Communing with a Genius

15 January 2021

The young violinist Stanisław Słowiński describes his encounter with the poet of the piano.

Karnet: In recent months you have been devoting a lot of attention to Fryderyk Chopin: you were hoping to present him to audiences in Asia, and he is the protagonist of your next “Polish” project. Why choose this composer?

Stanisław Słowiński: The idea of the concert was raised after many years of working with the Jazzpopolsku project and the Plateaux Foundation. As part of the collaboration, my ensemble has been touring Asia regularly for several years. It’s a fantastic, inspirational experience allowing us to immerse ourselves fully in a completely different culture. Every year our repertoire has been expanding to the point that China is now the second country after Poland where we have performed the highest number of concerts.

Photo by Robert Słuszniak for KBF

When we were planning our next tour, we wanted to prepare something very special, so we created the Chopin’s Visions programme which intertwines my compositions with Chopin’s music in my own arrangements, presented by a jazz septet and a chamber orchestra. We were planning a huge tour on grand stages for 2020, but for obvious reasons we had to change our plans and postpone.

Working on this material has been incredibly joyful. There can be no doubt that Chopin was a genius. And I’m not just talking about the complexity of his compositions or his own incredible skill as a pianist, reflected in his works. His music is stunningly sensitive to phrasing, colours and textures of harmonies and, more than anything, it conveys emotions strongly and directly, making it beloved by audiences all over the globe. It is a true music of the soul.

What’s it like to transpose Chopin’s compositions for the violin? Did you feel pressure because of the echelon of the material you were working with?

I can’t say I felt pressure – more excitement to be creatively involved with art of the highest order. Such projects are always a great opportunity to find new inspiration and feel buoyed by communing with a genius.

I am not a fan of putting great works on a pedestal and viewing them as though in a museum. Quite the opposite – I think some of the greatest compositions of all time are incredibly open to creative interaction. This works on the level of interpretation, as happens with classical performances, and can be taken further towards reinterpretation and creating unique arrangements, which is what we did.

As I was selecting the programme and preparing the arrangements I tried to truly understand each piece – to find its very essence. The next step was to develop Chopin’s original concept and filtering the ideas through my own sensitivities while not losing this essence. It has been a demanding but wonderful challenge.

The Chopin’s Visions project was mainly developed with China and South Korea in mind. Those countries are welcoming to Polish musicians, aren’t they? What are your memories of concerts you have performed there, for example the tour promoting your album Visions?

As I said, Asia is a regular destination for us thanks to our collaboration with Jazzpopolsku and the Plateaux Foundation. And yes, they are very welcoming and the audiences just love hearing jazz in fresh arrangements. We frequently perform in China, which is just fantastic. The sheer scale completely changes your point of view. The cities are huge and incredibly diverse. For example, the megacity of Chongqing is almost as large as Austria, and it is home to three time as many residents with around 30 million inhabitants. This gives you an idea of the vastness of the country. It brings completely different possibilities.

Jazz is very fashionable in China, and I think its popularity is still increasing, which is great for us. Audiences are hungry for new sounds and open to experiments; their perception is rooted in their personal experiences and emotions, and it isn’t tainted with needless formalism – this is immediately obvious from the stage.

Additionally, Polish jazz has become a unique brand in China. Polish artists have performed hundreds of concerts at the country’s most important concert halls and festivals as part of the Jazzpopolsku project. I’m delighted to be a part of this history.

In January, users of the PLAY KRAKÓW platform will be able to watch a concert derived from the project and dedicated to Poland’s greatest composer.

The programme of Chopin Impressions, prepared especially for PLAY KRAKÓW, comprises ten compositions in my own arrangements. Some are premiere performances, so users of the platform will be the first to hear our vision of this music.

The material is very diverse, but it follows a single narrative and there are no divisions into strictly “classical” and “jazz” sections. Our arrangements explore the themes and motifs of the original compositions, leaving us with a wide field for improvisation inspired by some of Chopin’s greatest works.

The material will be very different, because we did not use typical live recording – instead, we prepared Chopin Impressions working conceptually in terms of the music, video narration and technical aspects.

Interviewed by Bartosz Suchecki, “Karnet”



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