of the project juxtapose traditional piano interpretations of the cycle with a novel, personal view, creatively using state-of-the-art multimedia technology. The idea of tackling the work is not only about an attempt to give a new sound to it. It is also an attempt to provide a new aesthetic reflection on an established masterpiece. The Chopin’ Around project has many guises; it is evolving and changing its character.


  • Agata Zubel – soprano
  • Uri Caine – piano
  • Andrzej Bauer – cello
  • Cezary Duchnowski – electronics
  • Jacek Kochan – percussion
  • Maciej Walczak – computer visualisation

From the programme book of the „Chopin and his Europe” festival

Interpretations, transcriptions, jazz arrangements, reinterpretations, deconstructions. “Historically informed performance” practices using period instruments, most faithful to the original, and “iconoclastic” gestures transgressing the hallowed boundaries of genres, kinds and styles – the two are by no means mutually exclusive. Chopin’s music, with its dialectics of a finished masterpiece and, at the same time, of a text open to subtle changes, a text with Romantic implicitness, has proved perfect inspiration for the imagination of successive generations of various types of artists. “Chopin is inspiring, because he is an integrating composer,” says Roman Berger. “A hypothetical contemporary Chopin would not be a VIP – he would be a persona non grata. Seen as a dissident, he would be regarded as salonunfähig in today’s salons.” Perhaps this is exactly what encourages musicians to use his masterpieces. From Jane Birkin humming the E minor Prelude, through the legendary band Novi Singers and their vocal transcriptionsNovi sing Chopin, Mieczysław Kosz, Włodzimierz Nahorny, and in the 1990s Andrzej Jagodziński, Leszek Możdżer, Adam Makowicz, and finally to Kuba Stankiewicz and Leszek Kołakowski – jazz arrangements of Chopin have had a long tradition in Poland.

In addition, Chopin’s music occupies a special place in the artistic worldview of contemporary Polish composers. The highest possible place. Right next to Bach. In the mid-1970s it was present in Zygmunt Krauze’s piano recitals, entitled perversely The Last Recital, in which, in a postmodernist gesture, he would place quotes from Chopin, “ironically redefining them”, alongside contemporary pieces. It was Chopin (alongside Bach) to whom Paweł Mykietyn referred in the first of his profoundly metaphysical works –Epiphora for piano and tape. Next to Szymanowski, Chopin was the most important composer for Henryk Mikołaj Górecki; he is also important (a rebours) for Tadeusz Wielecki, who says: “We feel through Chopin, we feel with Chopin. And we should free ourselves from it. Because with Chopin we’re as snug as a bug in a rug. We know it, we’re warm.” That Chopin is so intriguing today, that he touches some important strings in us, that he charms us romantically or simply delights us again and again with his genius is an opportunity not only for new artistic statements, but also for dialogue and collective action. For he is part of a universally recognised cultural code.

This is pointed out by the man behind of the Chopin’ Around project, Andrzej Bauer, who has attracted to it a group of improvising musicians and composers, tackling the cycle of Preludes Op. 28. “Fryderyk Chopin’s music constitutes unique material for reinterpretation and deconstruction through its special presence in our consciousness. A new look at it may thus draw on well-known emotions and symbols, and enter into a unique dialogue with them.

The idea of tackling the cycle of Preludes Op. 28 is an attempt to give it a new sound, and above all an attempt at a new aesthetic reflection on an established masterpiece, which still fascinates with its artistic courage, vision, poetry and wealth of ideas. The musical layer will be made up of a voice – Agata Zubel’s soprano – as well as sounds from electronic sources combined with sounds of acoustic instruments – cello, piano and percussion – transformed in real time. There will be elements of improvisation and interaction with computers as well as interactivity of sound and image. The visual sphere will be transforming all known portraits of Chopin, merging with the music into one multimedia whole.”

The structure comprises selected preludes from the cycle: no. 1 in C major, no. 2 in A minor, no. 3 in G major, no. 4 in E minor, no. 7 in A major, no. 15 in D flat major, no. 8 in F sharp minor, no. 18 in F minor, no. 6 in B minor, no. 11 in B major and no. 20 in C minor. It will be filled with original musical comments by artists with some experience in this type of projects, artists who collaborate with each other, harmoniously combining disciplined performance with freedom of creation, improvisation and arrangement. Andrzej Bauer, a cellist, eminent performer of modern music, improviser for years exploring and expanding the capabilities of his instrument thanks to electronic media, has invited several artists to join him on the project: two composers and, at the same time, extremely creative performer-improvisers – Cezary Duchnowski and Agata Zubel of the Elettrovoce duo – as well as Jacek Kochan, a percussionist, improviser and arranger with broad stylistic interests.

The computer visualisations are by Maciej Walczak, a new media artist, who creates and improvises using sound, image and computer algorithms developed especially for the project. Finally, a special guest – Uri Caine, a pianist and multi-instrumentalist, equally at home at the harpsichord, Hammond organ, toy upright piano and concert piano. A devilishly talented arranger, improviser, leader of ensembles whose members he selects from among the most outstanding jazz musicians as well as early and contemporary music artists. With the first of his renowned interpretations of classics, the 1997 Mahler recording Urlicht, Caine created an absolutely new quality – acutely contemporary, open to contexts, absorbing today’s multiple stylistic excesses and using very emotional contributions of musicians from outside the symphony orchestra. He created Mahler anew. He played music that made people want to sing, dance or cry. And not only to admire the genius of its author. Since then Uri Caine has come up with new exceptional reinterpretations of works by Schumann, Wagner, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart… Though not yet Chopin.

Joanna Grotkowska

Other projects

My concert projects. Old and new. The projects I develop and perform cover a wide stylistic spectrum. Some relate to performances of the classical repertoire, some are modern creations combining performance and composition, using digital technology and multimedia.