The 2019 Rubinstein Festival recalled in memory 2024 - To honour the anniversary of the highly cultured and legendary Arthur Rubinstein born in Łódź, Poland on 28th January 1887

I attended the 2019 festival for only the last two days. How I regret not coming for the entire unique event!

Considering the world eminence of the pianist and his absolute preeminence in his matchless interpretation of the music of Chopin, the neglect of this festival is scarcely understandable. This impressive event and the concurrent events and exhibitions in Łódź associated with it is held every two years. It has been single-handedly, imaginatively and indefatigably assembled since its inception by the Festival Director Mr. Wojciech Grochowalski. The event is held under the auspices of the organizer, the Culture and Business Foundation in co-operation with the Arthur Rubinstein International Music Foundation.

Introductory remarks on the evening were given by the host and Polish Radio presenter, and musicologist Adam Rozlach. 

Official Website for the Rubinstein Festival 2024  

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Here is the encomium I wrote in 2019

The highly cultured and legendary Arthur Rubinstein was born in Łódź in 1887.  This great Polish patriot was honored throughout the planet, as a pianist and immortal musician - and continues to be so honored. 

Related image
The young Arthur Rubinstein

Arthur Rubinsteinle grand seigneur, in regal regalia following his admission to the 
French Academy of Fine Arts   

Sketch of Arthur Rubinstein by Picasso

An intensely nostalgic attraction to the festival in October 2019 was the presence of his daughter, the brilliant photographer, Eva Rubinstein (there was a concurrent exhibition in the city of many of her eloquent photographs). Quite apart from the charm and culturally elevated civilization of another age that she brought to the festival, her very presence recreated the metaphysical spirit of Rubinstein in his birthplace. Such a unique phenomenon. Being taken around the extraordinary museum rooms devoted to his memory and explaining and detailing the minutiae of relevance of photographs, letters, an Oscar for a film performance, paintings, pianos and sculptures (she has an undimmed memory) was a rare experience that floods the emotional life with waves of memory. 

Her voice and facial physiognomy bear such an uncanny resemblance to the maestro, the tour was a quite otherworldly and deeply moving experienceI remember  to this day as a young teenager listening in  wonderment to the recital he gave in the Sydney Town Hall  on his world tour in the 1960s. His recordings of Chopin have accompanied me as musical magic dust all my musical life.

Eva Rubinstein talking about her father in the Arthur Rubinstein Music Gallery of the Łódź City Museum. 

In the foreground the Oscar awarded for 'The Best Documentary Feature' entitled L'Amour de la Vie (The Love of Life) where he performed as himself. As he eschewed the Oscar award ceremony itself, Gregory Peck came privately to his home on the Avenue Foch in Paris on 
July 1st 1970 to pass over the statuette to the great pianist

A cabinet containing some of the international decorations awarded to Rubinstein

Arthur Rubinstein's signature on a C. Bechstein grand piano in the Music Gallery of the Łódź City Museum once played by him and also by the great Chopinist Witold Małcużyński

A characteristically joyful and ultra rare picture of Arthur Rubinstein dancing a sevillana in the back yard of a tenement house at 78 Piotrowska Street Łódź where he lived his childhood. Taken on a visit to the city commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Arthur Rubinstein Philharmonic.

During the interval we were treated to an utterly charming ballet presentation by the Feliks Parnell Ballet School Łódź in the Ballroom of the mansion. The first fragments were danced to the Chopin Waltz in C-sharp minor Op.64 No.2. 

Eva Rubinstein watching with the utmost pleasure and joy the ballet performance

Eva Rubinstein as a young ballerina

Then a performance of a Chopin mazurka from their ballet suite In the Garden

Final concert

Szymon Nehring 

1st Prize at the 2017 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition Tel Aviv

I was very interested to hear how this Polish pianist has developed since being awarded an Honourable Mention after reaching the finals of the 17th International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2015 and winning the 1st Prize at the 2017 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv. Of course, Szymon has become a national hero since then. 

