'Music for Peace' - Hiroshima, Japan - 20 June 2019 - Chopin and His Europe Festival (Chopin i jego Europa Festival) - Warsaw - 14 August - 1 September 2019

On 20 June 2019 in Hiroshima, Japan there was an outstandingly successful concert in the 
Music for Peace Series which also celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between Poland and Japan

Krzysztof Penderecki conducted the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra in two of his own works, the Prelude for Peace and his Violin Concerto No 2 'Metamorphosen'  (Soloist: Sayaka Shoji)

This was followed by the Beethoven Symphony No: 8 in F major Op. 93

[You may need to enlarge the text - click on each picture]

During the 2019 Chopin i jego Europa Festival (Chopin and His Europe Festival) in Warsaw 14 August - 1 September 2019 there were two outstanding concerts with the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra in this Music for Peace series

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Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall
Symphonic Concert


Akie Amou soprano
Violetta Bielecka choir director


Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, S.124

Whenever Martha Argerich appears in Warsaw a ripple of anticipation radiates over the classical music world of the capital as if a stone had been thrown into a picturesque pond. This concert was associated with the Music for Peace series she had helped pioneer with the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra in co-operation with members of the  Sinfonia Varsovia.


The premiere of this concerto in 1855 in Weimar with Liszt as soloist and Berlioz conducting must have been a spectacle and an experience in sound! I love the piano concertos of Liszt and am always disappointed they are so rarely played in the restricted concerto repertoire one is usually offered these days. Think of the fabulous riches in the nineteenth century Romantic concerto repertoire - the Polish-Prussian composer Xaver Scharwenka for example - his 4th Piano Concerto in F minor is overwhelming in impact. His music is unjustly neglected in Poland and elsewhere.

Liszt balances well the orchestral music ensemble and soloist exclamation very skillfully in this dramatic concerto. The complexity of the harmonies in the first pages of this work is astonishing. This piano concerto, like many works of Liszt, works towards a final culminating  presto of formidable excitement. For this to have its full impact one must carefully calculate what tempo to begin the Allegro maestoso. The orchestra under their conductor Kazuyoshi Akiyama and Argerich launched into the work with visceral passion, conviction, rich glowing tone and refined touch. The relaxed facility and charisma she brought to the performance of this demanding work was spellbinding.

Argerich fearlessly and dramatically launched into the Allegro maestoso with death-defying tempo and authority. The excitement and joy in simply playing that she communicated was palpable to every member of the audience. Everything was brilliantly  accomplished and she made much of the remarkable details and implications lying in wait within Liszt’s writing. This was followed seamlessly by the lyrical Quasi adagio-Allegretto vivace-Allegro animato. Her approach was to enter into a beautiful and poetic  dialogue with the excellent orchestral counterpoint, phrases of glowing, romantic cantabile, a seductive, soulful nocturne in essence. This 'poem' was followed by her stylish playing just before the unaccustomed sound of the triangle that heralds the rather ‘jokey’ character of the ‘Allegro animato’.

Liszt had trouble with the reception of the percussion writing in this concerto. It involved the triangle, a modest, even humble instrument. He used to call the percussion section the canaille or 'the rabble' and was always striving after new orchestral sound effects. In one section of this concerto the triangle is given a solo role. In fact at the first performance when the triangle rang out a member of the audience shot up from his seat and shouted out in a derisive fashion 'Triangle concerto!' and sat down again, disgusted. How does one become a triangle virtuoso? Sounds fun. Liszt wrote in a letter to his pupil Dionys Pruckner 'In the E flat major Concerto I have now hit on the expedient of striking the triangle (which aroused such anger and offence) quite lightly with a tuning fork.'

