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Polish Philharmonic Resovia champions Poland’s homegrown composers at Brooklyn College

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Although their musical legacy is among the richest in Europe, Polish classical composers have gotten short shrift over the last couple of centuries. Aside from Frederic Chopin - whose solo piano works have enriched the repertoire like no other composer’s - many of the major composers from Poland are seen as outsiders or, at best, on the periphery of the truly important.

This is unfortunate, because several Polish composers are among the elite of the 19th, 20th and even 21st centuries. Stanislaw Moniuszko penned "Halka" in the 1840s, which was seen as the preeminent nationalist opera, and Ignacy Jan Paderewski was not only a credible composer and dazzling pianist, but also rose to become prime minister of Poland during the tense years during, and immediately after, World War I.

The past 100 years have been especially rewarding for Polish music. Karol Szymanowski wrote four thrilling symphonies and an operatic masterpiece, "King Roger," before his death in 1937; Witold Lutoslawski (who died in 1994) sculpted some of the most original music from serial and 12-tone techniques without ever losing its accessibility to audiences.

Still going strong are Henryk Gorecki, whose "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" - featured in the 1993 movie "Fearless" - is one of the all-time classical top-sellers, and Kryzsztof Penderecki, who was considered avant-garde when he first appeared in the late ’50s, but is now seen as one of the elder statesmen of Polish music with his lush scores and frequent conducting appearances.

Penderecki has also been a champion of the Resovia Philharmonic Society’s annual summer festival. Although it’s one of the largest cities in southeastern Poland, Resovia doesn’t have the cultural or political cache of Krakow or Warsaw.

What Resovia does have, however, is a world-class symphony orchestra. Founded in 1955, the Polish Philharmonic Resovia regularly champions its homegrown composers as much as it does the standard orchestral repertoire. Its concert on Oct. 26 at Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College’s Whitman Theatre is a typical example of its ability to play both what audiences have come to hear and what its musicians want to play.

Led by artistic director and chief conductor Thadeusz Wojciehowski, the Polish Philharmonic Resovia’s program will feature two lesser-known works by Polish composers who are rarely heard outside of Poland’s concert halls, Wojciech Kilar and Karol Kurpinski; the second piano concerto of Poland’s most famous composer, Chopin - with piano soloist Leopold Godowsky III - and lastly, the "Italian" Symphony of Felix Mendelssohn.

The concert begins with Kilar’s nine-minute piece for string orchestra, "Orawa," which he wrote in 1986. The 71-year-old Kilar has had a fruitful classical career, but he’s probably best known for his many film scores, including those for Roman Polanski’s "The Pianist" (2002) and Francis Ford Coppola’s "Bram Stoker’s Dracula" (1992), as well as scores for Polish directors like Krzysztof Zanussi and Andrzej Wajda.

Following Kilar’s opener will be Godowsky’s performance of Chopin’s superlative Piano Concerto No. 2 in F-minor. Godowsky, a composer in his own right, is the nephew of another great Polish-American composer by the name of George Gershwin, and his recent recording of his uncle’s Piano Concerto in F was released to rave reviews.

After intermission, comes the most obscure piece on the program: the overture to Kurpinski’s opera "Kalmora." This 1820 stage work was just one of some 27 operas composed by Kurpinski, who had his brief time in the sun but has since all but faded - even from Poland’s musical horizon. A bit of trivia: Kurpinski conducted the world premiere of Chopin’s F-minor piano concerto in 1830, with Chopin himself performing.

The concert’s finale is Mendelssohn’s "Italian" Symphony; the most popular of Mendelssohn’s symphonies, the "Italian" (or fourth symphony) has kept its hold on audiences since its premiere in 1843. Inspired by Mendelssohn’s visits to Italy, this impressionistic work demands both delicacy and deftness from conductor and orchestra, and should provide a suitable climax to an afternoon’s worth of joyous music making.

 

The Polish Philharmonic Resovia performs music by Chopin, Kilar, Kurpinski and Mendelssohn at 2 pm Sunday, Oct. 26, at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts (at Brooklyn College’s Whitman Theatre, 2900 Campus Road and Hillel Place, one block west of "the Junction" at Nostrand and Flatbush Avenues). Tickets are $30. For more information, visit www.brooklyncenter.com or call (718) 951-4343.

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