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M. Weinberg: Breaking Patterns

M. Weinberg: Breaking Patterns

By Noemi Gyori on Apr 17, 2024

There's nothing quite like stumbling upon a musical gem that feels as fresh as a newly baked batch of cookies. At least, I am someone who likes to shake things up. So, I've always got my radar ready to approach the canonic repertoire with a new angle and my ear to the ground for music that will electrify my senses. And, although some say that curiosity killed the cat, luckily in classical music’s case, the greatest danger is discovering some new and exciting tunes that may lead to more stimulating recital programs! So, I enjoy being curious!

Jumping headfirst into the Weinberg’s Wonderland

In 2018, Andras Csonka, the esteemed programming director at the Liszt Academy Budapest, well aware of my fondness for musical exploration, posed an intriguing proposition: to perform Weinberg's 12 Miniatures at the beautiful Solti Hall of the Academy. I must admit, Weinberg's oeuvre was yet a mystery to me at that time. However, never one to shy away from a challenge, particularly when presented by such a knowledgeable individual, I eagerly accepted the proposal. Little did I anticipate the profound impact Weinberg's music would have on my imagination and my development as a performer.

To me, Weinberg's music is characterized by a remarkable ability to blend rhythmic vitality and lighter musical forms with profound emotional depth and power. Performances of this music require a very high level of technical control paired with true musicality and a certain type of playfulness. His compositions often feature astonishing harmonic shifts and dynamic contrasts, surprising audiences and performers alike, yet keeping listeners engaged and intrigued at all times. As a flutist, I find that Weinberg demonstrates the instrument truly uniquely, utilizing its widest range across registers to create rich and expressive melodies. In short, his music captivated me and challenged me fully with its complexity, intensity, and emotional resonance and kept me hooked, ever since my first encounter.

Since my performance at the Solti Hall, I've had the pleasure of presenting Weinberg's 12 Miniatures on numerous occasions and have delved into nearly all of his flute music. Most memorable concerts include a recital at the University of Manchester, commemorating Weinberg's 100th anniversary with a full Weinberg program. Then playing his First Flute Concerto op.75 at the Kammerspiele in Munich and at the Schloss Elmau with the Jewish Chamber Orchestra Munich, as well as performing the Hungarian premier of this wonderful concerto just recently in March 2024. Additionally, I've had the opportunity to participate in a performance of "Lady Magnesia”, a comedic opera by Weinberg, set in one act.

A brief look at Weinberg’s life and flute music

Mieczysław Weinberg (1919–1996) was originally from Warsaw, Poland, and was a composer of Jewish descent. He lived through tumultuous times, fleeing Poland and moving to Moscow in 1939 to escape the Nazi occupation. In Moscow, he formed a close bond with Dmitri Shostakovich, who became a close friend and a mentor to him. Although many claim that Shostakovich's style heavily influenced Weinberg's works, I believe that Weinberg’s compositions possess a unique lyrical, evocative, and poignant style that sets them distinctively apart from the works of Shostakovich. Despite the censorship and persecution under Stalin's regime, Weinberg's musical output, ranging from operas to symphonies, a large amount of chamber music, and solo pieces for various instruments, reflects his vivid imagination as well as remarkable resilience. He seems to have enjoyed writing for the flute more than other woodwind instruments since he used the flute most frequently in his music!

Twelve Miniatures for flute and piano Op. 29 is Weinberg’s first piece written for the flute. He composed this work in 1945, during a time when he lived with Shostakovich. We are unaware of the details of the premiere of the piece, however, Weinberg revisited his composition in 1983 and arranged and published this for flute and string orchestra.

Five Pieces for flute and piano is Weinberg’s second composition for the flute. Written in 1947, shortly after the Twelve Miniatures, the premiere of this composition is also unknown. As often happens in Weinberg’s music, the last three movements of the Five Pieces, Second Dance, Melody, and Third Dance are all movements that are based on previous compositions of his own, using some of his string quartet music and the finale of his Op.26 Orchestral Suite. This composition of Weinberg was only discovered in 2011 by flutist Mimi Stillman, who introduced the piece across the USA and produced a recording of it.

Concerto for flute and string orchestra Op. 75 was completed in 1961. Weinberg dedicated this work to Alexander Korneyev, who premiered it in the same year at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. The writing of the concerto is similarly extremely virtuosic as in the 12 Miniatures and is full of sudden and unexpected changes of keys. 

Trio for flute, harp, and viola Op. 127 was completed in 1979 and is a piece that includes an optional piano part. There is little additional information known of this three-movement work, which, in my opinion, is one of the most atmospheric of Weinberg’s works for the flute.

Flute Concerto No. 2 Op. 148, Weinberg’s final piece for flute was completed in 1987, again dedicated to Russian flutist, Alexander Korneyev. While this concerto is originally set for an orchestra with seven woodwind players, three horns, timpani, and harp, Weinberg later reorchestrated and published this work as well for solo flute and string orchestra. 

A personal playlist of treasured recordings

To make sure you don’t miss out on getting to know Weinberg’s musical style, I assembled a short playlist for you with some of my favorite recordings of his music. I hope they bring as much joy to your ears as they did to mine. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the melodic journey!

M. Weinberg: Wen-Sinn Yang, Tassilo Probst,
Jewish Chamber Orchestra Munich, Daniel Grossmann (conductor)
Label: Onyx, ONYX4237
Release date: 29.09.2023.

M. Weinberg: Complete String Quartets
Quatuor Danel
Label: CPO - cpo- 777 913-2
Release date: 24.02.2014.

M. Weinberg: Symphonies No. 3 & 7. Flute Concerto No. 1
City Of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (conductor)
Kirill Gerstein, Marie-Christine Zupancic
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Release date: 16.09.2022.

M. Weinberg: Flute Concertos Nos 1 & 2
12 Pieces for Flute and Orchestra
5 Pieces for Flute and Piano
Claudia Stein (flute), Elisaveta Blumina (piano)
Szczecin Philharmonic Orchestra, David Robert Coleman (conductor)
Label: Naxos, Catalogue No: 8573931
Release date: 25.10.2019.

M. Weinberg: Dawn; Symphony No. 12
BBC Philharmonic, John Storgards (conductor)
Label: Chandos, Catalogue No: CHAN20165
Release date: 20.10.2023.

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