Oratorio Music Concert Filharmonia Narodowa

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Oratorio Music Concert
Ingrida Gápová, photo: Aciuro Studio

George Frideric Handel spent his whole life experimenting with various genres. Just when it seemed that a decline of interest in his operas would force the Saxonian into an early retirement, he enjoyed a resurgence in a genre that he reformed – nowadays known as the English oratorio. Here Handel relied on what the British have been famed for to this day – excellent choirs, some with a tradition stretching back for hundreds of years. In few of his works does the choral part play such an important role in terms of drama and illustration as in Israel in Egypt. Suffice it to mention that there are just a handful of numbers with solo parts here. Among the most attractive moments in this work are the grotesque, thrilling and at times utterly shocking musical tableaux of the famous Egyptian plagues. Hopping frogs are depicted by means of playful dotted rhythms. The intolerable buzzing of flies is imitated by rapid violin passages. The plague of hail begins with the gentle ‘precipitation’ of single notes, passing into an increasingly fast and elemental storm, full of ‘atmospheric discharges’ in the kettle drums. That violence abates for a while thanks to a fantastically depicted darkness – so dense that it was ‘palpable’, as specified in the libretto. The grand and shocking finale to the series of plagues is the extermination of the first-born sons, where a dramatic fugue resounds against chords that pulsate like fatal blows.

Bartłomiej Gembicki


Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra

The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra gave its first concert in the newly erected Philharmonic Hall on 5 November 1901. The Orchestra was conducted by Emil Młynarski, the Philharmonic’s co‑founder, first Music Director and conductor. Its star performer and soloist was the statesman, composer and pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who at that time was at the height of his international career and was also one of the Philharmonic’s donors. He performed his Piano Concerto in A minor, as well as solo works by Chopin. In addition, the concert programme featured works by Moniuszko, Noskowski, Żeleński and Stojowski.

The Warsaw Philharmonic’s rapidly rising performance standards soon attracted outstanding artists from all over the world. Both before the First World War and during the interwar period, it established itself as the main centre of musical life in Poland and one of the most prominent musical institutions in Europe. Nearly all the famous conductors and soloists of the day performed here, including Claudio Arrau, Edvard Grieg, Arthur Honegger, Vladimir Horowitz, Bronisław Huberman, Wilhelm Kempff, Otto Klemperer, Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninov, Maurice Ravel, Artur Rodziński, Arthur Rubinstein, Pablo Sarasate and Richard Strauss.

In the first years after the Second World War, the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra was managed by Olgierd Straszyński and Andrzej Panufnik, among others. In January 1950, the post of Director and Principal Conductor was taken up by Witold Rowicki, who set about establishing a new orchestra. Despite difficult working conditions (due to the lack of a concert hall, performances were given in various sports halls and theatres), Rowicki soon turned the Orchestra into Poland’s leading ensemble.

On 21 February 1955, a new Philharmonic Hall was opened on Jasna Street, erected on the site of its predecessor, which had been destroyed by German air raids. On that day, the Warsaw Philharmonic received the title of a national institution, which highlighted its rank as the most important such establishment in Poland.

In the years 1955–1958, the Orchestra was headed by Bohdan Wodiczko, a distinguished promoter of contemporary music, who collaborated with Arnold Rezler and Stanisław Skrowaczewski, among others. During his tenure, the Orchestra was transformed and enlarged. The enormous popularity of twentieth-century music performances led to the inception of the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ International Festival of Contemporary Music, which in time became one of the most important festivals of its kind in the world.

In 1958, Witold Rowicki was appointed Artistic Director and Principal Conductor once again, remaining in the post until 1977. The Orchestra’s guest conductors of that time were Stanisław Wisłocki and Andrzej Markowski. Under Rowicki’s direction, international concert tours and performances in the world’s most prestigious concert venues became a permanent fixture on the Orchestra’s calendar.

On 1 July 1977, the post of Artistic Director and Principal Conductor was offered to Kazimierz Kord, who remained at the helm until the Philharmonic’s centenary year in 2001. From 1979 to 1990 the Orchestra’s Deputy Director and Conductor was Tadeusz Strugała. From the very beginning of his work, Kord focused on expanding the Orchestra’s concert repertoire, which in the following seasons resulted in not only new symphonic works but also large oratorio and opera productions, as well as contemporary pieces. Other new initiatives included the ‘The Warsaw Philharmonic Presents’ concert series, recorded live and released by Polskie Nagrania, as well as concerts featuring graduates of the Academy of Music in Warsaw. Together with Witold Lutosławski, Kord promoted the idea of short, contemporary music festivals, which would serve as a forum for various artistic disciplines. The first such festival was organised after the composer’s death and was called the ‘Lutosławski Forum’ in his honour. Initially held annually, it later transformed into a biannual event, and continued until the 2013 Lutosławski Year.

From 2002 until 2013, the post of General and Artistic Director of the Warsaw Philharmonic was held by Antoni Wit, who adopted the same philosophy regarding the institution’s repertoire as his predecessor, adding to it even more Polish music, often performed by foreign artists. Under his baton, the Warsaw Philharmonic ensembles recorded over fifty albums, including almost forty on the Naxos label. The albums, featuring mainly Polish music composed by Karłowicz, Szymanowski, Lutosławski, Penderecki, Gorecki and Kilar, have been showered with a plethora of awards, including the prestigious Grammy 2013. Antoni Wit concluded his tenure with the Orchestra’s debut at the BBC Proms in London in August 2013.

In the 2013/2014 season, the duties of Artistic Director, responsible for the development of the Philharmonic ensembles, their repertoire and guest artists, were handed over to Jacek Kaspszyk. His historic concert at the 2013 ‘Warsaw Autumn’ Festival, featuring the pianist Krystian Zimerman, proved to be one of the highlights of the Lutosławski Year (the concert programme included Lutosławski’s Piano Concerto and Symphony No. 3) and won a Polish Music Coryphaeus Award in the ‘Event of the Year’ category. He also conducted the first live streamed performances in the history of the Philharmonic. Under his baton, the Orchestra recorded six albums: the works of Weinberg (2014), Brahms and Bach (in Schonberg’s arrangements, 2015), Szymanowski (2017), Wieniawski’s and Shostakovich’s violin concertos with soloist Bomsori Kim, an album of Polish music (Młynarski, Weinberg, Penderecki, 2018) for Warner Classics, and also one featuring the works of Chopin, with Ingolf Wunder as soloist, for Deutsche Grammophon (2015).

Since the 2019/2020 season, the post of Artistic Director has been held by Andrzej Boreyko.

The Warsaw Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra has made over 150 concert tours around five continents, and has appeared in all of the world’s major concert venues, each time receiving high acclaim from audiences and critics alike for its superb and charismatic interpretations. The ensemble has performed at many prestigious international festivals, including in Vienna, Berlin, Prague, Bergen, Lucerne, Montreux, Moscow, Brussels, Florence, Bordeaux, Athens, Nantes (La Folle Journee), Bilbao, Lisbon and Tokyo. The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra regularly accompanies the finalists of the Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition and takes part in the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ International Festival of Contemporary Music, the ‘Chopin and his Europe’ International Music Festival and the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival. It has recorded for Polish Radio, Polish and foreign record labels, and film companies. In 2016, the Orchestra also launched regular online streaming of selected concerts.