The 75th anniversary of the death of Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) - widely considered to be the most important Polish composer since Chopin and described by Sir Simon Rattle as ‘one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century’ - is marked by major performances in the UK during 2012.
Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra will perform a major Szymanowski series in 2012, undertaking a four-programme international tour of his music to include a complete cycle of all four symphonies and both violin concertos set alongside the music of Brahms. Taking in Paris, New York, Frankfurt and Luxembourg, the tour culminates at the Barbican in December. Pierre Boulez also includes Szymanowski in his programmes with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican and in Paris and Brussels in April and May.
Gergiev, Boulez, Jurowski and Gardner champion the most important Polish composer since Chopin
Other major conductors and orchestras celebrating Szymanowski in the UK include Edward Gardner and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (Stabat Mater, 18 & 20 February) and Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra (Symphony No.3 ‘Song of the Night’, 22 February).
Edward Gardner, speaking about the impact of Szymanowski’s music said: "For me Polish music has a really unique voice, and Szymanowski personifies something special. The first piece of his I conducted was Stabat Mater, which I'm revisiting with the CBSO next year. It's deeply and intrinsically beautiful, yet so human. Szymanowski's musical language speaks so clearly to us, you don't need to know the religious context to feel the spirituality of the piece: it feels other-worldly in the most beautiful way. I think in the last 10 or 15 years we've begun to appreciate how great Szymanowski is, and this feeling will grow. Anyone who listens to his music finds it remarkable. His is an individual voice that demands to be heard."
Key performances for the big summer festivals of 2012 are still to be announced.
Sir Simon Rattle, on being asked to describe Szymanowski’s music said: “I cannot talk objectively about Szymanowski, for you cannot expect objectivity or reasonability from someone in love. And reasonability is out of place when this music is concerned, anyway […] Szymanowski is one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century.”
“Szymanowski is one of the great composers of the twentieth century.” Sir Simon Rattle
Szymanowski has become known at home and abroad as a champion of Polish music during the turbulent decades of the early twentieth century. Though renowned for drawing on his nation’s great folk traditions, he was keen to release Polish music from what he identified as its lethargy and provincialism and he travelled widely in his lifetime drawing inspiration from composers such as Debussy, Ravel, Scriabin and Stravinsky as well as the exoticism of Islamic culture and Orientalism.
His music has always had an important place in the UK, even during his lifetime, but it has been heard more frequently and on ever higher-profile platforms in recent years, including King Roger at the Edinburgh Festival in 2008, the Stabat Mater at the BBC Proms in 2009, and a festival at the Wigmore Hall in 2010. It is in 2012, however, with this series of high profile performances that his reputation as a composer of impressionistic, exotic and exquisitely orchestrated music looks set to be consolidated.
As part of its Polska Music programme to increase the presentation and popularity of Polish music in the world, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute of Poland is supporting many of the UK performances. Its website is a valuable source of information, pictures, clips and other resources. BBC Radio 3 recently featured him as Composer of the Week. His music is published by Universal Edition and full biographical information is also available.
2012 Concert Highlights
15 & 18 February, Symphony Hall (Birmingham)
Stabat Mater (sung in Polish)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Edward Gardner
Sarah Fox (soprano); Pamela Helen Stephen (mezzo-soprano); James Creswell (bass)
22 February, Royal Festival Hall
Symphony No.3, ‘Song of the Night’
London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir/Vladimir Jurowski
Joshua Bell (violin); Jeremy Ovenden (tenor)
Dr Stephen Downes, Reader in Musicology at the University of Surrey, discusses the music of Szymanowski in a free pre-concert talk.
29 April, Barbican
Violin Concerto No.1
London Symphony Orchestra and Ladies’ Chorus/Pierre Boulez
Christian Tetzlaff (violin)
8 May, Barbican
Symphony No.3, ‘Song of the Night’
London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Pierre Boulez
Nikolaj Znaider (violin); Steve Davislim (tenor)
August – December, LSO International Tour with Valery Gergiev
Complete Symphonies; Violin Concertos Nos.1 & 2 in four programmes alongside music by Brahms.
London Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
Full details of the London Symphony Tour to be announced.