Warsaw Philharmonic Inaugural Concert 2019/2020 Season, October 5th 2019

There was an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation in the full to capacity Warsaw Philharmonic this evening, the second concert in the official public 'debut' this season of the Music and Artistic Director Andrzej Boreyko.  He has a long distinguished relationship with the orchestra dating back to 2007. As Artistic Director of the orchestra, he will conduct not only during their subscription series in Warsaw, but he will also participate in all the main Polish Festivals (for example Chopin and his Europe, the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music and the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival). This was his first subscription concert as Artistic Director and this season he will also tour to Japan with the orchestra. 

Andrzej Boreyko - conductor
Ewa Vesin - soprano
Piotr Anderszewski - fortepian
Bartosz Michalowski - Choirmaster

Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir

The concert opened with the Veni Creator Op. 57 (1930) of Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) for soprano, choir, organ and orchestra to words by the renowned Polish playwright Stanisław Wyspiański (it is also the 150th anniversary of the year of his birth).

Portrait of Szymanowski by Witkacy
This work certainly was a spectacular beginning to the season with the utilization of formidable musical forces. The work was composed to celebrate the opening of the Music Academy and the appointment of Szymanowski as its Rector. The not particularly distinguished poem was written by the Young Poland poet Stanisław Wyspiański in 1905. 

Originally this was a Latin hymn that was intended to inspire strength and it carries a strong patriotic message. The first stanza:

Come down, She-Dove, Creative Spirit
awaken worthy thoughts within us
we lift to you our eyes and ears
harmoniously living, grown together

Rather buried within the somewhat overwhelming massed sound there are detectable folk music references to the Szymanowski 'Highland' ballet music for Harnasie. The soprano Ewa Vesin managed to expressively rise above the monumental sonic nature of the work, but the role is rather challenging. The composer himself did not like this work particularly, as it is rather triumphalist in spirit.

On 2 September 1930 he wrote to Zofia Kochańska:
Such an enormous ceremonial-spectacular humbug, which personally I dislike very much, but for a number of reasons I had to do it.

After the performance on 21 September, he remarked to her once again: 
...it sounds most impressive and splendid [...] I prefer my other things, but I must admit that this works more directly on the audience.

The positive reaction of the audience in Warsaw to this performance was clearly in keeping with Szymanowski's observations above.

Bela Bartók (1881-1945)
The orchestra was then joined by the distinguished Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski for the Piano Concerto No. 3 (1945) by Bela Bartók (1881-1945). The composition of his final work in Manhattan is dramatic as Bartók finished it on his deathbed in a mood of desperation. He died four days after its completion and wrote the Hungarian word vége (the end) at the end of the manuscript. 

The Allegretto that opens the first movement has an, uncharacteristic for Bartók, winning simplicity and transparency. Anderszewski understood this well as the pianist is rarely covered by the orchestral writing, although he did not shy away from commitment to the passages of energy and excitement. There perhaps could have been a closer connection between the conductor, orchestra and soloist but I imagine the limited rehearsal time (as always in so many modern performances) would account for this.

The introspective, meditative and spiritual second movement is based on Beethoven's Heiliger Dankgesang (Holy Song of Thanksgiving). This is actually the transcendent third movement of his String Quartet Op. 132. The movement was written after Beethoven had recovered from a serious illness. Bartók uniquely marks the movement Adagio religioso - a rare indication for any composer. This final night music of the composer was deeply moving and performed with extreme sensitivity and refinement by Anderszewski, creating a sound painting of delicate detail, colour, tone and touch. The exchanges with the orchestra were similarly sensitively accomplished. Quite sublime to my mind.

From this nocturnal dream world we are led directly into the Allegro vivace final movement. Anderszewski was relaxed in his application of power and brought coherence to the complex counterpoint and robust fugal sections. I felt just a slight lack of impetus and driving forward at moments, but it did not detract in the least from my overall musical satisfaction with Bartók's final work.

After the interval, the conductor Andrzej Boreyko programmed a short 'fragment' of a Haydn oratorio as a type of introduction to the ballet music for Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (1913 revised 1947). I am afraid the significance of the seamless joining of these two pieces escaped me, unless it was to emphasize the revolutionary nature of Stravinsky's orchestration and composition as compared with the classical tradition. Not necessary perhaps and a trifle confusing for this listener.

