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LARSON: Chopin Society strikes chord with community

Susan Larson

Susan Larson

It all began in 1999, the 150th anniversary of Frederic Chopin's death. Dorota Lato, a pianist and music educator from Johns Creek, wanted to do something special to celebrate the life of this man and his music.

With her husband, concert pianist Piotr Folkert, Lato put his words and music together with WABE Radio's John Lemley reading letters Chopin had written about his life, while Folkert played his music in the background.

"Chopin was a very witty person," Lato said. ""He is so human. Even if you do not know much about classical music, you can still love Chopin."

From this special event, Lato discovered lots of people love Chopin. So in 2000 the Chopin Society of Atlanta was born. Music lovers from all over metro Atlanta got involved. Barbara Leszcznski of Roswell started promoting the society from the very beginning. She was later joined by Marty and Linda Merkler of Snellville. Today, through their efforts they have several corporate sponsors and an e-mail list of more than 1,500 Chopin fans all over the world.

Snellville resident Brett Harrell, who attended his first CSA concert only last year, said, "What struck me was the large group of music lovers from such a wide geographic area."

But Lato doesn't work to simply entertain people who already love Chopin. She likes to encourage and educate new listeners, especially children.

"Dorota and Piotr teach music and children are the best responders," Dr. Elizabeth Gurtler-Krawczynska, a charter CSA member from Norcross, said.

Lato's educational outreach includes an essay contest for children. Those attending the concerts are invited to submit an essay about their reaction to Chopin's music. Winners receive gift certificates to Barnes and Noble.

"I judged a contest last year and I was amazed at what these kids could pick up from this music," Linda Merkler said. "I'd like it to be known out there that any child up to the age of 18 is welcome to participate."

This year gives CSA something to celebrate in double time. Not only is it their 10th anniversary, but it is also Chopin's 200th birthday. And to commemorate this two-time special year, Lato and Folkert have gone a step further to coordinate a program called 3XChopin, an unprecedented performance of the master's works. The concert features three generations of Chopin's music interpreters, three unique personalities, and three diverse versions of the works of this genius. Ewa Poblocka will play Chopin in classical style. The Andrzej Jagodzinski Trio will perform a jazz interpretation and Leszek Mozdzer will conclude with a style described as "genre-defying."

This one-time, double anniversary, triple treat will be performed at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center on March 21 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25, $20 for members/seniors and $5 for students. For more information call 770-641-1260 or visit www.chopinatlanta.com

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.