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Polish Landscapes

Shanghai, 2019 | 上海, 2019



October 9, 2019 7:30 PM
East China Normal University
  |  Department of Music

2019109日  19:30 點
华东师范大学  | 音乐学院


Joanna Okoń violin

Katarzyna Glensk piano

◼︎ Piotr Maszyński (1855 – 1934) Romans

Wacław Niemczyk
(1907 – ?) Valse caprice

Stanisław Lipski (1880 – 1937) Improvisation op.10

Alfred Mistowski (1872 – 1964) Gigue

Adam Wieniawski (1879 – 1950) Orientale

Poldowski (Regine Wieniawski) (1879 – 1932) Tango

Tymoteusz Adamowski (1858 – 1943) Mazur

Joseph Achron (1886 – 1943) Hebrew Melody

Mieczysław Weinberg (1919 – 1996) Rhapsody on moldavian themes op 47 nr 3

Joanna Okoń is an artist who hails from a family of esteemed musical traditions. As a child she performed recitals on concert stages, playing with her mother, the pianist Alina Jasielska-Okoń.

She is a graduate of the Fryderyk Chopin Music Academy in Warsaw, where she completed her Masters under the supervision of prof. Janusz Kucharski; and post-graduate studies led by prof. Jan Stanieda. In 2012 Okoń completed her artistic apprenticeship under the guidance of Prof. Konstanty Andrzej Kulka.

Okoń honed her craft and ear under the tutelage of the renowned violinist Marina Yashvili and during the annual International Orchestra Institute Attergau (Austria), where for several summer seasons she studied under such conductors as Sir Neville Marriner, Fabio Luisi, Shandor Vegh, Leopold Hager, and Heinrich Schiff. In 1991 she would win 1st prize at the Young Violinist competition in Warsaw, and in 1993, achieve 6th prize at the National Violin Competition in Elbląg. She has performed twice at the Karol Szymanowski International Music Festival in Zakopane and The International Festival of Contemporary Music in Kobe (Japan).

Okoń has participated in the musical project „Myths”, organized by Jeunesses Musicales, and performed at the Little Theatre in Warsaw and the Witkacy Theatre in Zakopane. She has collaborated with such famous music groups as: Warszawscy Soliści Concerto Avenna [The Warsaw Soloists Concerto Avenna] under the artistic direction of Andrzej Mysiński and the Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra, with which she continues to perform as a violinist. As a member of Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra, Okoń has participated in renowned festivals in Gstaad (the Yehudi Menuhin Festival), Montreux, La Roque d ‚Antheron, Aix-en-Provence, Schleswig Holstein and many others, working with such conductors as Lorin Maazel, Charles Dutoit, Valery Gergiev, Emmanuel Krivine, Andres Mustonen, Krzysztof Penderecki, Marc Minkowski, Jerzy Semkow, Jerzy Maksymiuk, Grzegorz Nowak. During these concerts Okoń accompanied such soloists as Martha Argerich, Boris Berezovsky, Renaud Capucon, Augustin Dumay, James Galway, Nigel Kennedy, Mischa Maisky, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Maria Joao Pires, Ivo Pogorelic, Piotr Anderszewski, and Rafał Blechacz.

In 2018, Joanna Okoń and a „Pan Ton” quartet performed with David Krakauer at the International Festival of Jewish Music in Krakow, playing the quintet „Dybuk”, which had been composed by Wlad Marhulets especially for this occasion. With the pianist Katarzyna Glensk, Okoń has recorded unknown Polish works, which were subsequently released as a CD by the Anagram recording label.

An important place in the artist’s life is pedagogical activity, as well as participating in concerts for children and young people organized by the National Philharmonic.




Katarzyna Glensk is a talented Polish pianist, who performs both as a soloist and chamber musician. She has performed in the United States, Russia and in many European countries. She has worked with the Chamber Stage of the National Philharmonic in Warsaw, and regularly performs Chopin recitals. Glensk is also a frequently invited performer at music festivals.