'I was guided by no system whatever in Le Sacre du Printemps,' Stravinsky wrote in 1961. 'I had only my ear to help me; I heard and I wrote what I heard. I am the vessel through which Le Sacre passed.'

As I do not wish to detail yet again the immense and by now familiar scandal that erupted during the first performance at the Théâtre de Champs-Elysées on May 29, 1913, conducted by Pierre Monteux. However I would add that it was not only the revolutionary music that caused the riots. There were also many anti-Russian political agendas at work in the audience. 

In October 1910 Igor Stravinsky left his home in Ustilug in Ukraine for the pure air of Clarens in search of a cure for his beloved wife,who was suffering from tuberculosis. During the winter of 1911–12 in a small furnished room a mere eight foot square with a piano, a table and two chairs, he completed the sketch of the revolutionary score of the Russian ballet of ecstatic pagan love, Le Sacre du Printemps.

I visited Clarens a few years ago whilst researching a biography I was writing and found it one of the most picturesque and beautiful locations on Lake Geneva. Many famous musicians and writers are associated with the village of Clarens. Most famously, in 1816 Byron and Shelley sailed across the lake from Geneva in search of the ‘visionary woods’ of Rousseau only to find them obliterated by development and local ignorance. At Clarens, his ‘sweet Clarens’, Byron found every aspect of Nature charged with the ‘breath of passionate thought’; it is the home of Love, ‘who here ascends a throne, to which the steps are mountains.’

Tchaikovsky took a rest cure there for various periods between 1877 and 1879 and worked on the operas Eugene Onegin and The Maid of Orleans. He also wrote the D major Violin Concerto inspired by his love for the violinist Iosif Kotek, who stayed with him. ‘It  goes without saying that I would have been able to do nothing without him. He plays it marvellously.’

Tolstoy, a great admirer of Rousseau, resided in the ‘Village de Julie’ in the spring of 1857. He wrote in his diary: 
I was at Clarens for two months, and every time when in the morning, and especially after dinner towards evening I opened the shutters on which the shadows were already falling, and glanced at the lake and the distant blue of the mountains reflected in it, the beauty blinded me and acted on me with the force of a surprise.  

More recently, the Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov took up residence with his wife and muse Vera in a suite of rooms at the nearby Montreux Palace Hotel in 1961 to write short stories, poetry, lectures, Speak Memory (his ‘Autobiography Revisited’) and novels. Nabokov died in 1977 and is buried together with his wife Vera in the cemetery at Clarens.

This muscular and vigorous performance was satisfying on some levels but for me not  on others. I felt the interpretation rather too 'straight' and although the physicality of the score was clear and powerfully delineated, I felt a lack of expressiveness in the mysterious, haunted passages. I hoped for more sensuality and eroticism, more suggestiveness and possibly guile and seductiveness. There is a great deal of mystical even metaphysical magic in this score, leading almost to psychological dislocation, which could have been more focused. Otherwise the work emerges as somewhat military in character with its wildly explosive and repetitive dynamics.

Image result for rite of spring

Image result for rite of spring

I am afraid I found the, what one might call, 'encore experiment', not overly successful. Andrzej Boreyko inventively and imaginatively introduced three rap singers to perform their compositions with the orchestra. In an address to us he said it was to create a similar revolutionary sound work to Le Sacre. I did not feel this was particularly effective and overall emerged as an attempt to merge and mix genres of music that are at variance with each other - olive oil and water. Since the passing of the avant-garde of the 1960s and 1970s and in addition to the sensationalism of our own technological times, it is increasingly difficult to 'shock' anyone! If it was a serious attempt to reconcile tradition and modern styles I felt it did not succeed above the level of an amusing, but thought-provoking confectionery idea, a suitable light festive conclusion to this inaugural concert.

The essential point of tonight was the introduction of the 'new' conductor Andrey Boreyko to the audience for the opening season inaugural concert. One was intensely aware of the absolute transformation of the soul of the Warsaw Philharmonic throughout, especially in Le Sacre du Printemps. This bodes well for the future of this season's symphonic and orchestral music in Warsaw...


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