Wednesday 29 Oct 2014
Composed as a musical monument to the victims of war and oppression, Roman Maciejewski's Requiem is given its UK premiere by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at Westminster Cathedral on Thursday 4 February 2010, in the centenary year of this fascinating, yet sadly neglected, Polish composer.
Roman Maciejewski (1910-98) dedicated 15 years to writing his Requiem, passing up many opportunities for fame and fortune to complete it. He studied with some of the leading composers of the 20th century (including Nadia Boulanger and Karol Szymanowski), worked internationally with luminaries such as director Ingmar Bergman and Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn and seemed to have a glittering career ahead of him.
As the Second World War ended, however, he felt compelled to compose a work which would make people realise the "tragic absurdity of wars" and began to write his monumental Requiem, turning his back on prestigious commissions (such as one from pianist Artur Rubinstein), important jobs (including Director of Music for MGM) and all the usual activities a composer would pursue in order to gain an international reputation. He even spent time living as a hermit in the woods while in the USA, working on the Requiem and recovering from a gastric condition which nearly killed him.
This disregard for self-promotion partly explains why British audiences have never heard this work before. Another reason for his unfamiliarity here is that, like many in exile, he lived an itinerant life.
He left Poland after being expelled from the Warsaw Music Institute for leading a student strike, moving first to France, then to England. He was stranded in Sweden during the Second World War, moved briefly to Scotland before settling in the USA, and, finally, returned to Sweden, where he died in 1998.
Another hurdle hampering performances of the Requiem is its scale. It requires an enlarged orchestra, full choir and lasts nearly two hours.
In this performance, there will be close to 300 performers, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra joined by the BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Singers and a cast of Polish soloists all conducted by young Polish maestro Michał Dworzynski, recent winner of the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition.
Paul Hughes, General Manager of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, says: "The BBC Symphony Orchestra's musical mission is to give voice to composers whose works are new, large-scale or neglected, and Roman Maciejewski's Requiem is a fine example of just such a work.
"It's a big-hearted, post-Romantic, deeply-moving setting of the Requiem Mass for large orchestra, chorus and four soloists by a composer who will be virtually unknown to most people.
"Music history is littered with composers celebrated for just one work and I firmly believe Maciejewski deserves his place in the musical panoply on the strength of this extraordinary piece."
The musical language of the Requiem is immediately appealing. Witold Lutoslawski, the most influential of 20th-century Polish composers, describes his music as always "tender and sensitive," and Gramophone's Stephen Johnson commented – in his 1990 review of a recording of this piece – that "there's a combination of poignancy and restraint that compelled me to go back to these movements as soon as I reached the end of the work..."
The work is dedicated "to the victims of all wars" and Maciejewski wanted to communicate with broad audiences in a direct and powerful way.
To do this he took inspiration from the music of Bach and Palestrina to Verdi and beyond. The result is a work of expressive power and emotional integrity which promises to be a moving and spiritual occasion in the majestic setting of Westminster Cathedral.
This concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3's Afternoon On 3. Date and time to be confirmed.
Concert supported by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. This event is part of POLSKA! YEAR.
Thursday 4 February 2010, 7.00pm, Westminster Cathedral, Victoria Street, London, SW1.
Maciejewski's Requiem (UK premiere), BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus; BBC Singers/Michał Dworzynski. Soloists: Iwona Hossa (soprano); Agnieszka Rehlis (mezzo-soprano); Ales Briscein (tenor); Tomasz Koneiczny (bass).
How to book: www.barbican.org.uk, 0845 120 7596. Tickets £8-£24.
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