On May 11 in Georgia, the Augusta Symphony will be led by their Music Director—German conductor Dirk Meyer—in the US Premiere of City Sketches by Henryk Wars. This jazzy suite fits perfectly on a program that combines works by American composers Leonard Bernstein (“Three Dance Episodes” from On the Town) and Duke Ellington (Suite from The River), as well as the Symphonic Metamorphosis of German composer Paul Hindemith, considered to be his most popular and “lightest” work.

According to Marek Zebrowski, Director of the PMC and a Wars expert:

Of all his orchestral works, Henryk Wars (known in the United States as Henry Vars), lavished the most attention and effort on City Sketches, a kind of jazz symphony in three movements. He began working on this pioneering composition in the early 1950s, probably after completing his Symphony No. 1 (1948) and Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1950), but the final version of this work dates from 1974, as entered by the composer on the manuscript held in the Vars Collection at the USC Polish Music Center.

The gently-lilting rhythms of the opening High-Rise movement seem to invite the listener to walk along with the composer down the streets of some large American city. This music may represent a degree of the sweet wonderment that Wars experienced after setting foot in Los Angeles, since his initial impressions of New York City’s frantic streets were decidedly less gentle.

Downtown Blues—the second movement—is a languid meditation on American jazz, and a strong reflection of Wars’s infatuation with the musical discovery he first made in the mid-1920s at a Syrena Record store in Warsaw. The closing Freeway Scherzo (clearly referring to California’s outstandingly modern roadways) features rather piquant harmonies and angular rhythms dominating this movement’s pleasingly carefree pace.

As a full-fledged jazz symphony, Wars’s City Sketches not only builds upon Paul Whiteman’s “orchestral jazz” idea, but also pushes the boundaries of this concept first explored by George Gershwin in his American in Paris, for example. Vars’s City Sketches, however, is a truly outstanding composition that has no precursors in the history of Polish music, and is a magnificent addition to the symphonic repertoire of the twentieth century.

Saturday, May 11, 2024 | 7:30pm EST
‘Symphonic Jazz’: US Premiere of Henryk Wars’s City Sketches

Augusta Symphony at Miller Theater
708 Broad Street, Augusta, GA USA
Tickets & Info: augustasymphony.com

[Sources: pwm.com.pl, augustasymphony.com; Image credits: Manuscript of Henryk Wars – City Sketches, I. High-Rise (1974). Property of the USC Polish Music Center, Los Angeles. All rights reserved (above L); Press kit photo of Dirk Meyer by Sanjeev Singhal (above R)]