Polish-Jewish Song Recital at JCC Manhattan

NEW YORK, NY, December 7 – By birth, fate, or choice, Jewish composers Mieczyslaw Weinberg, Simon Laks, Roman Ryterband, and Grzegorz Fitelberg all share Polish roots. This night of music and stories, featuring Magdalena Molendowska (soprano) and Julia Samojło (piano), will celebrate the diversity of these Polish-Jewish composers in a repertoire of songs that demonstrate how humanity and creativity can emerge from the darkest of times. With songs in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, and German, this will be an in-person event you won’t want to miss.
WHAT: Polish-Jewish Song Recital

WHERE: The Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan
Goldman-Sonnenfeldt Auditorium,
334 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10023

WHEN: Monday, December 13, 2021 at 7 PM ET

ADMISSION: Free. Registration is required

The concert is part of an international tour of the Polish Chamber Musicians’ Association entitled “Music of Polish-Jewish Composers,” visiting Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Paso Robles, and New York from October until December 2021.

Cosponsored by The Lambert Center for Arts + Ideas and The Center for Jewish Living at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan.

Presented with the Polish Chamber Musicians’ Association, in partnership with the Polish Cultural Institute New York and Momentum Artists. Financed within the scope of the Multiannual Program INDEPENDENT 2017–2022, as part of the “Cultural Bridges” subsidy program of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.


Roman Ryterband Three Hebrew Songs (1938)
Mieczysław Weinberg Biblia Cygańska songs to poems by Julian Tuwim op. 57
Grzegorz Fitelberg Lieder op. 21
Simon Laks Eight Jewish Popular Songs for soprano and piano (1947)
Ignaz Friedman Leci piosenka, poem by Lucjan Rydel
Polish soprano Magdalena Molendowska graduated with honors from S. Moniuszko Music Academy in Gdańsk and Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where she was awarded the prestigious Gold Medal in her final year. In 2008 she was a member of the Opera Studio Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome.

Her wide repertoire includes songs, oratorios, and cantatas. In London Barbican Hall she presented songs by K. Szymanowski and A. Dvořak. Invited by Malcolm Martineau she recorded Huit chansons polonaises by F. Poulenc on the Poulenc vol. 4 album.

Since 2011 she has been a soloist of the Polish National Opera in Warsaw, where she made her debut in “Jakob Lenz” by Wolfgang Rihm. In the 2012/13 season she returned to the Polish National Opera to perform the title role in Halka by Stanisław Moniuszko. She currently cooperates with Wroclaw Opera House, Krakow Opera House, Opera i Filharmonia Podlaska, Glyndebourne Festival, Opera North and Baden-Baden Festspiele.

In 2019 she made her debut as Katerina in The Greek Passion at Opera North, as well as in Silesia Philharmonic, where she sung the soprano part in Deutches Requiem by Brahms. Her upcoming performances include debut as Leonore in Fidelio by Beethoven and performing solo part in the XXI Symphony “Kaddish” by M. Wajnberg in Pomeranian Philharmonic Hall in Bydgoszcz. She is actively involved in the activities of the Association of Polish Chamber Musicians in cooperation with which she implements several important artistic projects.

Julia Samojło graduated from the Feliks Nowowiejski Academy of Music in Bydgoszcz in the class of Prof. Tatiana Shebanova. Following her studies, she completed an artistic internship under the supervision of Prof. Szábolcs Esztényi and post-graduate and doctoral studies under the artistic supervision of Prof. Maja Nosowska at the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw. She honed her skills under the direction of Ronan O’Hora, Graham Johnson, and Pamela Lidiard at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

A special place in the repertoire of Julia Samojło is occupied by piano chamber music and contemporary music. The pianist has made numerous premieres and many recordings for DUX, Musica Sacra, the Library-Music Library of the Polish Composers’ Union, and Polish Radio. In 2020 she premiered 24 Variations on a theme of a folk song by Roman Ryterband. In 2019 she recorded all songs by Zygmunt Stojowski with Magdalena Molendowska- soprano. In 2017, she made the world premiere of the Concerto for piano and orchestra, written for her by Edward Nesbit, with the New Music Orchestra conducted by Szymon Bywalec.

