Polish orchestra on first US tour seeks great achievements
WORCESTER — Wieniawski’s Polish Philharmonic Orchestra in Lublin, Poland, is widely acclaimed by music critics and audiences alike and has performed on numerous international concert tours.
Wojciech Rodek, director and principal conductor of the orchestra, born in 1977, has been called “one of the most eminent conductors of his generation”.
However, neither the orchestra nor Rodek had visited the United States until they flew on a plane from Warsaw, Poland to Miami, Florida on January 12.
On January 15, Rodek led the orchestra for its first concert on American soil in Daytona Beach. The tour will take place in early March. “So it’s a long tour. Fifty-five days,” Rodek said.
The tour will include a concert at Mechanics Hall at 8 p.m. on February 11 presented by Music Worcester.
The program includes Rossini’s Gazza Ladra Overture, Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 “Great”.
The guest pianist is Tomasz Ritter, winner of the first international Chopin competition on period instruments.
Rodek said he researched Mechanics Hall ahead of time.
“I’ve only seen this venue in pictures, but it’s a great venue and in Worcester I hope we have a really good gig,” he said.
The pandemic a challenge
The orchestra chose a rather difficult time to make its first visit to the United States, as the Omicron Variation continued to fuel the COVID pandemic and other individuals or groups of performers canceled concerts (including The Knights & Aaron Diehl which was scheduled to perform at Mechanics Hall on January 14).
“The tour is very, very interesting. Sometimes stressful. A great chance to play in very good venues with fantastic audiences,” Rodek said in a recent phone interview from South Carolina where the orchestra was going to perform. that night at Francis Marion University. Art Center.
Organizing a concert tour is done months in advance.
“Our planning, I thought, would be the end of this catastrophic period,” Rodek said of the pandemic.
However, once Rodek and the orchestra committed to come, there was no backing down.
“It was very difficult to do it. But for us it’s important. This is our first tour (in the United States). I think we are the first symphony orchestra that comes to the United States (since the pandemic). I think it’s very important in this difficult to do live music and I hope for the future that the end of the pandemic is very close,” he said.
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony
So this could end up being a victory tour for Wieniawski’s Polish Philharmonic Orchestra.
Rodek noted that one of the works he performs on his US tour (but not Worcester) is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
“It’s a combat symphony. The first notes are the symbol of the letter ‘V’ (for Victory).”
During World War II, the Allies played the overture to the symphony on radio broadcasts symbolizing ultimate victory.
“I hope this is a symbol of our victory over COVID 19,” Rodek said.
Wieniawski’s Polish Philharmonic Orchestra had already celebrated the victory by being the first to give a symphonic concert in post-World War II Poland on May 18, 1945. It had just been formed a few months earlier.
The home of the orchestra is Lublin, a city of around 350,000 people in eastern Poland that suffered greatly under Nazi occupation.
Lublin has a long cultural history and the orchestra is named after Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880), a violinist and composer considered one of the greatest violinists of all time.
“We are very close to his music,” Rodek said.
The orchestra remains close to its community. “Our hall is very nice. Our orchestra is very popular in Poland. I’m very lucky to be the main conductor. The audience always welcomes us,” Rodek said.
Tours have included performances in Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, Germany, South Korea, Denmark and Ukraine.
Rodek, originally from Brzeg, Poland, began studying piano at the age of 8, then turned to conducting at the Academy of Music in Wroclaw, Poland. He also studied conducting in Moscow.
In 2015 he was awarded the Medal of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage for “Merit to Culture-Gloria Artis”.
On his initiative, the Wieniawski Philharmonic Youth Orchestra was created, which brings together the most talented young musicians from all over Eastern Poland.
Before the pandemic, the orchestra held about four to five symphony programs a month.
Currently, “we have chamber concerts with a limited orchestra,” Rodek said. The capacity in the concert hall is around 30% at present.
Wieniawski’s Polish Philharmonic Orchestra is “a state orchestra”, Rodek said. “It’s a little different than in the United States.”
The orchestra receives support from the government, although that is not all, especially in these difficult times.
As a conductor “I have to work very hard not only in music but also in business,” Rodek said.
Tomasz Ritter, from Lublin, won the International Chopin Competition for Period Instruments playing pianos from the composer’s era in the 1840s. The orchestra does not carry an 1842 piano on its US tour , Rodek said.
Worcester hears a piano concerto
Not much else will be missing from Ritter’s award-winning renditions.
“His phrasing (of Ritter), his construction of music is very extraordinary. I think he’s one of the most important pianists in the world. He was born in Lublin, so we know him well,” Rodek said. .
In Worcester, Ritter will perform Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor (1868), the only piano concerto the Norwegian composer completed.
Nonetheless, it’s such a masterpiece that Grieg is called “the Chopin of the North,” Rodek said in reference to the brilliance he shared with Polish composer Frederic Chopin.
“So the music of Grieg and Chopin is very close,” Rodek said.
The “Great” Symphony (1825-1826) is the last symphony completed by the German composer Franz Schubert. It’s a long but compelling work that builds the music and is rhythmically relentless at the end.
“It’s very close to my heart. Our history (Poland and Germany) was so close. Not only the tragic history, the music is so close to our folk melodies,” Rodek said.
The “Grande” Symphonie can be a great way to conclude a successful visit.
“The symphony is so long. The last movement plays very fast notes. It’s very difficult from a physical point of view,” Rodek said.
“It is for us, every time we play this symphony, a great achievement.”
Wieniawski Polish Philharmonic Orchestra — presented by Music Worcester
When: 8 p.m., February 11
Or: Mechanics Hall, 321 Main Street, Worcester
How much: $55; students $17.50; young $7.50. Proof of vaccination and wearing a mandatory mask. musicworcester.org