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Szymanowski's Stabat Mater in London

United Kingdom
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On 5th March 2016, London Philharmonic Orchestra will perform Karol Szymanowski's Stabat Mater in London's Royal Festival Hall for the very first time. The concert, co-organised by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute as part of the Polska Music programme, is the first foreign celebration of the 1050th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland.

The orchestra will be conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, the first conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO). Next to Sir Simon Rattle, Valery Gergiev and Edward Gardner, Jurowski is considered to be one of the greatest contemporary admirers and ambassadors of Szymanowski's work worldwide. Solo parts will be performed by Elżbieta Szmytka (soprano), Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzosoprano) and Andrzej Dobber (baritone).

Adrian Thomas, Professor Emeritus of Music at Cardiff University's School of Music, wrote of Stabat Mater:

Despite its modest size and forces, it is one of [Szymanowski's] most expressive and resonant works and is one of the glories of twentieth-century sacred music.

Karol Szymanowski in his Atma studio, Zakopane, October 1935, photo: Antoni Wieczorek
Karol Szymanowski in his Atma studio, Zakopane, October 1935, photo: Antoni Wieczorek

Stabat Mater has a special place among Szymanowski's compositions. Its creation was influenced by several events. Bronisław Krystall, Warsaw-based patron of arts commissioned a requiem in the memory of his prematurely deceased wife, violinist Izabela Kryystallowa. Meanwhile, Szymanowski had plans to compose Peasant's Requiem, which would incorporate echoes of lamentations and religious songs sung in countryside churches. At the same time, the composer was influenced by grief after the tragic death of his niece, Alusia.

In an interview, Szymanowski said:

My decision to write a religious composition was born out of several causes, from my personal internal experiences to external life circumstances. Last winter, they made me put aside other, previously started compositions and devote all my time and energy to Stabat Mater.

The concert will also include Alexander von Zemlinsky's Six Maeterlinck Songs, Op. 13 as well as Tchaikovsky's Symphony no. 3 (Polish), Op. 29,  which draws its ‘Polish’ moniker from characteristic rhythms typical of a polonaise present in the fifth part of the composition. The orchestra will be accompanied by the London Philharmonic Choir, with artistic director Neville Creed.

Stabat Mater will be performed again on 11th March 2016 at the Klarafestival in Brussels. The Belgian audience will hear Szymanowski's composition in almost the same rendering, and the LPO will be joined by another Polish voice – mezzosoprano Agnieszka Rehlis. Besides Stabat Mater, the programme of the Brussels concert includes Sofia Gubaidulina's Sieben Worte and Alexander Zemlinsky's Psalm 23, Op. 14. The concert will be broadcast live on the Belgian radio channel Klara. In Poland, it will be broadcast on Palm Sunday (20th March) by the Polish Radio's Programme 2. 

Source: press material, compiled by DS, translated by OK, 26 Feb 2016


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