Her father Teodor gave Katarzyna her first piano lessons. At the age of 6, she began studying at the Frederyk Chopin State Music School in Opole. She later studied at the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, attending piano classes conducted by Prof. Bronisława Kawalla and chamber music classes conducted by Prof. Maja Nosowska. Glensk continued her education with postgraduate studies under the tuition of Prof. Jan Ekier and Prof. Bronisława Kawalla. She honed her piano craft as a scholarship holder to Dartington College of Music and Arts followed by a scholarship to Trinity College of Music in London.

Glensk has won many awards and distinctions, including first prize at the 7th International Competition of Chamber Duets in honour of L. Janaček (Brno). She was also the recipient of the L. Smith Duo Prize (London) – both of which were in a duet with Ewa Mizerska, the first being the the Chopin Prize (London), and second prize in the E. Schumann Duo Prize competition for Lieder (London).

In a duet with Ewa Mizerska, Glensk performed the Polish premiere of Krzysztof Meyer’s Opus 99 Sonata for Cello and Piano. This piece was placed on the monographic album dedicated to the works of the Polish composer, released by the Toccata Classics label in London. For the Year of Chopin, the pianist recorded a CD which featured selections of the revered composer’s oeuvre. The artist has worked with celebrated violinists such as Henryka Trzonek (Duo Kreisler) and Joanna Okoń, with whom Glensk recorded in 2018 a CD featuring unknown compositions by Polish composers.




It is hard to account for the reason why some music pieces are remembered when others are forgotten, or indeed why sometimes composers fall out of favour with performers, whereas others remain lights forever shining in the firmament. Noready explanation will ever fully account for this injustice. And perhaps it is better left like this. Without delving into what is a complicated mechanism which directs the collective memory, when it comes to music, states of forgottenness or restoration ebb and flow. Indeed, in terms of this evening’s concert, the entire exploration of old music grew out of the dreams of revival. This was the dream of one person being able to „mine” the „neglected” canon, looking to do away with the cliché of the socalled „fixed repertoire”.Tonight celebrates the neglected canon, and many such gems are also awaiting discovery.

When on 29 April 1943 Joseph Achron died at the age of 57, Arnold Schoenberg in his obituary referred to Achron as „one of the most underrated composers of our time”. He expressed the hope that Achron’s music would remain a part of the living repertoire. However, precisely the opposite obtained. Achron’s works would remain forgotten for several decades. A similar fate was met by other artists who should today occupy a prominent place among the assemblage of Poland’s most renowned composers; figures such as Mieczysław Weinberg, and the group „kleine Meister”, whose outstanding achievements should be remembered because of the challenging historical context in which they forged their artistic lives. The fates of these „Pleiades of the compositional world” were also mixed. Indeed, their fates reflected both the personal calculations that people made at the time, and the historical turmoil in which they lived. Joseph Achron, born near Suwałki, and Leopold Godowski, born in Żoślach in Lithuania, grew up in a time when the tsarist rule of Russia had spread from the Vistula to Vladivostok. They would both emigrate in later life to the United States. Tymoteusz Adamowski, a Warsaw native, chose a similar path. Wacław Niemczyk distinguished himself as an insurgent and cultural activist in occupied Poland only to flee to England in 1946, keeping his intentions a secret even from his closest family.

Mieczysław Weinberg, whereas, in the dramatic circumstances of September 1939, fled the Nazi onslaught to the Soviet Union. The youngest daughter of the great Henryk, largely unconcerned with totalitarian ideologies, Irena Regina Wieniawski led what could be described as an unfettered and serene life in the West. The activities of her cousin, Adam, saw his life being led along diametrically opposite lines, living as he did in a time before Poland had regained its independence, and then having lived through the interwar period and the early post-war ‘PRL’ years. Stanisław Lipski and Piotr Maszyński, in turn, made their mark by developing music pedagogy and building their reputation as concert performers during the Second Polish Republic. Alfred Mistowski and Zofia Ossendowska also added to the artistic exuberance of those times, although we happen to know relatively little about their lives.

The eleven composers whose pieces make up this evening’s concert program do not belong to one stylistic group. That said, they do share traits and features: a clear rooting in nineteenth-century traditions, and a musical language which steers clear of revolutionary and avant-garde gestures. Nonetheless, there is no over-arching individual virtuosity that may be noted. After all, they are representatives of different generations. The oldest of them, Piotr Maszyński, was born in 1855, during the period when Liszt performed his first Piano Concerto under the direction of Hector Berlioz for the first time. The youngest of our composers, Mieczysław Weinberg, was born six days before Ignacy Jan Paderewski had assumed the office of Prime Minister of the reborn Polish Republic. And so, they were shaped by various creative schools, educational profiles, artistic and life experiences. Yet maybe one trait holds sway over the rest, and which is readily discernible in these eleven songs, which is their having drawn on the traditions of folk music, in all its variety and possibilities. Tymoteusz Adamowski and Stanisław Lipski are forever linked to the rhythms and formulas of Polish national dances, and also the melodic and harmonic phrases known from folk stylizations. The lively Mazurian dance of Adamowski rolls along at a brisk tempo. It could even be described as fiery. The composer emphasized in his Mazurian dance the characteristic features of the Polish national dance; the tone gives the music a rhythm, shifting the accent to the second part of the bar, and with a line that is sharply outlined with respect to the opening motif. The middle part of this stylized miniature gives a strong sense of the lulling and melancholic Kujawiak dance. The spirit of the Mazurian dance, in turn, is guided by the central framework of Stanisław Lipski’s Improvisation, Opus 10. Following an enigmatic beginning, in this unbound composition by the student of Władysław Żeleński, the mood of an inspired „romance” is proposed, one that is both sweet and idyllic. Lipski harmoniously guides the listener along a path that sometimes turns quite violent, and then veers off in an unexpected direction. But at the end of this path (at the center of Improvisation), the song of the Polish Mazurian dance is to be found. A sentimental, sweet and carefree spirit dominates the gentle romance of Piotr Maszyński.

Consistently, the melodic narrative of this miniature is led by the violin, although the piano contributes to the specific „splendor” of the whole. What is more, the composer looked to balance the early sweetness of the piece with a slightly more serious, opaque fragment; but at the end of the original, a sentimental motif reasserts itself, one which accords with the repertoire of that period. When in 1923 Irena Wieniawska (going by the artistic pseudonym of Poldowski) composed her Tango, little did she realise the impact it would have on the world of music. Since it had originated from the dubious dens and joints of Montevideo and Buenos Aires, it was associated mainly with the entertainment of the urban proletariat; as such, introducing tango to ballrooms was controversial and widely questioned. A decade earlier,

The Times had made much of the obscenity of tango; and Pope Pius X had also made his condemnatory opinions known to one and all; being as it was a dance that oozed sinful sexuality. However, in the 1920s, nothing could prevent the growing popularity of tango: even the great Rudolf Valentino danced the tango in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. When composing the Tango, Wieniawski, the composer of melodies to the lyrical wonders of French poetry (including the works of the poet Paul Verlaine), made recourse not only to fairly typical melodic phrases and the rhythm of Argentinian dance, but also to dissonance, coarseness, and intriguing timbre: all the while implying that the tango is not a “quaint piece” for young ladies from good homes. Maybe Poldowski was simply looking to be provocative and ruffle feathers, and this despite the passionate sweetness to be found in the middle episode. She certainly did not look to avoid erotic associations with this musical piece. These same associations are also to be found in the engaging „genre scenario” of Zofia Ossendowska’s Hidalgo e Gitana. A pupil of the great violinist, Stanisław Barcewicz, Ossendowska composed a piece which evokes the fiery Iberian temperament.

