Joanna Brzezinska-Maurer
photo : Nicolas Lieber

In 1990, she decided to try teaching at the sides of her professor at the Fryderyk Chopin Music Academy in Warsaw in the role of assistant....She made this choice in order to live a bit more comfortably. 

Despite having a large number of students with whom she enjoyed a very good rapport, the pianist left the Capital to go work 200 kilometers away in Bydgoszcz so she could create her own class, this time with younger students who were between 15 and 19 years old.

In 1992, for reasons that remain unknown, she was asked to become the dean of the High School of Music in Bydgoszcz.  The task was challenging, but she she jumped right into the work nevertheless.

As a dean, she was very active: she organized competitions, lectures, master classes, conferences, and outings with the students.  She maintained excellent relationships with her students and received good support from the administration.  Her colleagues, on the contrary, were rather more irritating than stimulating. 

Today, most of her students have become soloists or teachers. Counted among her students are a composer, an accompanist, a chamber music player, and even a harpsichordist!

Some of her students now participate successfully in various national competitions, festivals and concerts. 

In 1995, with her professor of chamber music, Barbara Halska, she created a master class.  The class was held during vacation time in the Polish town of Nowy Sacz, and was intended for young pianists and string instrumentalists.  The first edition started off very well with 30 Poland participants and a few foreign musicians.  Throughout the span of two weeks, the students gave between three and four concerts. 

This master class still exists today and continues to develop and flourish, but the pianist exchanged her position with a Swiss colleague, thanks to whom she would leave to go to Geneva a few years later...

After having won a competition for the position of piano professor at the Conservatoire Populaire de Musique (1999), the pianist swallowed the bitter pill of the total contrast between music schools in Switzerland and those in Poland (but perhaps Geneva is a bit of a special case...?)

Initially, with her first students, she was completely discouraged.  She would understand later that she herself was not the one responsible.  There were quite a few reasons: a lack of desire and motivation, parents getting divorced, soccer and tennis lessons (they were more interesting), no interest in doing homework...

She noted sadly that during her ten years of teaching in Poland, only one of her students stopped studying piano in order to become a doctor, whereas in Switzerland, in five years of teaching, about three students abandoned their music studies each year.  One would say that things move around a lot in Switzerland, no?

She also noticed that the young amateurs who studied seriously truly loved music. Perhaps this was  because it wasn't their profession...?  In contrast, the young students in Poland thought of music as more of an obligation.  It was competition and the desire to be the best that motivated them to study music.

In 2002, the pianist planned to reunite the two worlds of Polish and Swiss musicians by means of a cultural exchange.  She knew that there was a certain risk of failure due to the enormous differences in their levels, their motivation and their ways of life.  Nevertheless, she rose to the challenge, telling herself that in any case, things needed to change soon in Poland as well.  In fact, with the improvement of the standard of living, less and less students were interested in music...

She organized from A-Z herself the first exchange in June 2003 and received financial aid from the Conservatoire Populaire de Musique.

First Exchange Concert at the Red Cross Museum in Geneva
First Exchange Concert at the Red Cross Museum in Geneva

In 2004, this time the Swiss students traveled to Poland and it was a wonderful exchange.  See for yourself!

Second Exchange – Excursion to the Lubostron Castle
Second Exchange – Excursion to the Lubostron Castle

At the end of 2004, she received a very interesting proposition from the CPM to give a master class dedicated to the Mazurkas of Chopin.  Fifteen students from the CPM and a few professors shared the miracle of the beauty of the Polish master's music. (To see the video, click on “See” on the sidebar.)

Exchange with Poland

Texts by Peter Minten, Director of the Conservatoire Populaire de Musique in Geneva.

Spring 2003

In June 2003, under the initiative of  Joanna Maurer Brzezinska and Klaus Maurer, a dozen Polish students from a music school in Bydgoszcz, Poland came to Geneva for one week.  They put on a program of chamber music with a dozen students from the CPM, who housed them while they were in Geneva.  The fruit of this collaboration was a concert given at a music festival, the “Fete de la Musique,” as well as a concert performed at the Red Cross Museum. 

From April 14th to April 21st of that year, the students from Geneva did a counter exchange in Poland.  24 students, accompanied by 4 professors (Joanna Maurer-Brzezinska, Magali Dami, Eva Minten and Klaus Maurer), were welcomed in Bydgoszcz by the families of the Polish students, as well as by the Polish students' professors. 

