Why We Celebrate Paderewski

By Joel Peterson, Paderewski Festival board member

When I received a phone call out of the blue nearly a decade ago from Steve Cass, I was immediately intrigued. He was talking excitedly about restarting the Paderewski Festival and wanted to see if I was interested. He had me at hello. 

Why Paderewski? Certainly not an everyday household name, the Paderewski name was familiar to our family. My grandmother, Virginia Peterson, recognized this 30 years ago and saw the need to celebrate him. In the early 1990s she worked with the city’s Recreation Director Barbara Partridge and a dedicated group of volunteers to plan and execute an annual Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles.

I attended many of those festivals in the 90s – driving up from my Los Angeles home and walking into a sea of Polish-Americans, history buffs and locals. They celebrated Paderewski with passion and reverence – with concerts, zinfandel tastings, Polish dancing and tours of his property. Paderewski, for so many Poles, represented their dreams, freedom and independence. For a country that has been war torn and ravaged, their pride is deep and strong. Paderewski represents their unflinching patriotism and a tangible link to their homeland. That he had fallen in love with Paso Robles was a testament to the magic touch in this sleepy Central Coast town.

More Than a Musician. Paderewski was so much more than a gifted musician and pianist – though he was one of the best to walk the earth. Not long after he purchased property in Paso in 1914 - Rancho San Ignacio and Rancho Santa Helena - he essentially stopped touring for music and became the leader of his homeland, which was once again being invaded. Because of the war, he was forced into politics; he fought for justice with his relationships, intellect and influence.

World Influence. From 1915 to 1918, Paderewski would give over 300 speeches and lecture-recitals, soliciting support for Polish casualties of World War I and rallies worldwide on behalf of Polish independence. He helped raise millions of dollars in aid for Poland, working with US President Wilson and Herbert Hoover. In 1918, as the representative of Poland, he signed the Versailles Treaty, which restored Polish sovereignty after more than 120 years. The following year, he became the first Prime Minister of independent Poland, as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He visited Paso Robles for over 25 years from 1914 to 1939.

The Festival Today. I’m happy to say that today - in 2015, we are still celebrating Paderewski with a stellar line-up of concerts, youth recitals, film screenings, displays and master classes. From November 5 to 8 in Paso Robles, we take an autumn weekend to honor the legacy of this remarkable individual. I encourage you to attend one or all of the events – they are memorable and fun. They are for everybody – locals, families, music lovers and fans of history. For me they are inspiring and help me recall an earlier time in Paso. I remember that phone conversation with Steve Cass like it was yesterday, and I’m so glad he called me.

Please visit the new website: www.paderewskifest.com for more information and tickets. Listen to Paderewski’s music online: www.paderewskifest.com/ignacy-paderewski.

Joel Peterson has had two careers; one in film & television production and one in wine. After leaving Los Angeles for Paso Robles in 2003, he worked for Hope Family Wines for nearly nine years.  In 2013, Joel became the director of communications for Solterra Strategies, a marketing and public relations firm in Paso Robles. He currently serves on the Paso Robles Joint Unified School Board and on the Paderewski Festival Board, where he served as president from 2007 to 2011.