The Polish composer Mieczysław Weinberg would have marked his 100th birthday in 2019, so a wide range of high-profile events will be held throughout the year – including a major concert series at London’s Wigmore Hall, new international productions of his opera 'The Passenger', and even a conference.
The life of composer and pianist Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996), much like countless millions who bore the consequences of war and peace, bears witness to a more fluid reading of the past, where one tyranny yields to another, former liberators become oppressors, and criminals emerge as statesmen. The centenary year of Weinberg’s birth offers the chance to reflect on history’s nature while exploring the work of a strikingly prolific composer, whose music was championed during his lifetime by outstanding performers such as David Oistrakh, Mstislav Rostropovich, Emil Gilels, the Borodin Quartet and Kirill Kondrashin.
The Adam Mickiewicz Institute and its Polska Music programme will play central roles in raising awareness of Weinberg’s art over the next two years. A range of planned concerts and events will mark the composer’s centenary, bringing new audiences to his music and strengthen the Weinberg renaissance.
In January, the Weinberg centenary conference, staged by The University of Manchester, with support from Polska Music, marks the start of a series of major events for the UK. The event, convened by Weinberg expert Professor David Fanning, includes papers presented by leading international scholars and runs in tandem with a three-day festival of music by Weinberg and his contemporaries. Quatour Danel and members of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s Ensemble 10/10 are among the artists scheduled to take part. A comprehensive life-and-works study of Weinberg, by David Fanning and pianist and musicologist Michelle Assay, will receive its launch during the conference.
Wigmore Hall has just announced that Weinberg has been chosen by its director John Gilhooly as a featured composer for its 2019-20 season, in one of the most ambitious retrospectives of the composer’s chamber music ever staged and the most extensive collaboration between Polska Music and a leading British cultural institution.
Quatour Danel, the first group to record all 17 of Weinberg’s string quartets, will present the complete cycle at Wigmore Hall in 11 concerts over two seasons, while violinist Linus Roth, hailed by The Guardian as one of the ‘standard-bearers’ of the Weinberg revival, will lead Wigmore Hall focus days devoted to the composer in October 2019 and October 2020. Exploring a range of Weinberg’s chamber works, the focus days will include: three solo sonatas for violin; Sonata for Two Violins Op.69; Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes, a tribute to the composer’s Bessarabian parents; and two sets from Jewish Songs for voice and piano trio, with St Petersburg-born soprano Ilona Domnich as soloist.
UK celebrations for Weinberg in 2019 begin with a key highlight: his Violin Concerto, with Gidon Kremer as soloist, and the UK premiere of the Tolstoy-inspired ballet The Golden Key comprise a programme given by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla at Symphony Hall Birmingham on 31 March 2019. The CBSO and Gražinytė-Tyla also presented a Weinberg Weekend in late 2018, performing with Kremer and Kremerata Baltica.
Meanwhile, throughout mainland Europe and Asia, the centenary is being celebrated by both The Israeli Opera Tel-Aviv-Yafo and Staatstheater Braunschweig with performances of The Passenger, marking the Israeli premiere of the work. In Germany, the two-act opera will be sung in German, English, Polish and Hebrew, whilst in Tel-Aviv it will also be sung in Czech, Russian, French and Yiddish, as it was in the first fully-staged performance at the Bregenzer Festspiele.
Weinberg's opera The Passenger is told from the perspective of a former camp guard who, 15 years after its liberation, embarks with her husband on an ocean liner destined for Brazil. On board, she recognises an Auschwitz survivor whose violinist fiancée was executed by the Nazi Germans for playing Bach’s Chaconne – an emblem of universal hope and fraternity – at a command concert. Based on the famous novel by Zofia Posmysz, the opera moves between scenes set at sea and flashbacks to the world of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Polska Music has also commissioned a new book about Weinberg’s string quartets from Daniel Elphick, Teaching Fellow at Royal Holloway, University of London. Music Behind the Iron Curtain: Weinberg & his Polish Contemporaries places the composer’s quartets in the broader context of 20th-century Polish music. The Adam Mickiewicz Institute is also working with French publishing house Actes Sud on a Weinberg biography by eminent musicologist Danuta Gwizdalanka to be published later this year.
The Passenger – Braunschweig
- 6th April to 5th June 2019 – Staatstheater, Braunschweig
- The two-act opera receives another highly-anticipated performance, this time in North Germany
The Passenger - Tel Aviv
- 30th April 2019 – Israeli Opera, Tel Aviv
- Directed by David Pountney, who has also worked on the previous stagings of the opera
Music Behind the Iron Curtain: Weinberg and his Polish Contemporaries – Daniel Elphick
- October 2019
- Polska Music have commissioned this new work exploring Weinberg’s string quartets, placing them in the broader context of 20th-century Polish music
New French Weinberg biography – D. Gwizdalanka, Actes Sud
- The Adam Mickiewicz Institute is working with French publishing house Actes Sud on Weinberg biography by eminent musicologist Danuta Gwizdalanka
- Date TBC
New recording with Weinberg's works
- In collaboration with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, label Deutsche Grammophon is going to release a new CD with Mieczysław Weinberg's works
- Date TBC
Some of the Weinberg 100 events are financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland as part of the multi-annual programme NIEPODLEGŁA 2017–2022.
Source: press release; compiled by SC, March 2019