Program Notes 

Weinberg (Vainberg) - String Quartet No. 2, Op. 56
Weinberg was an incredibly prolific composer whose works are just now emerging from the shadows of the Iron Curtain

Weinberg, a prodigious Soviet composer who overlapped with the generation of Shostakovich, has recently started to have the rediscovery he deserves. The Weinberg "revival" started in the late 1990s (most of it after the composer passed away in 1996) and, over the last three decades has slowly gained momentum to the point where we now have a full recorded catalog of this music and where, several of his works have entered the 20th century canon and legitimate masterworks.  Not that Weinberg had been obscure in his lifetime. His dramatic life story was no secret. He had grown up in Warsaw, had two narrow escapes from German invasions, and finally settled in Moscow from September 1943. There he gained in Shostakovich a close musical friend and indefatigable supporter. The first five Moscow years were conspicuously successful. Then the ‘anti-formalism’ and ‘anti-cosmopolitan’ campaigns beginning in 1948 put the brakes on, and after five years of being tailed by the secret police Weinberg was briefly incarcerated in the Lubyanka and Butyrka prisons. Following a steady recovery, in the 1960s (his ‘starry years’, as he described them) he was championed by the likes of Kondrashin, Rudolf Barshai, Mstislav Rostropovich, Emil Gilels, Leonid Kogan, the Borodin Quartet and Kurt Sanderling, and later on by Vladimir Fedoseyev. Even so, his Polish-Jewish background and his reluctance to assume official positions or to take on teaching meant that his music was never top-priority export material and was seldom heard in the West.  

Trying to put Weinberg into context the musicologist and critic David Flanning says, "Tempting though it may be to set Weinberg up as some kind of moral beacon, his message has nothing – or almost nothing - to do with pro- or anti-communism, or with political engagement of any kind. He would have answered to the label of 'anti-fascist', but not to any other. His message, if we want to call it such, has to do with what it is to be a human being and artist living close to the turmoils of the mid-20th century." 

During his lifetime, Weinberg composed 17 string quartets, 26 symphonies, 3 full-length ballets, 60 films scores, and a multitude of other works with 154 published opus works in his catalog. 

Nowakowski: String Quartet No. 1 "Songs of Forgiveness"

The composer Mark Nowakowski utilized the intimate voice of the string quartet  to convey his deeply felt and personal response to, "the centuries of tribulations experienced by the Polish people, and their resilience in the face of every kind of hardship."  Of the first string quartet the composer states, "The First String Quartet occupies a place between personal and societal strife. The title of the work 'Songs of Forgiveness' emerges from the struggle I had as a Polish-American. It is a personal reconciling about the people of Poland I met during my overseas studies in Kraków and their stories of having lived through often impossible times and conditions. Reflecting on the remains and echos that lingered from the unprecedented brutality of the second world war and the half-century communist occupation that followed. The second movement quotes from the ghostly Polish folk song Czemu tak rychło, Panie, sung from the perspective of a young child who has experienced premature death. At that time I was contemplating the Culture of Death which has thoroughly seized our society, especially in the West. Seen against a stark reality, forgiveness—both for people and society—becomes the necessary defining aspect of our character and a key element in the main thrust of our lives.

Szymanowski: String Quartet No. 2, Op. 56

Karol Szymanowski is another Easter European composer who is undergoing to revival, or at least a resurgence in 21st century concert halls. His works for violin are increasingly finding voice in concert programs and his opera King Roger is arguably considered one of the great 20th century Polish operas. 

Karol Szymanowski was born on October 3, 1882, on his family’s estate in Tymoszówka (now Ukraine). His creative output may be divided into four periods: early career, the World War I period, the 1920s, and 1930s. Szymanowski received many high distinctions during his lifetime and was appointed to numerous international societies. In 1927, the year his second quartet was composed,  he was offered the directorship of the Warsaw conservatory. There in Warsaw Szymanowski saw an opportunity to re-invigorate Polish music education, neglected during the years of partition, and to form a new generation of Polish composers.  So the writing of his second string quartet coincided with his personal campaign to established a new model of training, to open wide horizons to the young and to provide them with a thorough knowledge of composition. He wrote his second quartet  and achieved his aim, but at a very high cost: with the exception of this string quartet these were of great physical and nervous stress, which led to a serious crisis in his health and would result in Szymanowski leaving Warsaw and finding new the inspiration for his last creative period when he rented a home in  Zakopane and started to catalog the music in the surrounding landscape as performed by the Goral people of that region.