She has given concerts with, among others, Sinfonia Varsovia, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Polish Radio Orchestra, New Music Orchestra, Poznań Philharmonic Orchestra, Julia Samojło has been a laureate of numerous prizes and scholarships, including: 1st prize at the International Competition of Young Performers in Athens and Scholarship of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage. She is a chairman of the Warsaw branch of the Polish Chamber Musicians’ Association.


Roman Ryterband (1914-1979)

Born in Łódź, Poland on 2 August 1914, Roman Ryterband came from a well-to-do family of lawyers and musicians. He studied law at the University of Warsaw and piano performance at the Music Academy in Łódź. Composing music already at the age of 12, Ryterband was strongly encouraged by Alexander Glazunov to pursue a musical career, which he did by performing as pianist and composer in Łódź and Warsaw during the mid-1930s.

Touring Western Europe on the eve of World War II, Ryterband was able to take refuge in Switzerland, where he worked as a manual laborer alongside other wartime foreigners interned on Swiss territory. He also completed his PhD studies of musicology at the University of Berne, indulging his passion for studying different languages and cultures, and conducting an extensive research of Slavic, Swiss, Italian, Brazilian, Indian, and Black folk music traditions. They inspired Ryterband to write a number of works utilizing various native idioms as well as author and deliver numerous lectures and articles on indigenous music traditions throughout his life.

Having married Italian-born Clarissa de Lazzari in 1950, Ryterband continued to reside in Berne where he appeared as pianist, composer, conductor and lecturer, earning accolades from such artists as Ernest Ansermet and Artur Rubinstein. His two daughters, Astrid and Diana, were born in Switzerland but, by the mid-1950s, Ryterband set his sights on North America. He moved his family to Montreal, where he assumed the post of music director for the classical radio station, CKVL. Just as in Switzerland, Ryterband’s years in Canada were marked by his intensive participation in the local musical life, producing concerts, appearing as pianist and conductor, composing a variety of works from classical to popular vein, lecturing at McGill University, and founding his own chamber orchestra.

Ryterband’s next move was to Chicago, where he joined the faculty of the Chicago Conservatory College in 1960. Active as composer and conductor, Ryterband led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, participated in concerts and conferences of the Chicago chapter of International Society of Contemporary Music, and organized numerous events for the local Polish-American community. Ryterband’s cultural contributions were recognized with a 1965 Chicago City Council Outstanding New Citizen of the Year Award.

Eager to explore new horizons and meet new challenges, Ryterband moved his family from Chicago to Palm Springs in 1967, where he spent the remaining twelve years of his life. In addition to composing and performing at various local venues, Ryterband also lectured at California State University in Los Angeles, and served as chairman of the Piano Teachers of the Desert association as well as music director for the Presbyterian Community Church of Palm Desert and Temple Sinai of the Desert in Cathedral City. He also founded and directed the annual Palm Springs Festival of Music and Art, bringing many operatic, ballet and orchestral performances for the local audiences. Diagnosed with cancer, Roman Ryterband died in Palm Springs on 17 November 1979.

Almost forty years after his death, Roman Ryterband’s music remains largely unknown, especially in his native Poland, perhaps because he spent most of his creative life abroad. Ryterband’s musical language represents a cross-pollination of early twentieth century modernists like Debussy and Britten with a robust admixture of folk elements present in the works of Bartok, Copland, or Kodaly. Although his career as a composer began with a few short piano works and some popular songs in Poland in the late 1930s, Ryterband came into his own during the World War II years spent in Switzerland. There he completed several large-scale solo piano cycles (24 Variations on a Folk Song, Suite Polonaise, and Three Preludes) and a number of solo and chamber works for harp (Two Images, Sonata for Harp and Two Flutes, Sonata breve and Trois Ballades Hébraïques), as well as many vocal works, choral cantatas and compositions for saxophone and piano.

