Arts / Frédéric gets a birthday bash

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“HAPPY Birthday, dear Frédéric” are the words likely to be echoing around the Polish embassy on February 21 when the Friends of Chopin Australia celebrate with a concert by Australian pianist Penelope Thwaites.

Pianist Penelope Thwaites… playing the birthday concert.

Thwaites is a familiar figure in Canberra and is partly claimed by us, as she is the daughter of the famous Australian poet, intelligence analyst and public figure in Canberra, the late Michael Thwaites and has family here.

Several years ago her musical about John Wesley, “Ride! Ride!” was staged in Wesley Uniting Church. It’s been performed by amateur and professional companies and groups in the UK and Germany more than 40 times and is surely due for a revival.

As a concert pianist, Thwaites has appeared with orchestras including the London Philharmonic, Philharmonia, BBC Concert Orchestra and leading orchestras in Australia, Europe and America. In 1994, she toured Poland with Musica Viva and performed Australian music, Chopin’s “Fantaisie-Impromptu” and a selection of his mazurkas, at the Royal Castle in Warsaw.

But her career has mostly been in England, where she has championed the cause of Australian composers including Percy Grainger, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Margaret Sutherland and Malcolm Williamson. She founded the Performing Australian Music Competition held twice in London, attracting young musicians from 20 countries to perform music by 80 Australian composers.

For the birthday concert she will play mazurkas and waltzes by Chopin, Bartok’s “Roumanian Dances” and a selection from Bach’s Partita No 1 in B flat minor, also sharing personal experiences with the music of Chopin with the audience.

A Grainger expert, she edited “The New Percy Grainger Companion” and was artistic director for two Grainger Festivals in London, so it is no surprise to learn that she’ll also play folk pieces by Percy Grainger who, as early as 1918, had recorded Chopin’s “Polonaise”, sonata, and some etudes. Ben James, president of The Friends, says this is the first time an Australian composer has featured on one of their recital programs.

The Friends are, as usual, leaving no stone unturned in their quest to honour Chopin. After sell-out recitals by ?ukasz Krupi?ski in the gardens of Brian and Dianne Anderson in Red Hill a month ago, they are planning another Chopin concert at the embassy in March featuring 2014 winner of the Australian International Chopin Competition, Kotaro Nagano.

James says the birthday concert is dedicated to the life and work of Polish musicologist, Prof Mieczys?aw Tomaszewski, who died in January this year.

“Happy Birthday Chopin – Gifts of Folk Music”, Polish embassy, 7 Turrana Street, Yarralumla, 7pm, Thursday, February 21. Book at friendsofchopin.org.au or 0466 620825.

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