A complete cycle of Weinberg’s 17 string quartets performed by Quatuor Danel over two seasons at Wigmore Hall commences on 24 October.
Shostakovich called him ‘One of the most outstanding composers of today’. The Polish-Jewish-Russian composer Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996) has also been called ‘the greatest composer you’ve never heard of’. From October 2019, Wigmore Hall highlights this strikingly prolific composer’s contribution to instrumental music and song with an ambitious Weinberg strand, programmed by the Hall’s Artistic & Executive Director John Gilhooly, over two seasons.
The centenary of Weinberg’s birth in 2019 has seen the composer’s profile raised in the UK and beyond, triggering a reappraisal and rediscovery of this strikingly prolific composer. His music was championed during his lifetime by such outstanding performers as David Oistrakh, Mstislav Rostropovich, Emil Gilels, the Borodin Quartet, Kirill Kondrashin and Shostakovich.
Highlights of the Weinberg centenary in 2019 have included the Polska Music-supported new release of Weinberg Chamber Music on Deutche Grammophon (DG), performed by Gidon Kremer, Yulianna Avdeeva and Giedre Dirvanauskaite. Polska Music also supported the debut release from conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla on DG featuring Weinberg’s Symphonies Nos. 2 and 21, recorded with Gidon Kremer, Kremerata Baltica and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. This year’s BBC Proms also featured the critically-acclaimed London premieres of two pieces by Weinberg – his Cello Concerto, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sol Gabetta, and his Symphony No. 3, performed by Gražinytė-Tyla and the CBSO.
This year. Polska Music also supported the Israeli premiere of Weinberg’s only opera. The Passenger, based on true events and told from the perspective of a former Auschwitz camp guard – and which Opera Now magazine described as having ‘one of the greatest moments in 20th-century opera’.
On 26th October 2019, Wigmore Hall in London will present a major Weinberg Focus Day, 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. The weekend will provide an in-depth exploration of Weinberg’s contribution to instrumental music and song, and it will be led by violinist Linus Roth, a long-time champion of the composer’s art.
Hailed by The Guardian as one of the ‘standard-bearers’ of the Weinberg revival, Roth will perform Weinberg’s Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano with José Gallardo, along with Sonata No. 1 for Violin Solo and his Largo for Violin and Piano. Roth and Gallardo are joined by Russian soprano Ilona Domnich for the afternoon concert, performing Jewish Songs, Weinberg’s settings of the Soviet Yiddish poet Shmuel Halkin. Roth also performs Sonata No. 2 for Violin Solo and is joined by violinist Janusz Wawrowski for Sonata for Two Violins. Roth’s focus on Weinberg concludes with the third and final concert if the day, which opens with Sonata No. 4 for Violin and Piano performed with Gallardo.
Daniel Elphick on his Book about Weinberg & his Polish Contemporaries
Wigmore Hall’s Weinberg Focus day will also feature a pre-concert talk and book launch from the musicologist and Weinberg expert Daniel Elphick of Royal Holloway, University of London. Polska Music has commissioned this new academic book published by Cambridge University Press. Music Behind the Iron Curtain: Weinberg and his Polish Contemporaries studies Weinberg’s string quartets and places the composer’s quartets in the broader context of 20th-century Polish music.
The rediscovery of Weinberg’s chamber music will be a major event at Wigmore Hall over two seasons. From 24th October, the French ensemble Quatuor Danel begins a milestone complete cycle of Weinberg’s 17 string quartets, along with works by Shostakovich. Quatuor Danel is renowned for its ambitious recordings of the complete string quartets on disc, and now, audiences will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness this quartet perform them live in a complete cycle enabled by Polska Music.
The cycle begins on 24th October 2019 and is comprised of 11 concerts over two seasons. The second concert of the cycle is on 10th December 2019, with both concerts open for general booking. The cycle continues on 25th March 2020, with two further concerts in the 2019-20 season on 16th May 2020 and 9th July 2020. Concerts in the 2020-21 season will be announced in spring 2020.
Outside the UK, Polska Music-supported activities include a major Weinberg conference in Moscow, which opens on 8th December 2019, the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Fate and Works of M.S. Weinberg: To the 100th Anniversary is dedicated to all aspects the composer’s life, work and legacy and runs until 10th December at Moscow’s State Institute of Arts Studies. The conference is open to musicologists, historians and musicians alike.
