Simon Wynberg on on the Rediscovery of Polish Composer Szymon Laks

Szymon Laks (1901-1983), the brilliant Jewish composer from Warsaw, survived the Nazi concentration camps in part thanks to his musical talents. Writing in Mosaic, Simon Wynberg, artistic director of the ARC Ensemble, considers how Laks’s candid memoir contributes to our understanding of the tragic role of music in the Nazi camps.

Beyond its obvious utility to the Nazis, did [the music] in any way ameliorate the suffering of the prisoners, recalling to their tortured spirits the persistence in the world of beauty, nobility, and grace? Could it even have instilled or rekindled the will to live?

Laks himself grants none of this. In his view, music was merely one more part of the madness, irrelevant to the quality or the mental stability of prisoners’ lives and powerless to reach them. He writes dispassionately about the marches played as labor detachments left in the morning and returned at night (always, it seemed, at a slower tempo); about the tunes from popular operettas played as macabre commentary at assemblies; and about the bespoke performances that indulged the cultural pretensions of SS officers. Whatever distraction music may have provided for the orchestra members themselves, he regards as delusory the notion that it served to heal or raise prisoners’ spirits. To the contrary, the privileges enjoyed by orchestra members—increased rations, reduced physical labor—were often bitterly resented and led to inevitable suspicions of collaboration.

Read the rest of the fascinating essay in Mosaic, where Wynberg further explains why Laks deserves recognition for his refusal to give in to the mid-century musical zeitgeist.

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The Quatuor Danel’s World Premiere of Weinberg’s String Quartet No. 3

Charles T. Downey reviews the Quatuor Danel’s Sunday afternoon concert at the Phillips Collection, a performance of the music of Mieczysław Weinberg and Dmitri Shostakovich that included the world premiere of Weinberg’s String Quartet No. 3:

The first movement pulsated with an obsessive moodiness, excepting some quieter moments in the middle. In the second movement, the unison playing of the second violinist, violist, and cellist was intense, with first violinist Marc Danel keening in alternation with it. Second violinist Gilles Millet had a sweet, more rarified sound when he took over that lament theme, matched by violist Vlad Bogdanas. The lovely fugue of the third movement, much of it played with mutes on, was based on a carefree subject betraying little of the cynical undercutting one might hear from Shostakovich.

The French string quartet follows the National Symphony Orchestra and Gidon Kremer’s January concert spotlighting Weinberg’s works, as well as Pro Musica Hebraica’s decade-long efforts to bring recognition to the Polish composer as one of last century’s greatest forgotten musical voices.

Read the rest of Downey’s review at Washington Classical Review.

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Evgeny Kissin Gets Married

Last Saturday, the great classical pianist Evgeny Kissin wed childhood friend Karina Arzumanova of Prague. Pro Musica Hebraica wishes the couple happiness.

(Via Slipped Disc, which has a lovely photo of the couple.)

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Vienna Celebrates the Blue Danube Waltz

(Via Norman Lebrecht)

Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz was first performed at the swimming-pool-turned-concert-hall (Dianabad) in Vienna’s “Matzo Island” (Mazzesinsel) in 1867. Leopoldstadt mayor Uschi Lichtenegger recently spoke on occasion of its 150th anniversary, celebrating the waltz’s Jewish roots. Read more at the Slipped Disc.

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Weinberg Finally Gains Full Recognition

On Thursday, the National Symphony Orchestra spotlighted last century’s greatest forgotten musical voices, the Polish composer Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996).

As Anne Midgette notes in her Washington Post review of the Kennedy Center concert, the NSO was joined by Latvian classical violinist Gidon Kremer, who “arrived at the NSO as the soloist in a concerto by a composer whose music the NSO had never played before.” Kremer is now “one of the composer’s most ardent champions,” writes Midgette.

Indeed, in a recent profile of Kremer, the New York Times explain that the Russian-trained virtuoso has been on a mission to discover and champion hidden 20th-century masters. On January 27, ECM New Series released recordings by Kremer and Kremerata of all four Weinberg chamber symphonies, along with a premiere recording of Weinberg’s early Piano Quintet of 1944.

These great musical achievements follow nearly a decade of Pro Musica Hebraica’s successful efforts to bring recognition to the great Soviet Jewish composer works through live performances of his masterpieces.

In our fall 2008 concert, Lost and Found: Jewish Musical Treasures from Eastern Europe, the ARC Ensemble of Toronto performed Weinberg’s rare wartime works. (See the full program and listen to the live concert recording here.)

Then, in our fall 2011 concert — The Last Romantics: Jewish Composers of Interwar Europe — Jascha Nemtsov & Friends played Weinberg’s famous and beloved “Piano Trio,” now widely regarded as a recovered classic of twentieth-century chamber music.

Weinberg is considered among great composers of the Soviet Union alongside Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich, whom became Weinberg’s close friend and artistic partner after recognizing the Polish émigré’s huge talent. When Weinberg was arrested by Soviet police, Shostakovich adopted Weinberg’s daughter and personally appealed to Stalin for his friend’s release. (Read more about Weinberg’s remarkable life here.)

Pro Musica Presents the ARC Ensemble of Toronto: “Lost and Found: Jewish Musical Treasures from Eastern Europe” — November 18th, 2008 [Click image to enlarge]

Pro Musica Hebraica 2008-2009 Season Brochure [Click image to enlarge]









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