Although most of his catalog is represented by chamber music (often in interesting combinations of instruments), Ryterband also penned a few large-scale orchestral works, including Jubilate Deo for soloists, orchestra, organ and men’s and boys’ choirs (1949), symphonic poems Vida Heroica (1953) and Russian Rhapsody (1962), as well as orchestral ballet music Tableaux of Laguna (1976) and Heracles and the Argonauts (1978). Folk and religious music add further diversity to Roman Ryterband’s opus with such entries as Three Hebrew Songs for voice and piano (1938), Song of the Slavonic Plains for violin and piano (1944), Rhapsodia helvetica for trombone and piano (1948), and several songs based on Negro spirituals (The Gospel’s Mah Religion, Yo’ Serbant, So Sing—So Play, Trusty Jim), as well as a number of psalm settings (Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, Raise Your Heads, O Gates) and settings of traditional texts and poetry in Hebrew, Polish, French and German.

The winner of several awards, including the First Prize at ISCM Chicago in 1961 for Piece sans titre for two flutes, Ryterband also received the Kosciuszko Foundation 1977 Award and a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities for a work celebrating American Bicentennial celebrations in 1976. – Polish Music Center

Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996) – Composer and pianist.

He was born into a musical Jewish family, and his father Samuil Moiseyevich and mother Sonia were well-known figures in the Yiddish Theatre. His father served as the director of the Jewish Theater in Warsaw and was also a composer and violinist, while his mother was a pianist. A child prodigy, Mieczysław performed his first concert at ten years of age, two years later he began piano studies under the tutelage of Józef Turczyński at the Warsaw Conservatory, directed at the time by Karol Szymanowski. At the age of 16, he wrote his first film score. Józef Hoffman predicted a wonderful piano career for Weinberg.

After Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Mieczysław was the only member of his family who managed to flee eastward. Those closest to him died in the Trawniki camp. Weinberg found himself in Minsk, Belarus, where he studied composing under Vasyl Zolotariev, a pupil of Nikolay Rimski-Korsakov. After war broke out between Russia and Germany, he escaped to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, finding work in a local opera house. It was from Uzbekistan that he would sendthe manuscript of his Symphony No. 1 to Dimitri Shostakovich, who soon invited him to Moscow. Weinberg settled in the Russian capital and lived there until the end of his life.

As a composer, Mieczysław Weinberg didn’t manage to build a sizable public during his lifetime. He often performed as a pianist. A legend has built up around the concert that took place in October 1967, when Weinberg stood in for Dimitri Shostakovich, who was unwell. He thus took part in the premiere performance of Shostakowich’s Seven Romances After Aleksandr Blok, along with Galina Vishnievskaya, David Oistrakh and Mstislav Rostropovich.

Weinberg managed to escape persecution by the Nazis, but he was imprisoned by Soviet authorities. His father-in-law, the acclaimed actor Salomon Michoels, was murdered on January 12, 1948 on Joseph Stalin’s order.

All his life, Mieczysław Weinberg spoke Russian with a Polish accent and his friends, including Shostakovich, called him by the Polish diminutive of his name: Mietek. In his compositions, he often made use of texts by Polish poets, especially Julian Tuwim. The list of his works is impressive, yet most of them remain unknown to the greater public. There are relatively few recordings, of which the most notable are albums produced by the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Gabriel Chmura. He left behind 26 symphonies, 7 concertos, 17 string quartets, 19 sonatas, at least 150 songs, 7 operas and 2 ballets. He also created 65 film and animation scores, musical scores for theatre and radio shows. Many of these were published only after his death and today they appear in both Russian and Polish concert programmes and in orchestras all over the world.