In this performance the triangle was placed in a prominent position for the Japanese percussionist , just at the rear of the pianist, suspended above its own tiny green baize covered table. This was a unique idea  in my experience. The musical function soon began to become apparent. The triangle adopted a full solo percussive role in dialogue with the upper registers of the piano writing. Martha Argerich extracted silvery, tiny bell-like tones from the piano, a type of 'tessitura echo', which matched the triangle's high frequency ringing in a most charming 'conversation'. An stylish virtuoso delight as she can produce the most glittering jeu perlé effortlessly.

In the final Allegro marziale animato, Argerich and her good relationship with the orchestra gave us a tremendous display of virtuosity but at a tempo that permitted the expression of the dramatic impact of the presto  finale Liszt was seeking. Various themes are reintroduced in various guises. The temptation for many pianists is to accelerate too early. Argerich is clearly so familiar with this work, the unfurling of the drama was like the sail on a ship billowing in the wind.  I felt she maintained a close relationship the orchestra and conductor during these difficult passages with only one slight solecism of co-ordination.

The first occasion I have seen the triangle player taking a bow equally with the soloist and conductor in the Liszt E major piano concerto, S 124

One should consider the opulent riches in the nineteenth century Romantic concerto repertoire : the piano concertos of the Polish-Prussian composer Xaver Scharwenka for example. His 4th Piano Concerto in F minor is overwhelming in his music unjustly neglected in Poland and elsewhere.

Today Martha Argerich has become a 'perfect poet' of the instrument, balancing power, sensitivity and virtuosity with lyricism and spiritual expressiveness of the highest order. This concert of hers together with the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra and members of the Sinfonia Varsovia was a fine contribution to the humanist intentions of the Music for Peace project begun in Hiroshima. I definitely felt Martha Argerich was psychologically particularly committed to her performance this evening which had such a high degree of emotional intensity due to involvement in her Hiroshima peace mission.

The audience in the Warsaw Filharmonia leapt to their feet as one and scenes of the wildest cheering and stamping broke out. I have never witnessed such enthusiasm in this hall ever before and it continued unabated until she gave her encore and then for some minutes after it:  the Liszt arrangement of the Schumann Lied, Widmung. 

Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck © pages.stolaf.edu

Written by Schumann in 1840 (from a set of Lieder called Myrthen, Op.25),  Myrthen was dedicated to Clara Wieck as a wedding gift when he finally married Clara in September, despite the fierce opposition from Clara’s father, who just happened top be Schumann's piano teacher. 
Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125

After the interval in this concert in the 'Music for Peace' series, we had the Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125. This  symphony has immense popularity in Japan. My interview with the HSO General Manager, Mr. Kenji Igata, was very interesting concerning the history of the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra. It grew out of a military band in Kure City naval base. Surprisingly in 1918, musicians among the detained Germans taught the Japanese how to play western instruments and introduced some of them to Western music in a sort of cultural exchange.

Nicholas Cook, former 1684 Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and a Beethoven authority, wrote illuminatingly of the symphony: “Of all the works in the mainstream repertory of Western music, the Ninth Symphony seems the most like a construction of mirrors, reflecting and refracting the values, hopes, and fears of those who seek to understand and explain it … From its first performance [in Vienna in 1824] up to the present day, the Ninth Symphony has inspired diametrically opposed interpretations” The Ode to Joy has been adopted by both democracies and dictatorships. As Beethoven’s most recent biographer Jan Swafford says, '...how one viewed the Ninth … depended on what kind of Elysium one had in mind'.

Beethoven became the favourite composer of Japanese music lovers, especially the IXth Symphony. In no other country are there as many performances of this work as in Japan. There have been many hundreds of performances and some recordings. One performance with the conductor Yutaka Sado involved 10,000 singers in the choir! In December each year there is a particularly memorable concert that involves 4,000 choir members. Apparently anyone who wishes and is not tone deaf may sing!

