Conversation with Jolanta Tomas


Jolanta Tomas, Principal of the Witold Rowicki State First Level Music School in Żywiec and Local Government Second Level Music School in Żywiec, talks about the history of the “Witold Rowicki in Memoriam” Competition.

How did you come up with an idea to organise a competition devoted to Witold Rowicki?

Why the competition? Above all because Witold Rowicki, known primarily as a conductor, was a violinist.That’s the first reason. And besides, from the very beginning I felt that since we have such a wonderful patron, we have to do something great. In the end it was a great person. And so I had a wish to organise such a competition.I cannot deny that I have contacts amongexcellent and reputed professors. I asked a couple of them whether they would want to take part in such a project. And I heard – of course! The first edition of the competition was held inautumn of 2016. We had a lot of applications. At that time it was a Polish nation- wide competition, this year the event will be international.

How much time did it take from the concept to its implementation?

Several weeks. I always act quickly. I assume that if you can – you have to do act quickly because than you get the best results. The situation is exceptional because our competition is different than all others. Why? Because our participants play not only with the accompanying musician playing piano but also with the orchestra. It was my assumption and we managed to do it like that already during the first edition. It was a small orchestra but every pupil, whether playing Bach or Telemann, was accompanied by the orchestra.

How did you promote the competition in the professional society?

I sent invitations to the competition and detailed rules to many schools. There was a response. Also the professors helped me. Professor Paweł Radziński, who is the chairman of the jury, had his own contacts and helped me find persons who could make the jury together with him. He also helped with organising an ensemble accompanying the participating violinists. Of course first he asked about the costs. You know, he could not bring a large orchestra but he managed to get a smaller one.

Poznań, Bytom... From what other towns were the participants in the first edition of the competition?

Katowice, Gdańsk, Białystok, Lublin, Zamość. There came people from all around Poland.

Did you expect such a response?

Such a big one – no. I was even slightly surprised in a positive way because there was one application from Lithuania. This year – and we have spring now – there are already 4 applications from abroad. So the competition will be international. I have also planned changes in the jury, because there will be also 2 foreigners in the jury. Last year the jury consisted of 4 persons, there was one professor from Kraków, one from Warsaw, one from Bydgoszcz and one from Poznań. This year we will have two professors from abroad: from Spain and Germany.It was important for me that jurors should have similar opinions. The jury must agree in its assessment and be unanimous. Only such approach is good for the participants of the competition.

The idea that the participants play with the orchestra is not changed?

Applications may be sent in practice till the last moment. The only limit that we have set is 40 persons. Professor Paweł Radziński, jury chairman, said that if we went beyond that number, then we simply wouldn’t make it, in logistic terms. And we want to do it professionally. We have good intentions and we simply encourage everyone to participate. Even those who make their decision after holidays, in autumn. Also pupils from our school participate in this competition. I must boast that in the first edition the winner in one category was a girl from our school.

We are talking in May, already now applications are slowly coming in to the next edition of the competition... What reflections do you have? Is any of the categories more popular?

Last time it was fifty fifty. We have two categories. The first one is for the youngest children. The second one is addressed to pupils of secondary schools. The repertoire there is more serious. The rules define strictly all criteria and requirements of the jury. I observe who is coming to us and I must say that they are interesting young people. With personality. And I won’t deny that in this competition – saying colloquially – “you already have to play well” because the requirements are big...

Is this the first serious competition organised by your school?

Oh no... I organise also a competition for chamber ensembles.We have participants coming from all over Poland, a great jury chaired by a trumpet player Igor Cecocho from Wrocław. From other big events there is also the Polish-wide Competition of Fryderyk Chopin’s Music. The jury’s Chairman is Professor Edward Wolanin, a wonderful pianist, great interpreter of the composer’s music, who prepared many pianists for the 17 th International Chopin Competition. Two years ago nine Koreans came to my school before the competition. They trained playing, had workshops held by Professor Wolanin. It was a very big thing for me because not everybody would come to train playing before such a competition to a school in Żywiec. In 2015 I managed to invite Szymon Nehring to a recital. There was also Krzysztof Książek and Dmitry Shishkin, winner of the sixth prize at the above competition. Why do they play in our school? Well, maybe they feel well here? But there is one more thing which is important. The great piano that we have. The Faziolli piano.

And we know that there are not so many of them in Poland...

Exactly!And we know that this also attracts various artists to us ... We develop in every area. Not only in violin studies. We have various plans for the future. But everything depends on finance. You have to be a good manager, be able to get money for that. But I think that with a good will of the sponsors everything will be OK.

Witold Rowicki has been the school patron for a couple of years. Are the pupils interested in that person?

I would say that they are proud to have such a patron. Although at the beginning not everybody knew who Witold Rowicki is, that he lived in Żywiec and went to primary school here.We have special classes about Witold Rowicki on all theoretical courses. Teachers talk about his music works, passions, work with various ensembles. This year we organised even the internal Competition of Knowledge about Rowicki. So that the pupils knew who he was, what he wrote, where he went, with whom he worked, what important he did. We also always remember about his birth and death anniversaries. We put then flowers under the board of Witold Rowicki in the school. It is very important for us.

The Competition of Knowledge about Rowicki seems to be an interesting initiative. It could be extended also to cover pupils from other than music schools. Have you thought about that?

Of course. But everything requires time and devotion. And every day we have also regular teaching work. Definitely it would be an interesting way to reach people from other non-musical circles with knowledge about Rowicki. But there is time for everything. If we are to prepare something, it must be done once but well!

Since the school got such an esteemed patron, has the facility got, so to say, the momentum? Did it give you energy for action?

I have such an internal feeling that the spirit of Witold Rowicki is walking somewhere around the school. I don’t know if I should say that but I will take a risk as I have already mentioned the family of Witold Rowicki. In my room there is a portrait of the Maestro which I have received as a gift. It hangs above my desk. Everyday when I walk into the room, I open the door and say to him – Hi Witek, good morning, so let’s get to work! He is smiling on the portrait and I feel that he gives me a good energy. And there is one more thing, my zodiac sign is Pisces like in his case! And Pisces are usually very hard-working and have optimistic approach to life.

So good energy and good spirit are around the school. Everything goes well...

Yes.That’s – saying with a smile – the fate of this school. It is not an accident. I am very glad that I have such a patron. Anyway, the school in Żywiec is the only school in Poland named after Witold Rowicki. It must be emphasised.

Exactly, there are a lot of schools named after Fryderyk Chopin or Karol Szymanowski...

Yes, and we are the first one and have a great responsibility. Because everybody is watching us and looking what and how we are doing. It is also very important for us that we have remarkable contact with Witold Rowicki’s daughter and granddaughter. They all support us very strongly. I think they are also happy when they see not only what we do but see also the facility, our school, what is going on here, what positive emotions are here. The atmosphere between us is very cordial. We were not a family, but we have become a family. And that’s great.


Interview by Eliza Orzechowska. May 2017