January 25, 1913 – February 7, 1994
HOW TIME FLIES! It seems that just the other day I was blogging about my visit to Warsaw “in the last century” for the magical display on stage of The Tales of Hoffman. But now I have a different reason for returning to the Polish capital in writing this time about my host there, the late Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski , who was then deeply involved in completing the composition of his renowned cello concerto, which he was dedicating to his friend, the world-famous cellist, Sviatoslav (Slava)Rostropovich, who in turn was waiting to rehearse it in time for his widely advertised premiere of the work with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in a couple of weeks’ time under the direction of Edward Downes.
I’m recalling that series of events, as Witold’s 105th Birth Anniversary falls today on January the 25th.
Years earlier, when I was in Miami, Florida, my orchestra, The Florida Philharmonic, had Slava as its soloist in a winter season concert, and at the post-concert reception members of my board were honoring him as its guest at a swank downtown hotel. I took the time over the sit-down dinner to ask him about his close working relationship with Witold.
He warmed to the subject and opined that the London concert premiere of Witold’s concerto was the best ever, even though Slava had since played it several times around the world to discerning audiences. Let’s listen to the short but gripping finale with cellist Yo Yo Ma on YouTube.
The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra was commissioned by the Royal
Philharmonic Society with support from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. It
received its world premiere at the Royal Festival Hall on October 14, 1970 by
the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (to whom the piece is dedicated) and the
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Edward Downes.
The cello concerto is one of Lutosławski’s most celebrated works. The music
critic Andrew Clements of The Guardian called it “one of the Polish
composer’s greatest achievements”. The writer Michael McManus similarly
wrote, “I have always had a special affection for Witold Lutosławski’s Cello
Concerto. Like so many of his works, it is tautly composed, relatively short
and full of contrasts. Intriguingly, it also strikes me as sitting to some
degree outside the mainstream of his otherwise clear compositional phases,
emanating from his most avant-garde period but somehow not fully belonging to
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