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Dr. Magdalena Adamek brings Polish heritage to VCU

Dr. Adamek, left, with Kosciuszko Foundation House director Barbara Bernhardt

When many people think of Polish music, their minds might not go much further than Frédéric Chopin. Dr. Magdalena Adamek, Assistant Professor of Collaborative Piano, hopes to expand people’s ideas about Polish music by sharing her extensive knowledge – with special attention to her favorite composer, Feliks Nowowiejski (1877-1946).

As a native of Poland, Adamek has an incredible passion for the music of her country and has devoted herself to sharing Polish music with the rest of the world. Nowowiejski has been a great inspiration to Adamek, and she has spent much of her life extensively researching his works.

“I want to stay as diverse as possible. I want to show and let people know that I do have my own interests and area of expertise that I more than desire to share, especially when it’s my passion for music from my own country… I take personal pride in introducing his solo piano works to the western audience,” Adamek said.

Feliks Nowowiejski (1877-1946)

Adamek’s journey with Feliks Nowowiejski started in Poland in 2001, while she was working with the independent Polish label, Acte Prèalable. The owner of the label introduced Adamek to Nowowiejski’s youngest son and daughter in-law, Jan and Janina Nowowiejski, who worked very hard to preserve the composer’s legacy and compositions.

Adamek was then given an incredible amount of the composer’s unpublished, handwritten manuscripts.
While Nowowiejski’s organ concerti, organ symphonies, choir works, oratorios, and opera, The Legend of The Baltic Sea, have enjoyed certain amount of popularity, his solo piano works have not been popularized. Only six out of the available 28 piano pieces have been published. Adamek hopes to establish his international profile as a composer of worthwhile piano music.

“My dream and my actual desire is that at least some of his piano works, especially the last ones, get published finally. It makes me a little bit sad that not enough performances, even from my own country, include his piano works. I see his songs being recorded, or orchestras performing his overtures, but not much has been done about his piano works,” she said.

As Adamek began to learn and interpret the handwritten manuscripts of Nowowiejski’s piano works, she found herself fascinated by his music and his ability to show national identity through art. She describes his late piano works as beautifully colorful, complex texturally and harmonically, and containing dramatic dynamic contrasts.

Adamek’s passion for Nowowiejski’s compositions and legacy eventually led her to perform and give lectures on his work all across the globe, as well as recording two CDs of his piano works, “Feliks Nowowiejski – Piano Works Vol. 1 and 2,” and making him the subject of her doctoral essay, “Piano works by Feliks Nowowiejski.” She also wrote her own book, “The Unknown Face of Feliks Nowowiejski: The Piano Works,” which was published by VDM In Germany in 2008.

Shortly after joining VCU’s faculty in 2015, Adamek was contacted by Professor Krzysztof Szatrawski from the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, to contribute to his collaborative book, “Reception: New Research On the Music by Feliks Nowowiejski.” Her portion of the book is entitled “Feliks’s Nowowiejski’s masterful stylization of the Polish folk dance: Polish Dance No. 2 in D minor.” Adamek is still collaborating with Szatrawski and is currently writing an article for one of his interdisciplinary journals.

Adamek recently gave a piano recital on Polish composers at the Kosciuszko Foundation House in Washington, D.C. and has been invited to perform in Poland this summer at The Feliks Nowowiejski Music Salon in Poznan and The Feliks Nowowiejski Museum in Barczewo, the birthplace of the great composer.

Adamek hopes to enrich the culture at VCU by sharing her unique heritage and passion for Polish music.

“Hopefully while I am here I will help the community to see that it’s really worthwhile to reach out and enrich the place you live by bringing in other elements from a different country,” Adamek said. “When I look at Richmond, it’s so diverse…There are so many people from different countries that merge. I think at VCU we want to build that sense of community and diversity,” she said.