Wine, Wine Blog

Pianist Paderewski in Paso Robles

Paderewski arrives in Paso

Every once in awhile, you stumble upon a story that takes you so deep into itself that only a very determined struggle extricates you from its tentacles.

In planning a trip in the waning days of summer – tropical temperatures belying impending fall – I came across references to the healing waters of Paso Robles. Under the miles of hills landscaped with crops lies a subterranean sulphur stream. For decades people have lain in the mud baths or soaked themselves in hot water to vanquish the hobbling pain.

It was neuritis in his left arm that brought pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski, on a concert tour in Seattle, to this little rural town in 1914. So intense was the pain that Paderewski canceled his concert. Traveling always by private train that carried his baby grand piano, he came to San Francisco, where a physician suggested that he go to Paso Robles. He did. It was the start of his love affair with the town and its people. Year after year he came back to Paso with his wife. I couldn’t escape the tentacles.

A little background.

Born in 1860 in Poland, then occupied by Russia, Paderewski started at the Warsaw Conservatory of Music at the age of 12. From then on, his career moved inexorably forward. He studied composition in the early 1880s and became a disciple of Theodore Leschetizky in Vienna, where he made his debut. From there it was on to Paris, London, Switzerland, the U.S. With that kind of training, a brilliant career in performance was a foregone conclusion.

I’ll make a little digression here for wine enthusiasts who also love Western classical music. Leschetizky learned music from Carl Czerny, Beethoven’s student. In a sense, then, Paderewski was Beethoven’s grand student.

It gets cooler. While researching Paderewski’s loss of arm movement, I looked into Leon Fleisher, one of the great American pianists who had lost the use of his right hand for several decades. Fleisher has been a faculty member at the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore since 1959. As I poked around, I discovered that Fleisher’s teacher was Artur Schnabel, Leschetizky’s student. Paso, then, could boast of hosting the man who stood at the center of connections that went up and down the centuries.

Listen to Paderewski. I chose Polonesa by Frédéric Chopin because both composer and performing artist were Polish.

The statesman.

But it was not just the music that made Paderewski so wow-inducing. Always fighting for the rights of the Polish, he was named premier and foreign minister of the country in January 1919. In June of that year, he signed the Treaty of Versailles on behalf of Poland, which gave his country complete independence and access to the Baltic Sea through Germany. At the end of the year, he resigned as premier.

In the present time.

Paderewski, or at least his music, lives on in Paso. In 1993, a group of Paso Roblans organized a music festival in his honor. The town responded with great enthusiasm. Ten years later an earthquake disrupted the town (even one of the hot springs disappeared) and the organizers suspended the festival.

In 2006, Marek Zebrowski, the director of the Polish Music Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, asked Steve Cass  of the winery that bears his name if he would be interested in hosting a Paderewski festival. Jonathan Plowright, the British pianist, headlined the event held at the Cass Winery with a performance of a Paderweski composition. A resounding success, Paderewski fans organized another one in 2007.

“We called it a Reprise in 2007,” said Cass, when I interviewed him at his winery. “In 2008, we called it a festival again, made it a nonprofit, and started a music competition.” And so it continues.

Among the other honors that Paderewski amassed in his life was an honorary doctorate in 1923 from the University of Southern California.

Read more about the festival at

Why this story?

You mean beyond the self indulgence? Well, there is a reason I’ve chosen to put this story on my blogazine. You will see the connection to wine in the next installment. Stay tuned.


Source: Chronology from Paderewski at Paso Robles, Brian McGinty, courtesy of the Paso Robles Historical Society.

The above picture of the statue of Paderewski stands outside the Carnegie Library, which houses the historical society. It is a replica of the sculpture created by Jessie Corsaut.




You Might Also Like