In his concerto performance at the Chopin and his Europe Festival that same year I had written 'The inaccessible ‘Polish element Chopin spoke of was present in abundance.' The last time I had heard him play was in the same festival in August 2018. Then I had written '

He has matured a great deal since I last heard him in the previous festival and gave a fine account of this concerto in all respects - naturally his command of the notes is faultless but also his understanding of the styl brillant and Polish rhetorical gestures concealed within the work were well delineated.' 


Mazurkas Op. 56

Professor Mieczysław Tomaszewski wrote of this set of mazurkas: 

'In 1843 Chopin composed three new mazurkas and set them together as Op. 56. Each one of them can be listened to with rapt attention. Each is capable of both delighting and astonishing. They are imbued with a nostalgic tone, though also a certain audacity and strangeness. They seem to bring echoes of moments very different from one another. Fragments of memories bound together.' 

In the first in B major, Nehring captured the predominant vivid, vigorous nature of the mazur in an uplifting style that left no questions to be asked of it. He expressed better than most pianists I know, the rustic, robust and bucolic country character of the second in C major. His view of it was exciting and almost shocking in the energy of its rough vivacity. The folk music of the Culavia region was bought convincingly into this rather civilized ballroom in Łódź and contrasted with two forms of the kujawiak in its middle section. Ferdynand Hoesick described this mazurka 

The basses bellow, the strings go hell for leather, the lads dance with the lasses and they all but wreck the inn’.

This mazurka was the favourite of the highly talented Chopinist Princess Marcelina Czartoryska, she who coined the eloquent advisory interpretative phrase le climat de Chopin and who imitated the composer in the interpretation of this mazurka. 

 The third mazurka in C minor, as one might imagine from its key signature, is imbued with melancholic nostalgia and is restrained in its polyphonic mood. The theme of this mazurka grows from within organically as Chopin explores an extraordinary number of complex and distant harmonic relations. The work ends mysteriously as if a reminiscent thought had come to an unresolved conclusion. 

Nocturne op. 55 No. 2

The Chopin nocturnes (as opposed to those of their inspiration by John Field) have seduced and fascinated listeners since their composition. The Paris critic Hippolyte Barbedette wrote of them: 

‘Chopin’s nocturnes are perhaps his greatest claim to fame; they are his most perfect works’. 

That is how they were seen in Paris during the mid nineteenth century. 

That loftiness of ideas, purity of form and almost invariably that stamp of dreamy melancholy’. 

Nehring sought the dreamy interplay of rising and falling emotional tension in this unique nocturne. However, I felt he could have communicated more effectively the feeling of an internal meditation but this is a desire of a high order from a young man and a possibly unrealistic expectation.

Impromptu in G flat major, Op. 51 

I feel this work carries an atmosphere of elegance, refinement and grace of another age, possibly that of the Parisian salons Chopin inhabited - yet is not in the slightest degree superficial. Perhaps Nehring could have introduced with a slightly faster tempo more of a feeling of spontaneity and whimsical shifting moods (albeit of a restrained type) and invention 'on the spot' rather than the atmosphere of a considered, finished work (the choice of title 'Impromptu' surely indicates such an aspect of interpretation). 

André Gide wrote affectingly of the impromptus in his Notes on Chopin :

 ‘What is most exquisite and most individual in Chopin’s art, wherein it differs most wonderfully from all others, I see in just that non-interruption of the phrase; the insensible, the imperceptible gliding from one melodic proposition to another, which leaves or gives to a number of his compositions the fluid appearance of streams.’ 

Polonaise in F sharp minor op. 44

This was a powerful, courageous, masculine and magisterial account of this magnificent polonaise. The unusual mazurka embedded within was finely expressed. Nehring communicated unequivocally the ferocious emotion of national defiance in the face of oppression and valiant resistance to invasion in a manner that left one with nothing further to say. The conclusion was particularly redolent of granite lying within the soul. An outstanding performance.


