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"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Symphony of Sorrowful Songs @ London Coliseum "It's heart-breaking stuff, a powerful evocative meditation on motherhood, love and loss."

A couple of weeks ago Paul and I went to the London Coliseum in London's glitzy West End to see Henryk Górecki's wonderful Symphony of Sorrowful Songs conducted by Lidiya Yankovskaya and stunningly performed by Nicole Chevalier.
Short review: 
With tears in our eyes, we loved it.
Longer review:
"Would people pay to hear sad music?" Górecki was once asked. 
"Perhaps people find something they need in this piece of music, something they were missing. Something, somewhere had been lost to them. I feel that I instinctively knew what they needed," he replied.
And sad it is. It is also one of the 20th Century’s finest pieces, staged as it was in an unprecedented aerial performance. 
It's popular too. In 1991, a recording of the London Sinfonietta performing Górecki’s symphony was released, rocketing the Polish composer from relative obscurity to global notoriety. Featuring the soprano Dawn Upshaw, the symphony topped charts worldwide and remained in the top 40 bestselling albums in the UK for 11 weeks becoming one of the most beloved pieces of classical music of the modern era.
Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is in three movements and sung in Polish, but with good reason – the texts are verbatim from their sources. Giving perspectives from both a mother having lost their child and a child separated from their parents. It's heart breaking stuff, a powerful evocative meditation on motherhood, love and loss.
The first and third movement come from the perspective of a mother distraught for their children. The text of the first movement is taken from a 15th Century polish Lament of the Holy Cross. Written from the perspective of Mary, she looks upon Jesus on the cross and wishes to ease his pain. The third movement is based on a Silesian folk song taken from the Opole region of Poland where a mother is searching for her dead son. She speaks of wanting to know where he lies so she can mourn properly and praying that songbirds will sing for him. A stunning text to end this touching symphonic work.
The heart-breaking story behind the second movement is the most powerful however. The text is that taken from a wall of a cell in a Gestapo prison in Zakopone. Incarcerated there was Helena Wanda Błażusiakówna, an 18-year-old who was imprisoned by the Gestapo in 1944, under Nazi occupation of Poland. Whilst she remained in prison, she scratched a prayer into the wall of her cell, using a fragment of her own broken tooth. 
"Mother, do not cry, no, do not weep, Most pure Queen of Heaven, Protect me always."
As heartbreaking as this might seem, it has a happy ending – after 12 weeks, Helena was amongst those being moved from Zakopane by train, when she was rescued by guerrillas. She crossed the Tatra mountains by foot and made it to her grandparents in Szczawnica, where she lived out the war.
Paul and I were in tears as we listened. And the beautiful acrobatic action was displayed in front of us.


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