17.10.2021 Events, Music

A Recital of Music by Grażyna Bacewicz 

Livestreamed from Peabody Institute 

Sunday October 17, 5:30 PM
FREE livestream


Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-1969)
Divertimento for String Orchestra
Symphony for String Orchestra (North American Premiere)
Music for Strings, Trumpets, and Percussion

This concert marks the beginning of a multifaceted project about the life and works of Grażyna Bacewicz, spearheaded by Reuben Stern and Anna Perzanowska. With this first program, we sought to introduce an American audience to Bacewicz’s oeuvre as it evolved over time, choosing three works that are representative of the major periods in her compositional style. 

Bacewicz’s most famous work is undoubtedly her Concerto for String Orchestra (1948), praised for its masterful and virtuosic string writing and its brilliant use of classical form in a fresh, invigorating way. The Symphony for String Orchestra (1946) serves as a clear spiritual and technical predecessor to the Concerto. It lacks none of the virtuosity of its successor, and its devotion to classical form is even clearer. Nevertheless, Bacewicz imprints her unmistakable signature of wit, sarcasm, and incessant rhythmic drive with a fire fueled by the nervous energy of war-torn Europe. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to give a North American premiere of this outstanding work. 

Bacewicz’s style evolved dramatically over the next decade. Eschewing traditional harmony and melody, she turned toward a “sonoristic” orchestration style accompanied by the “tonality through insistence” familiar in works by Bartok. A high point of this evolution – and, indeed, a work in contention to be called Bacewicz’s magnum opus – is the Music for Strings, Trumpets, and Percussion (1958), premiered at the 3rd Warsaw Autumn Festival. The Music quickly became one of her most popular works and it isn’t hard to see why: the excitement, technical difficulty, color, and textures of the piece are intoxicating. Who but Bacewicz has written a piece for strings, five trumpets, and percussion? It is utterly unique. 

Her mastery of sonorism – a compositional technique generally attributed to 20th-century Polish composers and characterized by emphasis of timbre, articulation, and dynamics above harmony, melody, and rhythm – strengthened throughout the 1960s. A great example of this is her brief and exciting Divertimento for String Orchestra (1965), which will open our concert. The use of extended techniques in the strings provides a fascinating sound-world, while the rhythmic agility provides a joyful playground. 

Personal connection, identities, and the human capacity for empathy guide the music-making of young American conductor Reuben Stern. Under the tutelage of Marin Alsop and Joseph Young, they are finishing graduate studies at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins. For three years, Reuben held the position of music director of Harvard University’s famed Bach Society Orchestra, an ensemble with which they championed fresh and innovative programming. During their time with the ensemble, Reuben led praised performances of Sibelius’s 7th Symphony, Florence Price’s 1st Symphony, and Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, among others. They were also the student conductor of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra from 2017 to 2019. 

Reuben is fiercely committed to improving representation in classical music, in terms of gender, race, religion, social status, and mental or physical ability. In particular, they are an outspoken champion of mental illness de-stigmatization and gender diversity, and they work hard to discover new or lesser-known repertoire. A staunch advocate for the music of Grażyna Bacewicz, Reuben is working toward reviving much of the Polish composer’s lesser-known music. 

Lead image: Reuben Stern

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