A Review by Marek Zebrowski

Sunday afternoon, April 21, marked the end of the 2023/2024 concert season organized jointly by the Holocaust Museum LA and USC Polish Music Center. The performers for this occasion were a dynamic duo of violinist Karolina Mikołajczyk and classical accordionist Iwo Jedynecki. They performed in the Childrens’ Memorial, an evocative outdoor space at the Museum dedicated to the memory of the million and a half children who perished in the Holocaust. The elliptically-shaped, roofless space with undulating canvas canopy overhead enveloped the gathered public, who had the rare treat of hearing music by several Polish-Jewish composers.

While the compositions presented by the Karolina & Iwo Duo were mostly scored for violin and piano, Jedynecki’s expert arrangements not only brought new perspectives to this program but also—in its unusual violin and accordion combination—managed to evoke the sounds of the Jewish itinerant folk bands ubiquitous in Central Europe before World War II. The program opened with Grzegorz Fitelberg’s short and sweet Berceuse that launched a dreamy and reflective mood on that Sunday afternoon. The pace certainly picked up with Aleksander Tansman’s Cinq pieces, a suite of short and very engaging pieces that the artists delivered with gusto.

The next offering was Roman Ryterband’s Le Rêveur from his Trois Ballades hebraïques. Amazingly, this world premiere arrangement sounded even more convincing than the original version scored for violin and harp. It may have also been due to a deeply insightful interpretation given to the piece by Mikołajczyk and Jedynecki, and underlined by the presence of the composer’s daughter, Diana Eisele, who was in the audience with her husband, Bob.

As the afternoon sunshine began to fade and grey clouds rushed in on chilly winds, the two artists performed Mieczysław Weinberg’s Two Songs Without Words. The somber mood of these pieces was certainly complemented by the weather and the gloom that descended on the venue proved quite fitting for the last work on the program by Szymon Laks, who survived the Holocaust at Auschwitz only because he conducted the camp orchestra. Laks’s Suite Polonaise is an extensive and brilliant three-movement suite, based on some of the liveliest Polish folk music. It also revealed Laks as one of the experts on Polish folklore, a source he returned to in his compositions throughout his rich and long life.

The Karolina & Iwo Duo gave a rousing reading of this challenging work, and the ensemble here—as in every other selection on their Holocaust Museum program—was impeccable. Every phrase and dynamic effect were carefully rehearsed and perfectly delivered. This concert, part of their U.S. spring 2024 tour, made the audience wish for their quick return to Los Angeles in the coming season and the continued presentation of this music which they clearly love with their youthful hearts.

[photo credits: Krysta Close/PMC Archive, Jennifer Audette, Maciej Przeklasa]