London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle - Wrocław - 16 January 2019

Not surprisingly, Polish concert audiences after years of musical drought continue to yearn for and hugely anticipate performances by great international orchestras and conductors. Such visits to the country are still not common although increasing as time passes and Poland slowly takes its place once more in the European musical firmament.Understandably then, the acoustically magnificent and architecturally striking NFM (Narodowy Forum Muzyki) in Wrocław was sold out for the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by their new musical director Sir Simon Rattle. The programme was an imaginative pairing of works by Béla Bartók and Anton Bruckner.
The commissioning of the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta by Bartók reflects a change in society. No longer the nobility and aristocracy enabling the composition of a great musical work. On this occasion corporate wealth was the facilitator. In 1934, the Swiss conductor Paul Sacher married Maja Stehlin. She was a widow who had inherited th…

Poland 14th January 2019 - A day when the golden bowl of Polish life again violently cracked - Chopin once more the universal voice of national grief

'Of Angels and Madmen'

Today was a day of terrible tragedy in Poland - a land of valiant resistance to oppression, a country still haltingly embracing democratic freedoms. 'For your freedom and ours' was once the guiding ideology, now fading under fierce lights. A brutal shattering of illusions has taken hold of this country as I write in Warsaw, a city that itself exists today only by some sort of miracle. For a man who wrote a literary travel and residence book on the country some 10 years ago in a gesture of love, deep respect and affection for the valiant past, this event was as shocking as an exploding bomb.
The powerful liberal voice of the much loved Mayor of Gdańsk, PawełAdamowicz (20 years in office) was silenced by his barbaric assassination, stabbed by a 'madman' at an annual charity event. His personal support of the rights of refugees was encapsulated in this all-embracing remark: 

'I am a European, so my nature is to be open,' Adamowicz told …

Evgeni Bozhanov and the NOSPR (Narodowa Orkiestra Symfoniczna Polskiego Radia - Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra) - Katowice - 14th December 2018

Attending a concert in the famed relatively new NOSPR concert hall in Katowice (one of the finest in Europe) is always something exceptional to anticipate. The acoustic is perfectly tuned and sonically impressive. This evening was unique also in another way in containing compositions from Sweden and Latvia as well as Germany, the NOSPR directed by the Swedish conductor Ola Rudnor. Much of his career has been spent conducting in Australia  which was of personal interest to ma as an Australian. The most exciting aspect of the evening was that I was about to hear the brilliant Bulgarian pianist Evgeni Bozhanov once again as the soloist in the Concerto No 3 in C minor by Beethoven.
The first item was the Overture to the opera Estrella de Soria by a Swedish composer rather unfamiliar to me except by name, Franz Berwald (1796-1868). He composed this tragic opera (one of four in his oeuvre) in 1838. There was a private performance of it after completion in 1841 but it was not until 1862 it wa…

Grigory Sokolov - Warsaw - 2 December 2018

As the Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov walks onto Warsaw Philharmonic stage, the suffused lighting of the chandeliers softens his approach and creates space for reflection. I recalled the first time I heard this artist in Warsaw in 1992. I have never forgotten it. The experience has remained with me undimmed ever since. In my literary travel book on Poland much was cut editorially. My account of this particularly memorable Warsaw night elicited this comment from my editor: 'Not famous enough Michael. No-one will know who he is!' Rather a different view now in December 2018 as Grigory Sokolov is widely considered to be the greatest living pianist, a living legend.
I wonder what it is that creates the undoubted magnetism of this modest figure considering his apparently diffident attitude to the audience as he bows and seats himself unceremoniously at the instrument. His supreme mastery of the piano is never in doubt, his profound musicianship acknowledged by all, professional an…