It is always difficult to achieve the finest cohesion and ensemble when musicians from different orchestras and cultures come together with limited rehearsal time. However cross cultural understanding and co-operation is at the heart of the entire philosophy of the Music for Peace projectHere we had members of the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra from Japan, members of the Sinfonia Varsovia from Warsaw in addition to the Podlasie Opera and Phiharmonic Choir from the north-east of Poland. These forces were massed under their Japanese conductor Kazuyoshi Akiyama.

I felt this to be a valiant effort and an approach to Beethoven which was both robust and muscular. This was an uncompromising Beethoven with few gestures towards the sentimental. The Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso  began in a whisper and rose in stone with strong fortissimos and a massively articulated coda. The mood was perhaps of anger at the disillusionment Beethoven felt with military 'great-man heroism', hearkening back to the atmosphere of Napoleon's betrayal of the Beethovenian ideal in the Eroica symphony. The second Molto vivace movement is a scherzo to which the conductor gave a bucolic energy rather than a lighter dance texture. I must confess my romantic temperament was somewhat disappointed by the Arcadian vision of the slow movement, one of Beethoven’s most lyrical in music. It is an idyllic world he creates, a pastoral dream perhaps that announces another variety of caring heroism symbolized by the brass fanfares. More expressiveness for me would have been welcome in this movement.

The final movement is an expression of individuals coming together in joy and love: the choir, vocal soloists, orchestral musicians and conductor fused together as the 'brothers' of Schiller’s poem, Beethoven's personal ideal of human compromise, compassion and co-operation. Human isolation in the cosmos and one's futility in the face of creation are also depicted in this immortal music. This planet embraces geographical, cultural and ethnic diversity as well as secular and religious differences. The Turkish Janissary music forces its way into the finale and with it the whole symphony concludes joyously, the Utopian choral writing replete with polyphonic invention reminiscent of a sensual cantata.

The strong orchestra under a traditionally gifted conductor, outstanding choir and talented, sympathetic soloists laid out this extraordinary late work of a profoundly deaf, idealistic genius (never forget this handicap) in as triumphal and convincing a manner as could be expected. Among the endless details and significances I could concentrate on, I keep in mind Beethoven’s compositional credo that was 'even when I am composing instrumental music my custom is always to keep the whole in view'.

Music for Peace: 
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Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall
Symphonic Concert
Tatsuya Shimono conductor
Bajka [Fairy-tale]

The first performance of what is in effect a type of symphonic poem (evolving in accordance with the emotional content) was given on 1 May 1848. After the first Moscow performance: 'It delighted everyone and won the listeners over to the composer ....' This Concert Overture is still a much loved work that remains one of his most frequently played works. The Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra and members of the Sinfonia Varsovia under Tatsuya Shimono performed with great rhythm, drive, energy and verve which suited the work admirably although in their enthusiasm it verged on the over-exuberant on occasion yet still remained enjoyable.
'A Procession for Peace'

This work was written in 1983 to mark the Year of Peace. It begins as a slow solemn march which after the opening tympani roll gathers in dynamic strength and gradually increasing instrumentation as if a procession is approaching, drawing nearer and nearer, volume growing until a final almost deafening arrival in an impassioned call for Peace. The orchestral forces under Shimono were convincing in the control of dynamics and increasing thickness of orchestral texture until the final intense plea for a sentiment they must feel every day in their home town of Hiroshima

Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima

The notion of an 'Iron Curtain' that divided Europe after WW II was created by Winston Churchill in a speech at Fulton, Missouri, on 5 March 1946. One forgets that it was a cultural as well as political barrier. However after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Polish composers began to be influenced by developments in Western music such as twelve-tone composition, serialism and pointillism. The 'polnische Schule', or Polish School of composition evolved from these influences and Krzysztof Penderecki occupied the forefront. 

Composed in 1960 for 52 string instruments, it was originally entitled 8'37". This was revised under advice from fellow musicians to carry the present dedication. The sound world of the work involves the tortuous shriek of violins in the upper register, glissandos struggling from unisons and ramblings across the entire register of the instrument. Written during the period when 'the avant-garde' dominated contemporary music, its soundscape is profoundly aleatoric and personal.

