Review: Sto Lat - Polish Centenary Concert at Royal Albert Hall

  • Bozena Karol, Jo Siedlecka

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A sensational concert took place at the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday night, celebrating the centenary of the return of Poland to the map of Europe.

An audience of more than 5,000 attended the long-awaited 'Sto Lat' which featured an outstanding once in a lifetime line-up of famous Polish artists flown in for the night, as well performances from well-established British-Polish singers and musicians.

Presented by Kasia Madera and Grazyna Torbicka, dressed in the finest creations of the queens of the haute couture ballgown, the Kruszynska sisters, the first half included music by Chopin, Paderewski and Górecki.

The Silesian Polytechnic Choir, Ave Verum Choir, Schola Cantorum choir and the St John Paul II choir sang a medley of Polish wartime songs - including the iconic 'Red Poppies on Monte Cassino.' This especially pleased members of the audience who were descendants of the brave Polish fighters, whose actions so decisively contributed to the Allied victory. We also got to hear the rising star of opera Ania Jeruc, a lady with a big voice and a big future, who was recently seen in a Moniuszko Opera in POSK.

The orchestra in the first half was conducted by the enthusiastic and expressive Stephen Ellery, who conducts the Moniuszko operas in POSK every autumn. His arms moving decisively and energetically and were reminiscent of someone in the heat of a battle! He would occasionally turn his back on the orchestra to conduct the audience when they joined in the singing.

There was renowned Jazz pianist Leszek Możdżer (with his long fair and bare feet), who played a piece inspired by Chopin and was then joined by the sublime guitarist Adam Palma. Marek Ruszczynksi played Paderewski, the first president of the new Poland, who used his exceptional musical talents to further the cause of Polish Independence.

Aleksandra Kurzak sang powerfully and poignantly with conductor Stephen Ellery's Gala Orchestra in a poignant and moving performance of the international classical music hit of recent times, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs by Henryk Gorecki.

Richard Addinsell's sublime 'Warsaw Concerto' was played by John Paul Ekins, a young musician at the height of his powers.

A high point of the proceedings was the appearance of Edyta Górniak, in a spectacular gown adorned with red and white colours of the Polish flag and Eagle who gave a stunning four octave performance of Powrócisz Tu (You will return) and the Czeslaw Niemen classic Dziwny jest ten Swiat (It is a Strange World). The conductor Stephen Ellery suddenly grabbed a saxophone and joined in !

There was a roar of appreciation as choirs from the Polish Saturday Schools and the Scouting Movement arrived on stage. A highlight was their performance of 'Barka' - Pope John Paul II's favourite hymn, (sung in English as 'Lord You have come to the seashore'). They also sang a beautiful version of the Pentatonix hit 'Mary, Did you Know' in Polish.

The British based folk dance ensemble Mazury, who will be celebrating their 70th anniversary next year, presented some colourful dances including the lively Krakowiak.

The actor Wojtek Piekarski, stalwart of the Polish stage in London, read two poems, one by the Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska, 'Gaweda o Milosci do Ziemi Ojczystej' (A Talk about Love for your Homeland) and the other by Leopold Staff, 'Polsko, NIe Jestes Ty Juz Niewolnica' (Poland, You are no longer a Slave). The former poem, on the subject of the love for one's homeland says that if you don't love your homeland you can live but you can't blossom....

The second half of the concert went on to showcase many Polish contemporary jazz, rock and pop performers and bands - singers Anna Maria Jopek, Anna Wyszkoni, Kuba Badach, Marek Ruszczynski, Stanislaw Sojka, Tadeusz Woźniak and the rock band Lombard. Finally there was Sebastian Karpieł-Bułecki, violin in hand, with rock music with a Highlander flavour.

As the night of a thousand stars on stage drew to a close, the mobile phone lights looked like a galaxy of stars against the night sky as the audience swayed to the music. After the final bars and goodbyes we all drifted out into the real starry night hopeful the stars will be sparkling even more on the next big anniversary!

The evening was organised by The Relief Society for Poles Trust, the successor to the Polish Red Cross, chaired by Janusz Sikora-Sikorski KC*SG. All artists gave their time free of charge and the proceeds will go to Polish charitable causes.

Tags: Polish, Poland, Mazury, Edyta Górniak, Ania Jeruc, Aleksandra Kurzak, Anna Wyszkoni, Kuba Badach, Sebastian Karpieł-Bułecka, Lombard, Leszek Możdżer, Marek Ruszczynski, Stanislaw Sojka, Tadeusz Woźniak

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