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Piotr Turkiewicz: Putting Wroclaw On The Jazz Map

Ian Patterson By

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Jazztopad's success under Turkiewicz's directorship, however, was not immediate. To start with, the festival that Turkiewicz inherited was spread out over the weekends of one month, which brought particular problems. "The press was not able to focus on the festival because there's so much stuff happening in the city," recalls Turkiewicz. "So they would usually cover the first weekend and the last weekend and in the middle there was nothing—as if the festival had gone."

Attendance at some of the first concerts was also less than encouraging. "We had no budget for advertising. I was handing out leaflets in the street," says Turkiewicz. While Turkiewicz admits to missing the more relaxed format of the old Jazztopad, which would allow him the luxury of spending six days hanging out and chatting with Sonny Rollins and other artists, the move to condense the festival into eleven straight days has paid handsome dividends, both in terms of press and public interest.

In 2014 there were fifty media folk at the festival press conference launch in a nearby hotel, nearly all from Polish national papers and magazines. During the festival itself, however, international media from near and far has sung the praises of Jazztopad. Downbeat's Josef Woodard, author of Charles Lloyd: A Wild, Blatant Truth (2015) eulogized Jazztopad as 'a model for what a jazz festival can be,' while the New York Times' Nate Chinen described the Wroclaw festival as 'The leading event of its kind ....'

For the first eleven editions of Jazztopad the main program was held in the auditorium of the Wroclaw Philharmonic Hall, an auditorium with a seating capacity of four hundred fifty. For the twelfth edition Jazztopad moved to the splendid surroundings of the brand new National Forum of Music—a state-of-the-art, multi-venue edifice of much greater audience capacity.

"It has 1,800 seats and there are three smaller venues as well," explains Turkiewicz, "so the programing will be affected by the fact that we have to sell almost two thousand tickets, so that's a bit of a challenge."

Plans for the National Forum of Music were drawn up several years before Turkiewicz came on board, and was the brainchild of General Manager Andrzej Kosendiak. "A lot of people thought the idea was unrealistic and crazy because Wroclaw is not the capital city and it's not the biggest city in Poland. The Mayor of Wroclaw, Rafal Dutkiewicz, was very supportive from the very beginning. These are the guys who made it happen. I have huge respect for their work and dreams" acknowledges Turkiewicz.

"I wasn't close to the whole political side of the project," Turkiewicz expands. "I was more involved with the programing and connecting the NFM with different venues around the world, connecting with people, spreading the word and building a brand before it was even open. That way it's easier to invite amazing artists and co-commission music etc. That was my part."

Thirty million euros of the building's one hundred million-euro price tag came from a European fund for cultural infrastructure, the remainder from the city of Wroclaw. Unusually, perhaps, Kosendiak decided that the first building block of the NFM should be the sound, followed by the architecture. "It was a pretty unusual way of working," admits Turkiewicz, "because it's usually the other way around." A huge amount of traveling ensued for Kosendiak as he visited different venues around the world and sought a world-class company that had a flexible approach to sound.

The company responsible for the outstanding acoustics of the NFM's performance spaces was Artec Consultants Inc of New York, the internationally renowned 'sound sculptors' of such venues as Harpa -the Reykjavik Concert and Conference Centre, Iceland, Symphony Hall Birmingham, UK, Esplanade in Singapore, and La Maison Symphonique de Montreal.

As in all good stories, there were significant obstacles to overcome before the NFM was erected. In fact, failure was at one point a distinct possibility. "It took a long time to find a company to build it, because it is a very sophisticated building," explains Turkiewicz. "We found a company, they won the tender procedure but two years later they broke the contract."

Kosendiak and Turkiewicz were left in the lurch and facing potential disaster. "The whole first season programing was lined up for 2013. We had the Berliner Philharmonic, Yo Yo Ma, all these guys were confirmed and we had to cancel them all. It was one of the worst days in my professional life," confesses Turkiewicz.

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