Friday, December 5, 2008

12/8/08 @ 6:15 pm : Polish Music for Violin & Piano

Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra violinist Piotr Szewczyk and award-winning pianist Christine Clark join forces for an evening of chamber music by composers from Mr. Szewczyk's Polish homeland.

Piotr Szewczyk
Polish-born violinist and composer Piotr Szewczyk (b. 1977) attended the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, studying composition with Darrel Handel, Joel Hoffman, Henry Gwiazda, Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon and Michael Fiday, and violin with Kurt Sassmannshaus, Piotr Milewski and Dorothy DeLay. While earning both Bachelor and Master of Music degrees as well as his Artist Diploma, Piotr served as concertmaster of several of the College-Conservatory's orchestras. Mr. Szewczyk recently completed a fellowship at the New World Symphony in Miami Beach where he served as rotating concertmaster under Artistic Director Michael Tilson Thomas, and in September 2007 Piotr joined the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. The winner of the 2006 New World Symphony Concerto competition, Mr. Szewczyk has appeared as soloist with numerous ensembles, including the Lima Symphony, New World Symphony, World Youth Symphony Orchestra, Queen City Virtuosi, and the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble. Piotr also has given solo and chamber recitals in the United States, Poland, Germany and Austria, often performing compositions written especially for him by composers from around the world. Mr. Szewczyk’s own compositions have been performed by numerous orchestral and chamber ensembles and he has won a number of international composition contests. His music has been performed on NPR and at the American Symphony Orchestra League Conference by ALIAS Ensemble in Nashville. Mr. Szewczyk’s string quintet The Rebel was performed live on the CBS Early Show by the Sybarite Chamber Players, and is being prepared for publication. Most recently he won the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra’s 2008 Fresh Ink composition competition, earning a commission to write a new piece for their 2009/10 season. More about Mr. Szewczyk at

Christine Clark
A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Christine Armington Clark began piano studies with James Crosland, and continued her professional training at Oberlin Conservatory. She received a Master's degree in piano performance from the University of Illinois and studied with Leon Fleisher in the Peabody Conservatory Artist Diploma Program upon the recommendation of legendary concert pianist Lorin Hollander. Ms. Clark was national finalist in the Collegiate Artist Competition sponsored by the Music Teachers National Association, and attended the Aspen Music Festival on a piano performance and accompanying scholarship. She competed in the Maryland International Piano Competition, and won the Boca Raton Piano Competition. A versatile musician, Christine played keyboard with Trap Door, a local rock group, and toured Europe under the aegis of Proclaim! International. She taught piano at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and her numerous chamber music performances include an appearance at the Goethe Institute in San Francisco. Well known along the First Coast, Ms. Clark has appeared with the Jacksonville Starlight Symphonette and the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, and frequently appears in solo and chamber recitals. President of Friday Musicale and a board member of numerous arts organizations, Christine A. Clark is also an attorney, and while working as a law clerk in Washington, D.C., she gave perhaps her most unusual recital, performing in the United States Supreme Court at the request of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Henryk Wieniawski - Obertas
Krzysztof Penderecki - Sonata for Violin and Piano No.1
Henryk Wieniawski - Legende
Henryk Gorecki - Variazioni
Karol Szymanowski - Song of Roxanne
Grazyna Bacewicz - Oberek No. 1
Piotr Szewczyk - Two Movements
Henryk Wieniawski - Polonaise Brillante in D-Major

by Ed Lein, Music Librarian (c2008)

Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880) : Obertas, op. 19, no.1 (1860) ; Legende, op. 17 (1859) ; Polonaise Billante in D-Major, op. 4 (1852)
As a violinist the prodigious talent of Henryk Wieniawski was recognized early on by his pianist mother, and she managed to get her son admitted into the Paris Conservatoire when he was a mere lad of eight, despite his being underage and not even French. From age 15 until his death from heart failure at 45, Wieniawski maintained a rigorous concert schedule that included a two-year tour of North America (1872-74), and his influence as a teacher is still evident particularly among violinists from Russia, where he taught from 1860 to 1872. Wieniawski's two dozen published compositions include pieces that are reckoned among the cornerstones of the violinist's repertoire, requiring the highest level of technical proficiency and often featuring virtuoso effects that heighten the passionate melodic expression. His works demonstrate a continuing interest in cultivating a national music based on characteristically Polish forms, including mazurkas, as in Obertas (from Two Mazurkas, op. 19), and polonaises, as in the early Polonaise brillante, op. 4. Wieniawski apparently wrote his works to perform himself, but his Legende, op. 17, has a more personal significance: it was through its composition that Wieniawski was finally able to convince the parents of Isabel Hampton that he was worthy enough to marry their daughter.

