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Standing Up and Speaking Out

Paul Bisaccia Brings Concert Meant for Carnegie Hall to Provincetown

by Steve Desroches

The joke is a standard in American culture: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” And of the course the punch line is “Practice, practice, practice.” But for pianist and Provincetown resident Paul Bisaccia, his dream of performing at Carnegie Hall proved to be clouded by a nightmare and was anything but a laughing matter. He was ecstatic to receive an invitation via a producer in Poland to play at Carnegie Hall, the most prestigious concert hall for classical musicians, as he’d never played there before. Initially, it seemed an especially noble event, as the title for the ensemble show was From Chopin to Gershwin, celebrating the two famed composers, each often considered the greatest of their respective countries of Poland and the United States. Organized to commemorate the centennial of the reestablishment of the Polish Republic after World War I, (in which President Woodrow Wilson was instrumental), the evening was meant to foster goodwill and celebrate the relationship between the American and Polish people.

As one of America’s most respected interpreters of the work of George Gershwin, Bisaccia looked forward to playing “Rhapsody in Blue” at the legendary New York concert hall. But as Bisaccia looked into the organizers more closely, he became increasingly disturbed as to the true nature of those behind it and their dark affiliation, which led him to say no to performing at Carnegie Hall. When the contract to perform at the concert, scheduled for October 24, arrived, Bisaccia noticed that his agreement would be with Gazeta Polska Community of America (Klub Gazety Polskiej). Unfamiliar with the organization he decided to investigate further.

“I just Googled it,” says Bisaccia. “I was just stunned. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is a neo-Nazi group.’ I went from elation to depression and horror.”

Paul Bisaccia

Like many countries in the world, including our own, Poland is experiencing a far-right-wing spasm. Extremist organizations and hate groups continue to gain power and influence in creating fear and spreading anti-Semitism, homophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiments, particularly focused on Muslims. In addition, such groups target liberals and secularists in the largely Roman Catholic country. In 2015, national elections put into power the right-wing populist Law and Justice Party, which had run largely on opposing Poland taking in any refugees and migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere during the crisis that year. Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the party, used an old racist trope when he said taking in refugees would spread infectious diseases throughout the country. The party also tried to further limit access to abortion, even though Poland already has the most restrictive laws around reproductive rights in the European Union. Once firmly in control of the government, the Law and Justice Party disbanded the federal office that dealt with discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and intolerance, stating that its mission was “useless.”

Currently, the battle in Poland between the far-right extremists and those who oppose them is over LGBT rights. In February of this year the liberal mayor of Warsaw, the nation’s capital and largest city, signed a declaration in support of LGBT rights and promised to include LGBT issues in the city’s school curriculum. The federal government strongly opposed the measure, with Kaczyński stating that LGBT rights were “an import” that threatened the nation, expressing widespread fear among the right wing in Poland that the country will rapidly secularize, much like Ireland. The Catholic Church in Poland has been very cozy with the far right. In August, during a sermon commemorating the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, the Archbishop of Krakуw Marek Jędraszewski declared LGBT people a “rainbow plague.”

LGBT Free Zone stickers distributed by Gazete Polska.

The backlash to the mayor of Warsaw’s declaration largely organized around the LGBT Free Zone movement in which municipal, provincial, and county governments declare themselves free of “LGBT ideology” and that LGBT people are not welcome. While unenforceable under the law, it has created a frightening and hostile environment for LGBT people, not just in those specific regions, but also throughout much of Poland. This summer the far-right-wing newspaper Gazeta Polska garnered international attention and scorn when it inserted “LGBT Free Zone” stickers in the national publication. In the past several years, the newspaper has run anti-Semitic stories minimizing the atrocities of the Nazis and the Holocaust and ran a front-page story in March titled “How to Spot a Jew.” This is in a country where three million Polish Jews were murdered at the hands of the Nazis, with Polish Nazis collaborating (a statement that is illegal under a law passed by the Law and Justice Party). Earlier this year, the newspaper also sent activists to disrupt a Holocaust seminar in Paris, and it has allied itself with the even more radical Hungarian right-wing government. But their distribution of the “LGBT Free Zone” stickers, and the subsequent appearance of those stickers in the windows of shops, restaurants, and other public accommodations sent a shudder up the spine of many.

This all relates back to Bisaccia and the Carnegie Hall concert as Gazeta Polska has affiliate clubs all over the world, and its American branch had organized the concert and rented the hall. In response, the Gazeta Polska Community of America tried to distance themselves from the newspaper’s anti-LGBT activities, but in a statement stated, “The Clubs organize at a local level and are autonomous, supported by but independent and separated from the Gazeta Polska media and its editorial board.” Bisaccia refused to play the concert, and his stance drew the attention of others on the bill who backed out. Eventually, NBC News, as well as media outlets in Poland, covered the issue. The concert was subsequently canceled.

Map of Poland with LGBT Free zones in red.

“I heard from other performers on the bill who had no idea, thanking me,” says Bisaccia. “But the most gratifying have been e-mails from Poland thanking me, too. They thanked me for standing up to this group of bullies. It’s a frightening time in Poland.”

Relief and the satisfaction of uncovering the truth of who was behind this concert blanket any disappointment Bisaccia feels from not performing at Carnegie Hall. He still hopes to one day play Carnegie Hall by invitation, saying he still has quite a few years in his hands. Carnegie Hall’s loss is Provincetown’s gain, though, as he’ll play almost all of what he was scheduled to perform in New York at his performance here as part of the Great Music on Sundays @ 5 series at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House. He’ll present the work of Gershwin (who parents fled anti-Semitism in Russia and came to America). It’s all the sweeter, says Bisaccia, to play in a town committed to equality and acceptance.

“ I turned down Carnegie Hall,” says Bisaccia. “But I’m not turning down Provincetown, that’s for sure.”

Paul Bisaccia presents George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue as part of the Great Music on Sundays @ 5 series at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, 236 Commercial St., on Sunday, September 22 at 5 p.m. Tickets ($20/$15 for seniors 65+/children 12 and under free) are available at the door and online at

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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