Over the past few years, Mieczysław Weinberg’s works have enjoyed a growing interest. Warsaw Music Academy Professor Michał Bristigier has dedicated a few essays and seminars to his compositions, and the British musicologist David Fanning is currently working on a biography. The Austrian Bregenzer Festspiele 2010 organised a Weinbergian symposium to accompany the world premiere of his opera The Passenger based on Zofia Posmysz’s novel of the same title. In 2011 the opera, directed by David Pountney, premiered at both the Warsaw National Opera and the English National opera to a full house and rave critical reviews. In 2012 the English staging was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award, the most prestigious British prize in the field of theatre.

As part of the Polska Music programme, the NEOS music label together with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute released five albums of Weinberg’s works recorded at the Bergenzer Festspiele in 2010.

The Passenger is the first of seven operas by Weinberg, a Polish Jew who escaped from Poland, without his family, to the Soviet Union when the Nazis invaded in 1939. The Passenger is based on the real-life experience of Holocaust survivor Zofia Posmysz, who was imprisoned in Auschwitz during World War II. Posmysz’s book, The Passenger, forms the basis of the libretto by Alexander Medvedev.

While sailing to Brazil, Lisa, a former SS Officer from Auschwitz, believes she sees a former inmate and confesses her past to her husband. Interwoven with the story are flashbacks to her time in the concentration camp. Weinberg’s opera was effectively banned in the USSR and only received its premiere in Bregenz fourteen years after the composer’s death.

An encounter between two women – one a former Auschwitz guard, the other a former prisoner – plunges them both back into the horrors of the Holocaust, pitting perpetrator against victim in a moral battle between guilt and denial, retribution and absolution.

Author: Aleksander Laskowski, June 2010 – Culture.pl

Grzegorz Fitelberg (1879-1953) was a conductor, composer and violinist. He was born on 18th October 1879 in Daugavpils (Latvia), and died on 10th June 1953 in Katowice.

Between 1891-1896 he studied composition under Zygmunt Noskowski and violin under Stanisław Barcewicz at the Musical Institute in Warsaw. He started his career as a violinist shortly after graduation. In 1896 he was involved in the Orchestra of the Grand Theater in Warsaw, where he worked until 1904, and from 1901 he was also the concertmaster of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. During this period he also successfully worked as a composer. In 1898 he received the first prize of the Ignacy Jan Paderewski Composers Competition for his Sonata in A minor, Op. 2 for violin and piano (1894), and in 1901 he won in Warsaw the first prize of the Count M. Zamoyski Competition for his Trio in F minor, Op.10 for violin, cello and piano (1901). In the 1904-05 season he made his debut as a conductor at the Warsaw Philharmonic.

In 1905, together with Karol Szymanowski, Ludomir Różycki and Apolinary Szeluto, he founded the Młoda Polska (Young Poland) composer group and the Spółka Nakładowa Młodych Kompozytorów Polskich (Company of Young Polish Composers, sponsored by Prince Władysław Lubomirski, aimed at promoting contemporary Polish music. Fitelberg was a conductor of the first concerts organised by the group. In 1908-1911 he worked as a conductor of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and then at the Hofoper in Vienna in the 1912/13 season.

He spent in Russia the years between 1914-1921 – initially in Petrograd (1914-19), later in Moscow. He conducted the orchestras of the Musical Theatre, Mariinsky Theatre, and Mikhailovsky Theatre in Petrograd, as well as the State Orchestra (from 1917) and the Grand Theater Orchestra in Moscow (1920/21 season). From 1921 to 1924 he was the conductor of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, that he performed with, among others, in Paris, London, Brussels, and Monte Carlo. From 1923 to 1934 he was again the principal conductor of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra.

He was also engaged in pedagogical activities – between 1927 and 30 he lectured in conducting at the Warsaw Conservatory. In 1934 he founded the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Warsaw, which he led until 1939. in 1837 he performed with the Orchestra at the World Exhibition in Paris in, where they won a gold medal.

After the outbreak of World War II, Grzegorz Fitelberg left Warsaw and moved to Paris in November 1939. A year later he went to Buenos Aires, where in the 1940/41 season he was a conductor at the Teatro Colón. He spent the next years of the war – 1942-45 – in the United States. He was mainly involved in instrumentation and conducting, but also gave concerts, e.g. in New York, as well as in Montreal and Toronto.