Krzysztof Penderecki (b.1933) : Sonata for Violin and Piano No.1 (1952)
In 1960, the performance of Krzysztof Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima catapulted the relatively unknown music professor to the forefront of avant-garde composers, realizing, in a work charged with microtonal clusters, extreme registers and a wealth of other novel performance techniques, a musical experience that for many captured the horror and pathos of atomic devastation. Since then Penderecki has become one of history's most awarded composers, winning not only numerous composition prizes and commissions, but also receiving honorary degrees and memberships from prestigious universities and conservatories around the globe, and national orders from Germany, Monaco, Austria and Spain in addition to his native Poland. Beginning in the mid-1970s his compositional language matured to include tonal, even Romantic, harmonic and melodic elements. Although this direction was often decried by shortsighted critics as dulling his youthful cutting edge, Penderecki ignored them and continued on his own path, and thus perhaps even foreshadowed current trends among much younger composers. Although his Sonata no. 1 is a student work reminiscent of Bartók, the precocious teenager nonetheless created a work of surprising maturity, expertly drawing on his training as both violinist and pianist.

Henryk Gorecki (b.1933) : Variazioni, op. 4 (1956)
Much like his better-known contemporary Penderecki, Henryk Gorecki first achieved fame in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a darling of the European avant-garde spearheaded by Pierre Boulez, only to abandon their intellectual asceticism, and instead strive during the 1970s toward a more personal idiom that often seems to embrace deep sorrow as a catharsis for healing. Upon his abandonment of post-Webern serialism in favor of a simpler and more direct style, Gorecki was dismissed by critics as suddenly unimportant. But Gorecki went on to surprise even himself when the 1992 release of his then 15-year-old Symphony no. 3, op. 36 ("Symphony of Sorrowful Songs") sold over a million copies world-wide, an unmatched success for a modern symphony. His mature style, sometimes described as "sacred minimalism," is infused with religious mysticism and characterized by modal harmonies derived from early Polish church music melded with repetitive melodies and rhythms. In contrast, Gorecki's youthful Variations, op. 4, has been described as combining "the fluid lyricism of Szymanowksi, the rhythmic fervor of Bartók and the textural severity of Webern," but with his own voice "already recognizable, especially in the way small melodic or harmonic motifs suddenly explode with the energy of a split atom [Mark Swed, LA Times, 10.3.1997]."

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) : Song of Roxanne (1926)
Karol Szymanowski, sometimes called the father of modern Polish music, is the most important Polish composer of the early 20th Century. He perhaps is best-known in this country for his solo piano music and his Stabat Mater for chorus and orchestra, although now his four symphonies, two violin concertos, chamber music, vocal music, and stage works are becoming better known as new recordings become available. Szymanowski's early works show the decided influences of Chopin, Wagner, Scriabin, Reger and Richard Strauss, but as he traveled extensively through Europe and Mediterranean Africa, the influences from the different cultures he encountered, along with exposure to works by Debussy and Ravel, as well as to Stravinsky's early ballets, began to color his work. After losing his family estate in Timoshovka (now in the Ukraine) following the Bolshevik Revolution (1917), Szymanowski settled in Warsaw in late 1919 and became an increasingly important figure in that city’s musical life. In 1926 he was appointed director of the Warsaw Conservatory, and as he became enthralled with Polish folk music his later works grew more nationalistic, celebrating his Polish heritage. Suffering from tuberculosis, Szymanowski retired to a sanitorium in Switzerland in 1935, and died there in 1937. A splendid example of the exoticism of Szymanowski's "middle period," the Song of Roxanne is an extract from his 1926 opera King Roger, arranged for violin and piano by violin virtuoso Paul Kochanski (1887-1934), an intimate friend of the composer who frequently offered Szymanowski advice and guidance in writing for the violin.

Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) : Oberek No. 1 (1949)
Grażyna Bacewicz joins Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831) as the only Polish women yet to achieve international recognition as composers. At age seven, Bacewicz began her career as a violin prodigy, and from 1928-1932 she studied violin, piano and composition at the Warsaw Conservatory and philosophy at Warsaw University. She then received encouragement from Szymanowski, plus a stipend from the famous pianist and Polish Prime Minister Ignacy Paderewski, to study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, a teacher whose numerous illustrious students ranged from Aaron Copland and Elliott Carter to Burt Bacharach and Quincy Jones. During the 1930s Bacewicz was the principal violinist for the Polish Radio Orchestra, with whom she was able to perform several of her own compositions. Forced underground during World War II, Bacewicz continued composing and performing for secret concerts in Warsaw, and after the war she joined the faculty of the State Conservatory of Music in Łódź. Between 1956-1966, inspired by a number of important composition awards and commissions, and especially after sustaining serious injuries in a car crash, she concentrated exclusively on composing. Not surprisingly, many of Bacewicz's works feature the violin, including seven violin concertos, five violin and piano sonatas, and 2 sonatas for unaccompanied violin. Her Oberek no. 1 (1949), which adapts a traditional Polish dance that is often described as a very lively mazurka, was hastily written as an encore piece for a concert she would perform the following evening!

Piotr Szewczyk (b.1977) : Two Movements (1998)
Written during his sophomore year of college, Piotr Szewczyk's Two Movements was his first composition for violin and piano, and even though it is an early work, it, like the early works of Penderecki and Gorecki on this program, already demonstrates elements of the composer's later style. When commenting on the piece the composer observed, "It has a youthful eagerness, energy, virtuosity and sincerity. The First Movement starts with a slow introduction and gradually progresses through different tempos and moods to finally dissolve. The Second Movement is a crazy, fast, twisted rondo, full of energy, surprising twists and turns--never letting go to the very end.”

No comments: