Warsaw Philharmonic Debut

November 24, 2017

Alexander travels to Warsaw this week, making his debut with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra (the Polish National Orchestra) in a concert programme that brings together works that were composed in the same period: three of the four were written in 1928–1929, bang in the middle of the interwar period. Art, including music, vividly reflected the social changes and political unrest of that time. Is it possible to portray a city, its life, citizens, beauty, and soul with sounds? Some composers tried to do so. In the 1920s in particular, Constructivism took delight in mimicking different aspects of urban life, and composers eagerly resorted to musical onomatopoeias – particularly famous are the beeping horns in George Gershwin’s tone poem An American in Paris from 1929. Gershwin’s fascination with the dazzling metropolis is echoed in his dizzying and witty fusion of motifs – a pastiche of local music straight from cabarets and revue shows, jazz and blues.


Divertissement (also 1929) by Jacques Ibert – a prolific author of now forgotten operas and still popular piano and chamber compositions – was written as a fragment of incidental music for a lighthearted farce by Eugene Labiche. This humorous piece illustrates the plot (it is a comedy of errors during the preparations for a wedding) in a highly fitting manner.


Lying at the opposite pole to these “bourgeois” works is Kurt Weil’s epoch‑making The Threepenny Opera, composed to a libretto by Bertold Brecht (1928). It is a stinging, left‑wing social satire on bloodthirsty capitalism. In keeping with the fashion of that time, Weil’s music employs elements of jazz, cabaret songs, dances danced in cafés, and in this respect provides an interesting complement to the other works in tonight’s programme.


The figure of Reinhold Glière typifies the incredibly complex ethnic melting pot of 19th‑century Central Europe. He was born in 1875 in Kiev, Ukraine to a German immigrant musician called Ernst Glier and a Pole by the name of Józefa Korczak. He studied in Moscow, but due to the spelling he adopted for his surname (Glière) he was often mistakenly believed to be a composer of French origin. As he spent most of his mature career in the USSR, he is generally referred to in lexicons as a Soviet composer. He boasts a rich oeuvre, written in a post‑Romantic spirit and with clear elements of Russian national music, but also not without a certain impressionistic timbral sensitivity. His most popular work outside of Russia is his charming Harp Concerto (1938), which has become a popular and permanent fixture in the repertoire of harp virtuosos.


Two concerts take place in the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall on November 24 and 25.