In celebration of Frédéric Chopin’s birthday, the Kerrytown Concert House invited Kazimierz Brzozowski, internationally acclaimed pianist and University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance alum, to perform a selection of pieces from the Polish master’s body of work. Ever since live performances were substituted for vacant concert halls and intermittent internet connections, the KCH has made great (and successful) efforts to keep live music afloat with the “Live @ The 415 Steinway Sessions,” a series of virtual concerts: “world-class artists, up close and personal.”

Chopin’s actual date of birth is still an ongoing matter of debate: His birth certificate states he was born on Feb. 22, 1810, but others, including his family, say it was actually March 1. Regardless, Brzozowski gifted Ann Arbor with a recital in honor of Chopin on Sunday, Feb. 21; after all, any day is a good day to sit back and indulge in the sound of Chopin’s heavenly work. 

Brzozowski, who has performed as a soloist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and has won multiple national and international accolades for his virtuous renditions of the Romantic composer, came back to Ann Arbor to perform four pieces, ranging from Chopin’s lively Mazurkas to his melancholic Nocturnes.

Anyone and everyone was invited to stream the recital, which featured a privileged overhead angle of Brzozowski sitting in the warmth of the Kerrytown Concert House. The pianist began with the sweet sounds of “Mazurkas, Op. 24,” which starts in G Minor with a rather lento tempo, and quickly turns into C Major in Allegro non troppo, a fast-enough pace to envision oneself dancing the traditional Polish dance in triple meter. 

Next, Brzozowski performed “Ballade no. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23,” a nine-minute-long challenging and bold composition, accomplished by a 6/4 time signature and Chopin’s chromaticism. The piece was featured in Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist,” a memoir of Jewish-Polish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman and his survival in Warsaw from 1939 to 1945. Anyone who has watched “The Pianist” remembers when Szpilman is forced to play for the German officer, a pianist’s worst nightmare: “cold hands, no practice and the assumption that the audience may shoot him after the performance,” as Brzozowski explained before he began to play.

From the very first note, I closed my eyes and was transported to that very scene — I got goosebumps all over. When I opened my eyes again, the pianist was fully immersed in the performance, from the tips of his fingers, which gracefully moved along the keyboard, to the bottom of his spine, which made small jumps as the music became more abrupt and emotional. When the piece ended, I had to pause for a second to recollect my thoughts and compose myself, before allowing myself to delve into the next piece. 

It is safe to say that if someone has heard of Chopin before, it is probably because of his “Nocturnes,” those dreamy, pensive, melodic and romantic pieces that evoke the quietness of the night and the beauty of dawn. Brzozowski opted for one of Chopin’s late “Nocturne” works from “Op. 55, No. 1 in F Minor,” composed in 1844. The obsessive repetition of the melancholic tune throughout the song makes the listener fall into a cycle of endless imagination. My mind wandered to all the places and times I normally listen to Chopin: on airplanes, while studying, painting or taking long baths, in the darkness of my room when I get migraines or in the peace of a long stroll in nature. Chopin is one of those musicians whose sound is capable of molding to any and every situation. 

The recital ended with “Polonaise-fantaisie in A-flat major, Op. 61,” a composition Chopin finished three years before his death. I found this piece a bit too long for my taste, so much so that I zoned out for twelve minutes and lost the connection that had drawn me in in the beginning. Nonetheless, it was still beautiful. 

A bowl of grapes, hot rooibos tea and the rich sound of Chopin was the perfect way to spend my Sunday afternoon. I am glad I attended this recital; all I have been listening to since is a playlist I made long ago of a selection of my Chopin favorites. Titled “Chopin bops. op 100 n.1 #bro” — a ridiculous name, to say the least — it is a slight mockery at the hieroglyphic-like names that classical works tend to have and my inability to comprehend (and remember) what every part stands for.  

Brzozowski proved to be another marvel of Polish culture and a dignified successor of Chopin’s legacy. His performance, along with other past performances, can now be watched on the Kerrytown Concert House website.

Daily Arts writer Cecilia Duran can be reached at ccduran@umich.edu. 

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