Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Weinberg at the 2019 Proms

For me, I have always felt that a landmark in the Weinberg revival would be reached with the first performance of his music at the BBC Proms. As the largest festival of classical music in the world, they represent the 'establishment' of music in the UK. At long last, in time for his centenary year, this year's Proms features Weinberg's music for the first time ever in three concerts spread across the season. Here's a summary of the events:

1) Tuesday 6 August, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Dalia Stasevska (cond.), Sol Gabetta (cello)

Sibelius: Karelia Suite
Weinberg: Cello Concerto (in its London premiere)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6

More details here.

2) Thursday 22 August, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (cond.), Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello)

Dorothy Howell: Lamia
Elgar: Cello Concerto
Knussen: The way to Castle Yonder
Weinberg: Symphony No. 3

More details here

3) Monday 2 September, Silesian Quartet, Wojciech Świtała (at Cadogan Hall)

Weinberg: Quartet No. 7
Bacewicz: Piano Quintet No. 1

More details here

In addition to these three concerts, there's also a Proms Plus talk on Weinberg before the Thursday 22 August concert, which will feature myself and Erik Levi discussing Weinberg's life and music. More details here

All-in-all, an exciting representation of Weinberg's music. I should add, all concerts will be broadcast live on Radio 3, and will also be available to listen back online. 

Music behind the Iron Curtain: Weinberg and his Polish Contemporaries

I am delighted to share news about the publication of my upcoming book, Music behind the Iron Curtain: Weinberg and his Polish Contemporaries, with Cambridge University Press. Here's the blurb:

Mieczysław Weinberg left his family behind and fled his native Poland in September 1939. He reached the Soviet Union, where he become one of the most celebrated composers. He counted Shostakovich among his close friends and produced a prolific output of works. Yet he remained mindful of the nation that he had left. This book examines how Weinberg’s works written in Soviet-Russia compare with those of his Polish contemporaries; how one composer split from his national tradition and how he created a style that embraced the music of a new homeland, while those composers in his native land surged ahead in a more experimental vein. The points of contact between them are enlightening for both sides. This study provides an overview of Weinberg’s music through his string quartets, analysing them alongside Polish composers. Composers featured include Bacewicz; Meyer; Lutosławski; Panufnik; Penderecki; Górecki; and a younger generation, including Szymański and Knapik.

The book will be available from mid-Autumn; for anyone able to travel to London, there will also be a launch event at the Wigmore Hall on Saturday 26 October. More details (and tickets) available here.

I'm very excited to be able to share this research with you all, and I hope to have more posts about the book over the coming weeks and months.


Friday, 8 February 2019

Weinberg Centennial concert in New York

On Sunday 19 May, there will be a concert in New York for Weinberg's centenary. The programme will feature long-term supporter of Weinberg's music, Yosif Feigelson, performing Weinberg's 24 Preludes for Solo Cello, as well as pianist Ilya Yakushev, and singer Daniel Singer, in a selection of Weinberg's Yiddish songs. Further details below:

MIECZYSLAW WEINBERG (1919-1996). Celebrating the centennial of one of the most prolific composer's ever who's life story reads like a novel. Please visit www.mweinberg.info to know more. Noted Latvian-born cellist, YOSIF FEIGELSON, who premiered and recorded the unique 24 Preludes opus 100in late 1990th to a wide critical acclaim, will perform them again.
Also on the program, the audience beloved, Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) - one of his musical pictures has a prominent Jewish connection. The pianist is a world-class virtuoso, ILYA YAKUSHEV. In addition, well known cantor of SWFS, DANIEL SINGER, will perform several of Weinberg's Yiddish songs.
Tickets at the door $40, $30 - in advance here, $20 - seniors and students (at the door). Children under 15 admitted free.
This event is made possible by a generous gift from Elias Charitable Foundation, and by other private and business support. Visit www.improvis.org for more information.
You can buy tickets here.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Photos from Manchester Weinberg Quartet Cycle and Conference

I'm still reeling from the incredible 'Mieczysław Weinberg: East meets West' conference at my Alma mater, the University of Manchester. The conference was organised by the ever-wonderful David Fanning and Michelle Assay, who pulled everything together with their indefatigable efforts. I promise a full write-up 'report' of the proceedings, but for now, here's a selection of photos from the four days (my own, and from other delegates and audience-members).