On 19th December 2019, Polish orchestra Sinfonia Varsovia under conductor Gabriel Chmura will perform Weinberg’s Symphony No. 4 as part of a celebratory Weinberg centenary concert in Moscow, supported by Polska Music. The concert will take place at Moscow’s Zaryade Hall, situated in the incredible Zaryade Park, which won Archdaily’s Building of the Year 2019 and was listed in Time magazine’s Greatest Places 2018.
Next year, Polska Music will support the German publication of Danuta Gwizdalanka's book Mieczysław Weinberg: A Composer From Three Worlds. Originally published in Poland in 2013 by the Stanisław Moniuszko Grand Theatre, the book explores Weinberg’s fate through wartime and post-war migration, which led him from Warsaw to Minsk, Tashkent and Moscow, leaving an indelible mark on his work and formed the composer's musical language. This German translation of the book will be published by Harrassowitz Verlag in the first half of 2020.
Mieczysław Weinberg – biography
Mieczysław Weinberg was born to a Jewish family in Warsaw on 8th December 1919, little over a year after Poland gained independence from foreign rule. The prodigiously talented musician, forced to abandon his studies at the Warsaw Conservatory following Nazi Germany’s invasion of his homeland in September 1939, fled to the Soviet Union. A Belarusian border guard insisted that the young Mieczysław adopt the stereotypical Jewish name ‘Moisey’. He was officially recognised as such until 1982, when Weinberg finally persuaded the authorities to accept his Polish first name.
Weinberg’s mother, father and sister were murdered by the Nazis at a transit camp in Eastern Poland; most of his wider family also perished during the Holocaust. He was able to continue his studies with one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s pupils in Minsk before being evacuated to Tashkent following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Shostakovich, impressed by the score of his younger contemporary’s First Symphony, invited him to Moscow two years later. Weinberg remained in the Soviet capital until his death in 1996. He paid homage to Shostakovich in later life, confiding that ‘I count myself as his pupil, his flesh and blood’.
Although the two men remained good friends, Weinberg maintained his creative independence and cultivated a strong and distinctive personal style. ‘[He] retained a higher level of independence than many of his Soviet colleagues, distancing himself both from official academic conservatism and, in the 1960s and after, the younger generation’s fervent embrace of Western-style modernism,’ notes David Fanning.
Weinberg married the daughter of Solomon Mikhoels, the artistic director of the Moscow State Jewish Theatre and among the Soviet Union’s finest actors. Mikhoels, the chairman of the wartime Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, was assassinated in 1948 on Stalin’s orders. In February 1953, Weinberg also became ensnared in the Soviet dictator’s anti-Semitic paranoia. He was arrested and imprisoned on trumped-up charges but spared execution or the gulag following an intervention by his friend Shostakovich and by Stalin’s death.
While recognised as a Polish composer, Russians also remember Weinberg today for the strength he showed under extreme pressure, not least his refusal to claim the status of victim in the years after his release. His music, however, has attracted greater attention in the West over the past two decades than in the countries that claim him. Beyond his seven operas, 25 symphonies, six concertos and 17 string quartets, Weinberg was loved by generations of Soviet youngsters for his soundtrack scores to the Vinni Pukh (Winnie-the-Pooh) cartoon films. He also wrote the music for an enduring landmark of Soviet film-making, The Cranes are Flying – one of 60 film soundtracks to his name, and produced scores for theatre productions and even for circus.
Wigmore Hall, London
The Adam Mickiewicz Institute actively supports performances of Polish classical music by renowned international artists worldwide, aiming to increase its popularity across the globe under the brand Polska Music. As well as initiating international stage productions and concerts, commissioning new work and nurturing contemporary composers, Polska Music also promotes recordings, books and events. Polska Music has collaborated with a host of high-profile partners around the world, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Berliner Philharmoniker, Bregenz Festival, Chandos Records, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cité de la Musique – Philharmonie de Paris, Ensemble Musikfabrik, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Klangforum Wien, Lincoln Center Festival, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Philharmonia Orchestra, Elbphilharmonie, Münchener Kammerorchester, Rambert Dance Company, Time of Music Festival, Welsh National Opera, Quay Brothers, Royal Opera House, Salzburg Festival and Sound and Music.
The Polska Music programme was launched in 2011 by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute – a national cultural institution aiming to strengthen Polish cultural impact and to benefit international cultural exchange.
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.