Cello Recital to Support Children’s Orchestra in Fukushima, Japan

Polish-born Cellist Who Experienced Nuclear Threat in Chernobyl in his Childhood Giving a Message through Music

PHOTO: Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship | SouthPasadenan.com

The Azusa Pacific University School of Music presents a special recital in Azusa, featuring award-winning Polish cellist Marek Szpakiewicz, who resides in Pasadena. Szpakiewicz will perform this recital to raise awareness of the current situation in Fukushima after the 2011 “triple-tragedy” of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear fallout. In particular, the recital supports the heartfelt work of the Soma Children’s Orchestra members who are rebuilding their community in Fukushima.

PHOTO: Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship | SouthPasadenan.com | Marek Szapkiewicz

The recital will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 20, 2018 at Munson Recital Hall on the Azusa Pacific University Campus. The address is 901 E. Alosta Ave., Azusa, CA 91702, which is at the corner of N. Citrus Ave. Admission is free. All collected donations will be used to purchase a half-sized cello for the Soma Children’s Orchestra.

This recital features hailed Polish-born, Pasadena-based cellist Marek Szpakiewicz. The world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma described Szpakiewicz as an artist “whose energy, motivation, earnestness and generosity of spirit are evident through his work.” Szpakiewicz also contributed his talent to film orchestration as a collaborator with Polish composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek. He worked on numerous scores with Kaczmarek, including the music to “Finding Neverland,” which received the 77th Academy Award in 2005 for Best Original Score. In 2008, the U.S. government granted Szpakiewicz permanent residency as an “Extraordinary Ability Artist” for his remarkable work as a musician.

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Szpakiewicz also received recognition from Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Michael Antonovich for organizing a musical event in June 2011 to raise relief funds for the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan. He has been supporting the Soma Children’s Orchestra in Fukushima, organized by El Sistema Japan, since its inception in 2012, through various charity concerts. One of the children in the cello section of the orchestra said it would take at least 30 years to rebuild the city, which basically means that most of his formative years into adulthood will be devoted to that recovery effort. That notion prompted Szpakiewicz to support the orchestra for the long haul.

Szpakiewicz’s deep interest in helping the children in Fukushima also stems from his childhood experiences in communist-governed Poland. In those years he and his family lived near Ukraine where the Chernobyl disaster occurred. While his family feared the threat of the radiation fallout, they could not relocate themselves. Only the top-level athletes and musicians were allowed to leave the country. Szpakiewicz worked hard during his teenage years to become one of the musicians granted the privilege to leave. He established himself as one of the most talented music students in Poland in his teens, and thus, finally gained an opportunity to study in the U.S. when he was 21.

Music provided him a refuge from the turbulence rocking the country under the Polish Communist regime and its transition to a post-communist system. Playing the cello grounded and inspired him even in difficult conditions. He sees part of himself in the children of Fukushima who are forced to stay within 20 miles of the nuclear plants that experienced the meltdown. He hopes that by practicing and expressing themselves through music, and creating a community through playing and sharing music together, they can navigate and rise above the turbulence they experienced in the massive earthquake and consequent tsunami that devastated the area in 2011.

During his first visit to the Soma Children’s Orchestra in Fukushima in 2014, Szpakiewicz learned that the scarcity of the smaller cellos had led younger children to start on the violins when they had joined the orchestra, despite of their interest in playing the cello. Just before his most recent appearance in Tokyo during October 2016, Szpakiewicz organized a concert at APU in memory of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami victims. The combined contributions received at the APU recital and a portion of proceeds from his Tokyo recital were donated to the Soma Children’s Orchestra in the form of a three-quarter sized cello. His gift aimed to encourage younger children to join the cello section of the orchestra. Szpakiewicz is particularly grateful to people who attended his APU recital, as well as those who sent contributions to him through various sources in Southern California.

Seventeen members of the orchestra were invited to appear on the stage with Szpakiewicz as a surprise encore during his recent concert in Tokyo in 2016. Kanon Sato, one of the children playing the J.S. Bach’s “Air on G string” on her violin with Szpakiewicz as a soloist, is now 18 years old. Last April, she started her freshman year in a music school in Miyazaki, north of Fukushima. When Sato joined the Soma Children’s Orchestra, she was an 8th grader, never imagining herself becoming a violinist. Her experiences of playing with world-class musicians who have visited the orchestra, including Szpakiewicz, led her to study the violin professionally. In a recent article published in a Japanese newspaper, she is quoted as saying that she would like to become a music teacher and come back to Fukushima, which lacks a music school, where she could share her life-changing experience of playing music.

On October 25, 2018, Szpakiewicz will return to Tokyo and perform the same program offered at the October 20th recital at APU. He is scheduled to visit the Soma Children’s Orchestra during his stay in Japan, and donating a half-sized cello to the orchestra. He will also bring a special cello, called “Tsunami Cello,” which was made of debris from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, premiered by cellist Yo-Yo Ma in Japan, to perform on for the children in Fukushima.

The October 20 recital features works by Bach, Schubert, Bernstein, Franck and Chopin. Szpakiewicz made arrangements of some of the featured pieces for the cello. Chinese-born pianist Jiayi Shi, residing in Pasadena, will accompany Szpakiewicz for this performance.