The title itself requires a romantic-like development: what are the young Nobleman and the sensual Gypsy saying to one another? It is just possible to imagine how their ideas coalesce around one another, and to discern the sensuality of their experience. Are they fated to enjoy felicitous lives together? The answer was also ‘encrypted’ in this concise musical story. Inspiration with an exotic land, maybe of eastern provenance, suggests the title of the work Orientale by Adam Wieniawski, which was composed in 1930. Here the moods of the work enjoy a paradoxical relationship with the musical culture of the Iberian Peninsula, most discernible in the uneasy final rhythm that endows the whole piece with its original hue. Of note also are Orientale’s harmony (without it the timbre of the piece would not be so exotic) and the intriguing melodic lines. Also fascinating is how the violin and piano complement and counterpoint one another. In contrast to this miniature piece, there is Alfred Mistowski’s Gigue, a simple, almost musical piece, which is a typical „imagining” of a dance genre from centuries ago, perhaps even a baroque piece viewed through the lenses of the early twentieth century. Based on practically one idea, Gigue – being both light and condensed – seems like a miniature best played in one single sweep. Where Mistowski looked askance at the old music, Godowski and Niemczyk evoked a sentiment and longing for an epoch that had seen its end (and destruction) with the outbreak of the First World War – an end which had bid farewell to the world of the Viennese waltz. Alt-Wien „a master of piano key-play” – as James Huneker so described Godowski – seems to have possessed a kernel of this melancholic note, whereas Wacław Niemczyk’s Valse caprice was a celebration of virtuosity. Although the main theme may be associated with the bourgeois waltz, the virtuoso gesture of the beginning, clearly suggests the wider context.

And so the theme of the waltz is intertwined with the technical difficulties of the title caprice. This longing for a lost world of Jewish Eastern European towns and the culture of their inhabitants is also reflected in the sounds of Joseph Achron’s music. This outstanding composer, who studied under Anatoly Liadov both at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory and later in the United States, had made his first musical steps under the guidance of his father in Warsaw. The 1911 Hebrew Melody was inspired by a melody which he had heard as a child in his local synagogue in Warsaw. Today the same Hebrew Melody can be found in the repertoire of every self-respecting violinist. As a student of Leopold Auer, Achron was fully aware of the possibilities of the violin; and he knew how to encapsulate the violin’s qualities in his compositions. At the beginning of the piece, the cadences take on a soothing sound, whereas in the centre of the piece these cadences take on aspects of virtuosity and drama, only to adorn the theme with pastel hues in the final part. In the full grandiosity of the Hebrew Melody, the violin and piano parts are given equal treatment, combining to create the colors of the piece. Both instruments „paint” a sound picture depicting the beauty and mysticism of Jewish music.

Though the unjustly forgotten works of Joseph Achron have been revisited by performers in recent years, this revival has been eclipsed by the renaissance of Mieczysław Weinberg. Today it can be clearly seen that the pigeon-holing of Weinberg, composer of The Lady Passenger, as an epigone of Dmitri Shostakovich was entirely unjust. It is true to say, however, that the gifted young composer, who had escaped the Holocaust by fleeing to the Soviet Union, did find himself in the orbit of Shostokovich’s influence: they enjoyed a close friendship for many years; and at one point Weinberg simply owed Shostokovich his life.

However, in spite of his close association with the revered composer, Weinberg’s compositional style was forged on the basis of its own idiomatic musical language. Weinberg composed the Rhapsody on Moldovian Themes, Opus 47 in 1949. In the then Soviet Union, artistic freedom was a best-forgotten notion, and composers were forced to follow the rigid guidelines of party officials, sentinels of the prevailing ideological orthodoxy. However, Rhapsody was no banal „production-line” piece which accorded with the aesthetics of socialist realism. Indeed, Weinberg quite ostentatiously used what can directly be associated with the music of Moldova or Bessarabia (his mother’s family home). But these characteristic melodic phrases or typical „chants”, associated with Jewish folklore, merged with the musical material, thus creating a universal context for these same melodies. Weinberg tried to balance the whole so that they would not give the impression of being coarse quotes. Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes – a piece full of blushes, and making recourse to sharp contrasts – exists today in two versions: the orchestral (Op. 47 No. 1); and for violin and piano (Op.47 No. 3). The premiere of the orchestral version took place with great success in 1950: the chamber version was presented to the public in February 1953 by David Oistrakh. Apparently, there was also a version of Rhapsody for violin with an orchestral accompaniment. However, we would fail to find this in Op. 47 No. 2. Instead here we may find the suite of Polish melodies. So it seems that Weinberg was a composer who in time would both fascinate and intrigue. But puzzles and intriguing questions will always remain. In the space occupied by violin composition in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century, it is possible to rediscover other such noteworthy pieces. Perhaps the coming years will see more fascinating works being revived, and we will find ourselves asking less about the forgotten works of collective memory, and celebrating what is a substantial musical legacy.


Marcin Majchrowski