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Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica to play Mieczysław Weinberg on their US tour

Cover of the recording being discussed
courtesy of ECM

Gidon Kremer has planned his next tour of the United States with his Kremerata Baltica chamber string ensemble. Beginning at the end of the month, it will be a short tour, visiting only six cities. It has been timed to precede the release of his latest ECM New Series recording (currently available for pre-order from Amazon.com), which is dedicated entirely to the music of Mieczysław Weinberg, and works by Weinberg will be featured on every program prepared for the tour.

Since one of the tour stops will be in San Francisco, I have already been doing some homework about Weinberg for an article that appeared during this past week on my San Francisco site. Regardless of his prodigious achievements as a composer, Weinberg’s life is probably most notable for its episodes of uncanny luck. He was born into a Jewish family in Warsaw on December 8, 1919 and graduated from the Warsaw Conservatory in 1939. He managed to flee to the Soviet Union before the Nazis took over Poland; and, as a result, he seems to be the only member of his family that did not die in the Holocaust. Following the Second World War, he avoided having his music banned by the notorious Zhdanov Doctrine of 1946. (This fate fell to both Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev.) However, in February of 1953, he was arrested and jailed for “Jewish bourgeois nationalism.” Shostakovich tried to intercede for him, but more likely what saved him was the death of Joseph Stalin on March 5.

I used the phrase “prodigious achievements” in that last paragraph. His catalog includes 22 symphonies, seventeen string quartets, eight violin sonatas (three without accompaniment), 24 preludes for cello, six cello sonatas (four without accompaniment), six piano sonatas, and seven operas. The ECM release is a two-CD set that includes Kremer performing the third unaccompanied violin sonata, Opus 126 (a single movement work), and the tenth symphony in A minor, Opus 98, which is actually more of a cross between a concerto grosso and a suite, commissioned by Rudolf Barshai for the Moscow Chamber Orchestra. Kremer also performs as soloist in the Opus 42 concertino for violin and string orchestra and the Opus 46 sonatina in D major, for which his piano accompanist is Daniil Trifonov. In the Opus 48 string trio Kremer performs with his Kremerata Baltica colleagues Daniil Grishin on viola and Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė on cello.

Weinberg and Shostakovich were near neighbors in Moscow, and there are many compositions in which Weinberg explicitly acknowledges Shostakovich’s influence. On this recording the most evident of those is the Opus 48 trio, which reflects much of the rhetoric that Shostakovich cultivated both during and following the Second World War. On the other hand the massive Opus 126 solo sonata seems to be a deeply-considered reflection of Béla Bartók’s only solo violin sonata. The wittiest of the pieces in the collection is definitely the Opus 96 symphony. As I have already described, it is clearly playing games with traditional genres; and the solo voices of the concerto grosso are for violin, viola, cello, and bass. Those solo lines are not quite jazzy, but they have the same uninhibited spirit one encounters in jazz. The final movement is a “game of inversion,” possibly inspired by the fact that Bartók never met a theme that he could not repeat in inversion.

The specifics of the Kremerata Baltica touring schedule are as follows:

  1. January 30, New York, New York: Kaufmann Concert Hall
  2. February 2, San Francisco, California: Davies Symphony Hall
  3. February 4, Houston, Texas: Stude Concert Hall
  4. February 6, Ann Arbor, Michigan: Hill Auditorium
  5. February 7, Chicago, Illinois: Harris Theater
  6. February 8, St. Paul, Minnesota: Ordway Center for the Performing Arts