Gidon Kremer and the CBSO
THE REHABILITATION OF A PERSECUTED COMPOSER
by Christopher Morley
When Gidon Kremer was courteously answering the questions I had sent him for this interview he was busy preparing for a chamber music concert to be given in New York a couple of days later. Featuring on the programme would be music by the Soviet composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg.
Kremer can be given much of the credit for our welcome awareness of someone whose music has gone largely unknown in the west until now, but whose story is packed with drama.
Weinberg was born in Poland in 1919, but , as a Jew, had to flee eastwards at the beginning of World War II to avoid Nazi persecution. He then changed his given name to "Moisey" to avoid anti-Polish prejudice. Meeting Shostakovich, who became a close friend and colleague, he settled in Moscow, where he worked with many of Russia's most illustrious performers -- and where he was jailed in 1953 for "Jewish bourgeois nationalism".
It was while searching for new material for his Kremerata Baltica, the youthful orchestra Gidon founded in 1997, that he first came across the music of Weinberg.
"One by one, many opuses turned out to be simply wonderful, most of them based on great messages and an incredible sophisticated way of handling sound and forms," he enthuses. "It has to be said that Weinberg always had as well a very strong and unique sense for melody.
"Even after having recorded four CD's of his music, with Kremerata as well as by myself, I am still very eager to continue to discover his scores - there is so much more, it simply must become known.
"To this collection of jewels undoubtedly belongs the "Kaddish" Symphony and the Symphony No.2, another wonderful work recorded with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the CBSO which will be on the new Deutsche Grammophon CD.. These days the 24 Preludes, re-written by myself from the cello original to violin, have also been released on CD. What should I say? Sheer masterpieces.
" I am sure Weinberg's closest friend Dmitry Shostakovich would appreciate this renaissance of interest in his music. It's wonderful to have had the chance to contribute to it but I do hope thoroughly that other colleagues of mine will follow my mission."
Gidon Kremer is this season's artist-in-residence with the CBSO, and has already given hugely successful concerts in Birmingham both with the orchestra, and solo at the CBSO Centre. Weinberg, in this year celebrating his centenary, figures strongly in the programme line-up
"The performance last autumn of his last finished symphony, Symphony No. 21 "Kaddish", with the joint forces of the CBSO and Kremerata Baltica under the great musician Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, became an event which nobody who was on stage or in the audience will ever forget," says Gidon. "We are so lucky that the live recording will be released in May on the DG label. It will allow all of us to have and keep a document of music history. I myself was privileged, together with my young musicians, to be a part of this performance.”
The CBSO has long had a rewarding relationship with Baltic musicians, from Neeme Jarvi and Okko Kamu , through Sakari Oramo and Andris Nelsons, right up to Mirga. What is it about the Baltic region which gives the world so many wonderful musicians?
"I think Baltic musicians are aware of their mission to deliver honest and sincere messages," Gidon replies.
"This is especially valuable in our time, when classical music (due to a commercial approach by the marketing departments) is becoming more and more a matter of 'sales' and is being pushed to focus on big names and popular items.
"The approach of Baltic composers and performers - and this is something Mirga and I undoubtedly share - is suffering less from these impositions. We are still searching for 'messages' in music and are trying to serve it instead of simply trying to use it for superficial reasons."
*Gidon Kremer plays the Weinberg Violin Concerto with the CBSO on Sunday March 31 (7pm). Mirga Grazinyte-Tela's programme in this concert organised in collaboration with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute as part of the Polska Music Programme also includes the UK premiere of Weinberg's The Golden Key Suite no.4, as well as Schubert's Unfinished Symphony (details on 0121-780 3333 and on the CBSO website).