Full programme of the Quatuor Danel concerts.
Yours truly, leading a workshop-seminar with the Quatuor Danel on my reconstruction of Weinberg's First Quartet (photo credit: Richard Pleak)
An incredible 'surprise guest' at the conference: Gidon Kremer (photo credit: Richard Pleak)

Kremer performed and then gave a talk (before flying out straight afterwards!) (photo credit: Richard Pleak)

The academic conference included a Skype Q&A session with Victoria Bishops, Weinberg's first daughter.

Roberto Carrillo-Garcia gave a phenomenal performance of Weinberg's Sonata for Double-Bass in one of the afternoon concerts (photo credit: Richard Pleak)

The conference delegates were a friendly group, seen here in a large dinner in between sessions. 

The incredible Quatuor Danel (photo credit: Richard Pleak)

A wonderful group photo with the Danels, audience members and conference delegates, who all went together on the amazing journey through Weinberg's complete quartets (photo credit: The Symphonist, twitter handle: @deeplyclassical).  

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Weinberg Piano Quintet, Op. 18, programme note

Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996)
Piano Quintet, Op. 18 (1944)
I – Moderato con moto
II – Andante
III  – Presto
IV – Largo
V – Allegro agitato

Weinberg wrote his Piano Quintet between August and October 1944, at the age of 24. Barely a year after settling in Moscow, following his double escape from Nazi invasion (Warsaw to Minsk in September 1939 and Minsk to Tashkent in June 1941), he already had a blossoming reputation in the musical community of the Soviet capital. His Quintet is part of a larger group of chamber pieces written at prolific speed during the war years. Despite his youth, it is a formidable work, cast in five movements, similar to Shostakovich’s celebrated Piano Quintet of 1940. But whereas Shostakovich’s work is often contemplative in character, Weinberg’s Quintet is more extrovert as a whole. It is tempting to link the work’s serious tone to the war itself - Weinberg had left his family behind when he fled his native Poland – but unlike some of his later pieces, there are no concrete clues to this effect, such as quotations or self-quotations from songs. The piano part is particularly demanding, with several extended solos. A remarkable recording exists of the composer performing the piece with the Borodin Quartet – testament to his pianistic proficiency.
            The work’s opening phrase is immediately striking, with an austere tone that sets the mood for the first movement and the whole piece. The piano is pitted against the strings, with the quartet providing punctuating gestures to the piano’s weightier thematic statements. The dotted rhythm of the second theme allows the strings to dominate, but only briefly before the opening theme returns in a thunderous restatement.
            The second movement alternates a sinuous theme in the muted strings with a hectic solo from the piano. The latter’s triplet figurations rapidly expand to the whole ensemble, before reducing to a skeletal macabre texture, with the strings playing several eerie passages with the back of the bow – col legno.
            The third movement is a Presto that opens with muted flurries in the strings, soon joined by octaves high in the piano that create a feeling of tense expectation. This mood is shattered by a series of strenuous scales and trills, before a central dance section in which elements reminiscent of Klezmer and even a brief Chopin-esque passage for solo piano combine to emphasise the ‘cabaret’ feel already latent in the previous movement.
            The long-drawn Largo rapidly darkens the mood, providing a sobering contrast to the previous manic jubilation; its character is stark, verging on melancholic. A line of implacable octaves sets the tone. The first violin delivers a mournful solo, before a strident burst of major tonality in the piano. Energy accumulates, before a heart-rending flurry of passion. The quasi-recitative theme once again moves to the solo piano, before a morendo close. A contemporary reviewer described this movement as ‘disturbingly lyrical and deeply meditative’.
            With such contrasts already encountered, the final movement has several questions to address, which is does with a succession of strongly characterised themes. It opens with strident, almost machine-like pulsations, with aggressive interjections from the piano. Syncopated rhythms abound. The second theme is unexpected: firmly in the major, it presents a folk-like dance, playful and mischievous, like an east-European take on an Irish jig. The piano contrasts with a jazz-like canon, before the first violin reintroduces the opening movement’s first theme, taking up a thread that serves to unite the whole work. This is soon combined with the folk-like melody in an unsettling blend. The juxtaposition builds to become more jarring before a fiery restatement of the first movement theme in full. Energy dissipates for the work’s close, softly concluding in a troublingly inconclusive F major.