Half of the students were string instrumentalists and pianists who worked with the Polish students on chamber music pieces; the other half  were young choir singers who collaborated with the Polish school's children's choir.  At the end of the trip, there was a concert to present the work achieved.  In addition, an orchestra directed by Klaus Maurer, reuniting about thirty Swiss and Polish students, accompanied the choir in Tadeusz Kassati's “Codex bestiarum,” and also accompanied soloist students in a concerto by Vivaldi for four violins. 

The trip was full of various visits, including a tour of the city and a breakfast hosted by the Mayor of  Bydgoszcz.  The students also took Polish language classes, attended a university hockey game (9-3 for the Genevan team), and visited the magnificent city of Torun, not to mention all of the small activities that took place among the families. 

To go on such a trip was an enriching experience for the group – the students were struck by the warmth of the welcome from the Polish families, by the cultural differences (especially the food...), and by the easiness of playing music together despite a language barrier.  The professors noticed the fundamental differences of  teaching music in a school where all the students participate in music classes the whole week long, right alongside their general academic studies. 

The project was organized by  Joanna and Klaus Maurer, René Meyer and Claire Barral, and supported by the service of cultural affairs of the DIP, the City of Geneva and the SUISA foundation. 

Peter Minten – April 2004
He accompanied the group during the first days.

Spring 2006

About sixty students from the Conservatoire Populaire de Musique were coming back from traveling during this time, some from the Midi in France, others from Tuscany and Poland...

...2006 also marked the fourth exchange with the conservatory in Bydgoszcz and the second trip to Poland. This time, it was students from Matthias Ernst's wind ensemble who left with several string instrumentalists (mainly cellists) to complete the ensemble.  Still under the direction of Joanna and Klaus Maurer, this time around the project consisted in forming a large orchestra with 25 Genevan and 25 Polish students to interpret several pieces of Mozart.  The works performed included: the first movement of the symphony in G minor and a concerto for the flute and the harp, under the direction of Klaus Maurer with Sébastian Jacot as soloist; from John Williams, the Star Wars suite under the direction of Matthias Ernst; and a special production, imported from Geneva and staged in Poland: an orchestral improvisation under the direction of Jean-Marc Aeschimann, professor at the Jaques Dalcroze Institute, who worked everyday with the orchestra in preparation for this moment of orchestral improvisation involving 50 musicians! 

This event, which was unimaginable even for the Polish students, characterized the spirit of the exchange.  In fact, the Polish school is a music high school, where all of the students (ranging in age from 7 to 18 years old) intend to become professional musicians.  In a certain way, the school is pre-professional, and for one week our students immersed themselves in this stimulating environment, living with the Polish students and accompanying them throughout the day.  A great competitiveness was born out of such proximity and close contact. 

Music training, conceived as personal development, without any requisite professional ambition,  taught in an institutional environment but still considered to be an extracurricular activity, does not exist at all in Poland.  There are no music schools in Poland as we conceive of them in Switzerland!  There are, of course, a certain number of professors who teach private lessons and lend their services to people who are generally well-off, but musical education in Switzerland is not considered as a public duty.  Such a confrontation of institutional cultures provoked passionate exchanges between the Polish and Swiss students, some of which were even broadcast by the Polish television. 

The 25 students and professors from Geneva enjoying a walk with their Polish hosts
The 25 students and professors from Geneva enjoying a walk
with their Polish hosts

Finally, we should point out the strong motivation at the root of such a type of project: the motivation of the professors who launched it, as well as that generated by the students as a result of their experiences. One week of immersion in a foreign country, filled with intense musical work and friends both old and new, playing in front of a new audience, in a foreign place—such an experience certainly leaves durable traces and creates strong artistic and social emotions, the motivational resources for the lengthy, drawn-out process that is learning music. 

Official meeting
Official meeting

Such undertakings are only possible thanks to the generous involvement of the professors who first conceive of the project and who are intricately involved in its realization.  It should be noted that the professors are engaged in several different ways: by way of their teaching, through their enthusiasm, and through the pursuit of their own personal interests in addition to those of their school.  Financial means also had to be found, and if the monetary demands on the students were able to be kept at a minimum, it was thanks to the participation of the Fonds de solidarité des Amis of the CPM who supported the Poland and Tuscan projects, and the support of the City of Geneva and the State of Geneva.  The financial participation of the CPM was limited to a minimal contribution, but we would not forget the vital support of our administration. 

Peter Minten
April 2006 – Peter Minten accompanied the group in Poland for 2 days

In 2005 the pianist hoped to enlarge the exchange for the year 2007, by inviting Indian students to share their music and their culture … this dream remains to be realized. 

In 2011 new exchange: Switzerland (Genewa and Lausanne) Spain (Pamplona-Navarra ) and Poland (Bydgoszcz). 15-22 juin.