Time to reassess the unfairly dismissed Jewish composer
A major tendency in the music world today is often to rely on what is known and loved. It is right that the masters of the past - Beethoven, Mozart and the like - are celebrated. Therefore, such composers seem like an obvious concert programming choice, as they are probably the easiest way to attract an audience. Musicians and promoters alike will choose this way to avoid the financial risk of taking on unproven and unknown music. In today’s turbulent economy, this is an understandable approach. However, it can give the wrong impression to the general audience: namely that there is nothing else but the known repertoire in existence worth listening to today. Indeed, there is so much wonderful music, which is waiting in the shadows of the commonly heard and widely known compositions.
A major contributing factor to the conservative tastes of audiences is the lack of exposure for a wider range of music composed shortly before the Second World War. Part of this was caused by the turmoil of the war itself, and the strong change in aesthetics thereafter. As a result, a very large number of musical personalities were forgotten in the chaos of this era, without any regard to the actual quality of their music and the success of their careers.
Today, we do hear a good amount of modern music, composed by living artists, which definitely deserves its place in concerts worldwide. I am, however, convinced that audiences deserve the opportunity to make up their minds about composers whose music has been unjustly suppressed due to uncontrollable historical events. Among these is one I immediately fell in love with - Ignatz Waghalter. The emotional authenticity and force of his lyricism are the unique expression of an extraordinary musical culture. This intense melodic imagination gave me the instant impetus to establish the Waghalter Project, the purpose of which is to popularise the composer’s music once again.
Waghalter was a sensational figure in his time; a loved and respected artist by fellow musicians and the public alike. He was born in 1881 to a highly musical Jewish family in Warsaw and from a young age was recognized as a prodigy pianist. The young Waghalter was later noticed by Joseph Joachim, who believed in his extraordinary talent and bolstered his career as a composer and conductor. Winner of the Mendelssohn Award at the age of only 21, Waghalter immediately became a conducting sensation under the patronage of Arthur Nikisch. He was so loved by the Germans that, although of Polish descent, in 1912 Waghalter was chosen as the first artistic director and conductor of the ‘German Opera House’ in Berlin, a popular and democratic alternative to the patrician Staatsoper. His success in Europe was so great that soon he was called to succeed Josef Stránský as principal conductor and artistic director of the New York State Symphony Orchestra (later to become New York Philharmonic). Despite having a successful career in America, he decided to return to his beloved Germany. This decision would result in terrible consequences – a decade later he and his family were driven into exile by Nazism.
Being a celebrity for most of his life, Waghalter created an unusually large oeuvre of recordings, which stands in stark contrast to the obscurity of his name today. By the time of his death in 1949, he had left behind a legacy of timeless compositions, among these works for violin and orchestra/piano.
There is an opinion that forgotten music is forgotten for a reason. My personal experience is quite different. When I received the score of Waghalter’s Violin Concerto, I immediately recognised this as a timeless composition, which would be loved by everyone if it had the chance of being performed.
Indeed, many people who have helped develop the Project share this opinion. I was very fortunate to team up with conductor Alexander Walker, who helped me gain support and funding, as well as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Georgian concert pianist Giorgi Latsabidze for the CD recording. From the start, the Waghalter Project has received considerable support from people who, like us, are keen to see Waghalter’s music restored to its proper place in classical music. Special thanks go to the Jewish Music Institute, Martin Anderson and Michael Haas of the International Centre of Suppressed Music, as well as Michael and Marilyn Harris of the Belgravia Centre.
History has, on many occasions, already shown how the efforts of a few individuals can prevent amazing music from disappearing. As in the case of Korngold, considered one of the last great romantics, who was supported invaluably by Heifetz. If it had not been for Mahler and Richard Strauss, Mozart’s Così fan tutte might have never been as popular as it is. It is easy to forget the past and accept the status quo. However, rediscovering forgotten composers gives classical music a freshness that is uniquely important to attract audiences and widen the repertoire. It is up to all of us to make it happen.
Irmina Trynkos is an emerging violinist and founder of the Waghalter Project, which aims to increase awareness of the work of Jewish Polish-German composer Ignatz Waghalter. Her debut CD, Ignatz Waghalter: Violin Concerto, Rhapsodie, Violin Sonata, Idyll, Geständnis, will be out on October 1, 2012. The CD was recorded with Irmina Trynkos, conductor Alexander Walker, pianist Giorgi Latsabidze and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for Naxos and is available to pre-order from Amazon UK.