He returned to Europe in 1946, and in the following year he was the head of the Great Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice. In 1950-51 he was also a professor at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice.

Grzegorz Fitelberg was awarded the Order of the Officer’s Cross Polonia Restituta (1928), Order of the Golden Cross of Merit (1932), Order of the Commander Polonia Restituta (1947) and Order of the First Class Labour Medal (1950). In 1951 he received the First Degree State Prize.

Since 1980 the National Composers’ Competition and the International Conducting Competition named after him have taken place in Katowice.

Fitelberg also studied the violin. His teacher at the Warsaw Music Institute was one of the most famous Polish violinists – Stanisław Barcewicz. He also graduated in composition studies under the direction of renowned Polish composer Zygmunt Noskowski. Barcewicz set up his pupil as a violinist in the opera’s orchestra, from where soon Fitelberg stepped into the post of the bandmaster of the second violin group of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. But composition was more attractive to him, and in this field he became more successful.

He was even a promising composer, He won prizes in competitions, and Adolf Chybiński, a great Polish musicologist wrote about his most eminent piece, the symphonic poem Song of a Falcon, Op. 18 from 1905: „After listening to Falcon three times, an uncontrollable urge to listen to it constantly appears, all the more, as the work reveals its more uncommon beauty, the magnificent manifestation of the victory of the free spirit over slavery and humiliation. Fitelberg knows the orchestra well and knows how to get out of it the deep emotions that pierce the bone – everything he writes, testifies at every turn, that the composer does not illustrate Gorky’s poem in an emotionless way, but he creates under the pressure of inner necessity: it is music written with cordial blood. The work of Fitelberg-artist is a marvellous instrumentation, an endlessly interesting subject (combining several motifs) and, in particular, highly sophisticated harmonisation, which nevertheless does not seem to be artificial”.

However, when Fitelberg performed as conductor at the Warsaw Philharmonic in the 1904/1905 season, leading the world premiere of his 1st Symphony in E minor, Op. 16, he was bitten by the conducting bug. He continued his compositional work until 1914, but won international fame as conductor. – Culture.pl

Szymon Laks (1901-1983) was a violinist, conductor, and composer. He studied mathematics for two years at Vilnius University before entering the Warsaw Conservatory, where he became a student of Roman Statkowski, Henryk Melcer, and Piotr Rytel (1921-1924). In 1926 he went to Paris to study composition with Pierre Vidal and Henry Rabaud at the Paris Conservatory. Arrested by the Germans in 1941, Laks spent three years in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Dachau. He survived the Nazi concentration camps to tell his story in a poignant and witty memoir, Musiques d’un autre monde first published in 1948 in Paris. The revised Polish edition came out in 1979. English translation of this book was published by Northeastern University Press in 1989. The new French edition appeared in 1991 and its German translation in 1999.

Quite literally, music saved Laks’s life: as a violinist, conductor, and arranger of the camp orchestra, Laks was spared the daily ordeal of physical labor that killed so many around him. At the same time, he was a Holocaust witness who experienced first-hand the irrelevance of art amidst the total annihilation of human values in concentration camps. The wartime destruction also affected his music; many of his manuscripts were lost during the war. In 1945 Laks returned to Paris, and began promoting music in Polish emigré circles.

Szymon Laks’s compositions may be described as neoclassical. They include string quartets, symphonic suites, as well as many other chamber works and songs. Deeply moving and lyrical songs constitute a particularly interesting part of Laks’s music. Some are based on Jewish folklore, whilst others include settings of texts by Polish-Jewish poets, such as Julian Tuwim, or Mieczysław Jastrun. Many of them deal with the trauma of war, suffering and the Holocaust, movingly portrayed in such works as The Elegy of Jewish Villages or the Funeral. In addition to composition, Laks (especially in his later years) devoted much time to writing and authored several fascinating books. – Polish Music Center.

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