The work evokes the terror of a previously inconceivable scale of  death, destruction and suffering that resulted from the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Penderecki, perhaps subconsciously, utilized his own emotional turmoil experienced during the period of Nazi-occupied Poland. The appalling revelations of Auschwitz-Birkenau and other extermination camps abruptly disinherited the Western mind from most previously accepted moral values of civilization. From the turbulence of inconceivable horror, Penderecki created a work both autobiographical yet universal in its expression of unfathomable suffering. Threnody is a seminal development not only in the history of Polish music but more generally in contemporary Western music. The work has been given an award by the UNESCO International Tribune of Composers in Paris, a medal in Japan and numerous performances around the world.

Umi () for orchestra 

This music composed by the young Japanese composer of great talent is drawn from his opera Solaris. 'Umi' means 'sea' in Japanese and there is a feeling in the contemporary score of the waves of the ocean together with the use of a variety of percussion instruments - a range of tam-tams, and extraordinarily beautiful and surely unique duet between xylophone and oboe as well as use of the celeste. The writing is not all abstract and aleatoric. There are rather romantic harmonic interludes reminiscent sometimes of an impressionistic Debussy. I found the imagination and invention within this soundscape quite fascinating. On a human level, the composer and his family were sitting in front of me. His young daughter of perhaps 5 was plying her composer father with questions during the performance. This little operatic scene, together with the new music, I found a most affecting moment.

Piano Concerto in F minor (1810)

In the Maestoso first opening movement of this, the first concerto Chopin composed,  the interpretation was correctly between classical balanced between detachment and romantic enthusiasm, although I felt the tempo adopted was on fast side for the nobility of the Maestoso to be fully expressed. The main theme of the exposition in the rhythm of a Mazur was preserved and the development was suitably controlled. The style brilliant texture came off well with the pianist Krzysztof Jabłoński. The hints of the Larghetto were subtly expressed in a touching cantabile. The orchestra conducted by Tatsuya Shimono tended to emphasize what to some may be considered the more robust side of Chopin's composition.

The Larghetto itself, described as 'indescribably beautiful' by many, avoided any sort of cloying sentimentality. However the poetry of innocent love tended to fade somewhat at the tempo adopted. I always want to be caressed by this glorious song. The explosions of emotion in the Chopin directions con forza and appassionato surely represent the cruel doubts and slightly angry emotions of adolescent or young love, so full of hope and illusions. I felt the orchestra could have reduced the strength of their contrast somewhat. The emotional agitation that is embedded within the movement expressed Chopin’s frustration with the unrequited nature of his silent admiration of the soprano Konstancja Gładkowska. The controlled pianissimo final note, as the apotheosis of the structure, was beautifully communicated.

The Allegro vivace  has its first theme marked semplice ma graziosamente followed by a  sudden rush of temperament and slight accelerando which give an urgency to the music. Some bucolic merry-making of the jolly tavern type but never crude is coupled with that lovely and inspirational col legno pizzicato-like sound on the strings. We danced along towards the notorious natural horn call and the scintillating coda closing the work with a smile of pleasure. The movement  revealed the orchestra under Tatsuya Shimono was in a well co-ordinated support role with the soloist.

The graded crescendos and decrescendos by the pianist Jabłoński were mixed with the youthful joy of Chopin exercising his compositional and melodic virtuosity to its utmost. The exuberant dance of kujawiak provenance is always satisfying in its physical energy, exhilaration and high spirits.

As encores that brought the audience to their feet, the 'Heroic' Polonaise in A flat major, the 'posthumous' Nocturne in C sharp minor and the so-called  'Revolutionary' Etude.

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You might like to remember the remarkable Music for Peace concert and workshop I attended in Japan recently

Official programme for the Chopin i jego Europa Festival (Chopin and his Europe) 
14 August - 1 September 2019


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