Thursday, 15 August 2019

Boris Schwarz on Weinberg

For many years, Boris Schwarz's magisterial Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia was the authoritative text on Soviet music. It was a considerable achievement of scholarly work, touching on a huge range of authors, subjects, and pieces.

Schwarz was born in St Petersburg, but his family emigrated to Berlin in his youth. Schwarz emigrated to the US in 1936. Starting from the 1950s, he made several extended trips back to Russia to conduct musicological research. The result is his mammoth book. It was greatly celebrated, including an award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers' in 1973.

Perhaps the most impressive detail is how comprehensive Schwarz managed to be; he includes details on just about every Soviet composer you could think of.

For many decades, Schwarz's paragraphs on Weinberg were the sole extent of public knowledge of his life and music (including its many inaccuracies!) Thankfully, this has long since not been the case. That said, I reproduce below the page or so that Schwarz included on Weinberg. It is something of a curio to consider that for decades, this was the most known about Weinberg and his music:

Another composer who deserves wider attention abroad is Moissei Vainberg [sic]. Born in 1919 in Warsaw, he received his musical education in Poland. When his country was overrun by the Germans in 1941, Vainberg sought refuge in the Soviet Union and eventually settled in Moscow. He is one of the few Soviet composers of Jewish origin who has achieved genuine equality among his colleages: he is extremely well liked and receives many commissions and performances. In contrast to the older generation of Jewish-Russian composers who stressed their Jewishness (among them Engel, Achron, Krein, Veprik, Gnessin), the younger generation does not limit itself ethnically. Composers like Lev Knipper, Yulian Krein, Boris Kliusner, and Vainberg have acquired a Russian or international musical idiom. In Vainberg's music, there is neither avoidance of, nor stress on, Jewishness; some of his works contain elements of Jewish folklore, while others employ a musical idiom related to Shostakovich and Bartók.
After the 1948 decree, Vainberg enjoyed the doubtful privilege of being praise by Khrennikov for his 're-orientation' - enough to ruin anyone's career - when he reviewed the accomplishments of the year 1948:
'A shining proof of the fruitfulness of the realistic path is the Sinfonietta by Vainberg. As a composers, Vainberg was strongly influenced by modernist music which badly mangled his undoubted talent. Turning to the sources of Jewish folk music, Vainberg created a bright, optimistic work dedicated to the theme of the shining, free working life of the Jewish people in the land of Socialism. In this work Vainberg has shown uncommon mastery and a wealth of creative imagination'. 
Among Vainberg's best works is his Second Sinfonietta, composed in 1958 for Rudolf Barshai and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra. In addition, Vainberg has written eight smyphonies, eleven string quartets, some twenty sonatas for various instruments, several concertos, and various chamber music works with piano, including an impressive piano quintet. Whether his style is strong and personal enough to win acceptance abroad is still untested since hardly any of his music has been heard in the West'.  
Boris Schwarz, Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia: Enlarged Edition, 1917-1981 (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1983) 294-295. 

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Weinberg at the Wigmore Hall

In the latest news relating to Weinberg's centenary year, I'm delighted to include details of the Weinberg season occurring at London's Wigmore Hall, beginning in October. The Wigmore Hall is one of the most famous venues for chamber music in the world, so it is wonderful that so much Weinberg will be performed there over the next few years. 

In what it is certainly the most ambitious overview of Weinberg's chamber music ever attempted, the Wigmore Hall have announced that the Quatuor Danel will be performing a double-cycle of Weinberg and Shostakovich over two season, finishing in 2021. The Danels are, of course, the pioneers of Weinberg's String Quartets through their CPO recordings, and also their performances and work as part of their residency at the University of Manchester. The first concert will be on Thursday 24 October, with more throughout the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons. 

Furthermore, Saturday 26 October brings an intensive day of events in the form of a Weinberg Focus Day. There will be three concerts of chamber music, featuring acclaimed violinist Linus Roth, including works for solo violin, violin and piano, piano trio, and song cycles. The day will also include a talk and launch event for my book Music behind the Iron Curtain. I will also be introducing each concert. 

Further details can be found on the Wigmore Hall's website here and here. These look set to be incredibly exciting concerts and certainly a measure of how the Weinberg revival has come. 

Friday, 26 July 2019

January 2019, Manchester Weinberg Conference

It may have been six months ago, but minds are still reeling from the amazing 'Weinberg: East and West' conference at the University of Manchester at the start of this year. Michelle Assay and David Fanning organised a fantastic four-day event, including concerts and a complete Quartet Cycle performed by the fantastic Quatuor Danel.

Egbert Baars, of the DSCH journal, attended and has uploaded an excellent gallery of photos from the conference. I've included a selection of photos below (reproduced here with permission):

From my workshop with the Quatuor Danel on the original version of Weinberg's First Quartet. 

Gidon Kremer, who paid us an extraordinary 'flying' visit, stopping by with enough time to perform and give a moving talk. 

The ensemble from one of the afternoon concerts (L-R): Marc Danel, Michelle Assay, Rosalind Dobson 

A video conference call with Victoria Bishops, Weinberg's first daughter. 

Conference delegates enjoying a meal before an evening concert. 

Truly exceptional, the Quatuor Danel: Marc Danel, Gilles Millet, Vlad Bogdanas, and Yovan Markovitch.

Performers and scholars. back row L-R: Larissa Zvereva, Vlad Bogdanas, Yovan Markovitch, and David Fanning; front row L-R: Inessa Dvuzhilnaya, Gilles Millet, Michelle Assay, Marc Danel, and Verena Mogl.

Conference sessions: Antonina Klokova and Verena Mogl.

Aleksander Laskowski.

Michelle Assay and David Fanning.
Group photo of performers, scholars, and general public.

For more of Egbert's photos, you can visit his website at:

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.