During the interval there was a presentation of a wooden bust of Arthur Rubinstein carved as a thesis exercise at the Artistic School of Antoni Kenar in Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains in 2019 by the Gorale artist Paweł Stefaniak.

Eva Rubinstein talks to Pawel Stefaniak about his carved bust of Arthur Rubinstein

Impromptu in F sharp major, Op. 36

Professor Tomaszewski writes: 

'It combines several types and genres: impromptu, nocturne, ballade, and etude. The lack of a distinct form has even led observers to infer some hidden (literary) ‘plot’. An air of wonderment accompanies this notated improvisation till the very end.' 

I felt Nehring had not yet mastered the communication of the challenging atmosphere of harmonic exploration contained in this impromptu, this 'notated improvisation'. He presented us rather with a work, finely executed certainly, but somewhat 'finished in conception' rather than redolent with an air of tentative discovery. 

Composed during a recovery period at Nohant after the ill-fated Majorcan sojourn, Chopin himself rather wittily and ambiguously wrote of it, surprisingly to my mind:

‘The second Impromptu, which might be poor, I don’t know, as it’s too fresh. Yet it would be good if it were not too Orłowskian or Zimmermannian, or Karsko-Końskian, or Sowińskian, or swine-ian, or other-animalian [all allusions to composers of Parisian salon music], as it could, according to my reckoning, bring in at least 800 francs’.

Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58 

His final work was the Chopin Sonata in B minor Op. 58. In many ways this sonata (still classical in its formal structure) is the very essence of Romanticism in music. The first and last movements possess the character of ballades, the second is a scherzo, and the third is a nocturne. 

Nehring adopted a powerfully wrought Allegro maestoso with significant dynamic contrasts and the release of pent-up emotion. The light and airy Scherzo, with the delightful detached articulation Nehring adopted, would have pleased Mendelssohn in its velocity and lightness. I felt the Largo to be both emotionally moving and illuminating. It is so difficult to maintain interest and momentum in this movement over the long period it takes to perform. The movement is a nocturne by any other name. An 'aria of the night' indeed. Although satisfying in many ways, Nehring needs to give it a little more coherence, to bring it together more as a series of connected, interrelated yet distinct soundscapes as if one was smoothly passing over varied countryside in a glider. 

The Finale is marked with the indication Presto non tanto. The conclusion he brought was virtuosic and carried one away on an irresistible and wild career. As I mentioned above, the movement has the tone and nature of a ballade. 

So impassioned is this movement that it has stimulated the imagination of many interpreters. For Marcel Antoni, it brought to mind an image of the Cossack Hetman Mazeppa on a wild steed chased by the wind. Iwaszkiewicz saw this music as a foretaste of the galloping of Wagner’s Valkyries. Both Jachimecki and Chominski heard in it an expression of a demonic nature. Certainly Nehring gave the movement all the excitement and adventure that a young pianist of great talent can invest in it.

As encores he gave us two mazurkas by Szymanowski, thoughtfully chosen ones the composer dedicated to Rubinstein, one of his closest friends.

Eva Rubinstein is seated second from the left and the Festival Director Mr. Wojciech Grochowalski third as Szymon Nehring leaves the colourful C. Bechstein piano after his recital.

Eva Rubinstein beside the sketch by Picasso at the conclusion of the festival
One cannot help but notice the strong facial resemblance in this profile

This was a fine and satisfying recital that demonstrated once again the significant degree the young Polish pianist Szymon Nehring has developed, certainly since I last heard him in August 2018. He inspires great confidence in the future authority of youthful pianism in Poland as a distinguished representative of this phenomenon. 

And so this unique and spiritually uplifting Arthur Rubinstein festival under the imaginative artistic direction of Mr. Wojciech Grochowalski closed. The presence of Arthur Rubinstein's daughter Eva had revealed so much of the authentic soul of that supreme artist. He always believed that in live performance electrical emanations were communicated by some artists to members of the audience. Here they were immanent at one remove but incontrovertibly present. A rare musical and personal experience indeed.


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