The 53rd edition of the Wratislavia Cantans festival in Wrocław explored the idea of liberation, commemorating the centenary of Poland’s regained independence in a broader context. From September 7–16, 2018, audiences enjoyed a variety of works by Haydn, Verdi or Szymanowski in rendering from the celebrated conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner and star soloists such as baritone Mariusz Kwiecień and soprano Sandrine Piau.
Below is a summary of this year’s highlights by Artistic Director Giovanni Antonini from the Festival website:
The point of departure for the upcoming edition of the Festival entitled Liberation is the inaugural performance of King Roger by Karol Szymanowski, an opera showing an attempt to free oneself from culture, its moral and social norms, its customs. The work of the Polish composer describes the conflict between two aspects of humanity: rationality and instinct, and the attempt to free himself from the dramatic dichotomy of these opposing elements. In the year of the anniversary of the end of the World War I and the century of Poland regaining its independence, the Festival also takes up the theme of freedom in the political and social context. We will hear Haydn’s excellent Paukemesse, a mass from the period of Napoleonic Wars, the time just after the French Revolution, when the model of functioning of our modern world was formed.
The great Ode to Napoleon by Arnold Schönberg, composed at the height of World War II, refers to the figure of Bonaparte, to the words of the nineteenth-century poetry of George Byron expressing crushing criticism of the defeated emperor. Napoleon betrayed the libertarian ideals that brought him to power, and he became a dictator like many tyrants on the pages of history. The attitude of the totalitarian ruler was pointedly derided in Der Tribun by Mauricio Kagel. The same concert will feature the String Quartet by Anton Webern, considered – just like Schönberg – a degenerate composer and forbidden in the Third Reich. The tribune’s madness also contrasts with the beauty of Debussy’s work, whose death centenary falls this year. Paradoxically, it is people who give total control to an individual who then tyrannises them. This mechanism was already described in the 16th century by Étienne de la Boétie in the Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, from which comes the title of the concert. Similarly, a soldier from Stravinsky’s work, one hundred years ago, who fights to regain his personal freedom, enslaved himself to the devil, giving in to the desire for possession.
Wratislavia cannot miss out on great vocal ensembles. The National Choir of Ukraine Dumka will perform 20th century a cappella works by Henryk Mikołaj Górecki and Ukrainian folk and sacred music. Collegium Musicale from Estonia – also celebrating independence centenary – will present Polish and Estonian contemporary music with the NFM Leopoldinum Orchestra. The Graindelavoix group will come back to the Festival, known for its original sound, to present a programme that addresses the phenomenon of sleep – understood as a momentary release from fatigue and worries. The Italian La Compagnia del Madrigale will perform masterpieces by Claudio Monteverdi from the 8th Book of Madrigals, a volume of fundamental importance to the history of music. The motif of war appears in perfectly dramatic works, but in Monteverdi it is the heart skirmishes – much less disastrous in consequences than military struggles.
In the Polish independence anniversary year, we present an opera by the highly intriguing composer Elżbieta Sikora, whose subject is the persona of Maria Skłodowska-Curie, one of the most important Polish women ever and at the same time one of the most important figures in the history of science. The title character Madame Curie had to fight for the freedom to choose a way of life, facing a spate of stereotypes and prejudices against women. As in the previous years, we invite you to a concert devoted to an outstanding Polish composer of late Baroque and early Classicism. The work of Marcin Józef Żebrowski will be introduced by Andrzej Kosendiak, a tireless explorer of Poland’s Baroque music heritage. The concert features works commissioned by the Monastery of Jasna Góra, an important Polish religious sanctuary and cultural centre. As during every Wratislavia Cantans, we invite you to a typically Wrocław concert consisting of musical treasures from a local library – this time it will be not only the compositions currently stored on Sand Island, but also works from a manuscript originating from Wrocław, now stored in Berlin, with solo violin pieces, authored by Stephen Nau, Giovanni Bassano and Francesco Rognoni – a rarity from beginning of the 17th century,
The Festival will be crowned by the great oratorio work, Messa da Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi performed by John Eliot Gardiner and his Monteverdi Choir and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. This esteemed work already has a fully-formed performance tradition, and the famous English maestro proposes us to look at it as we look at early music and ask ourselves what interpretation of this genius funeral piece the composer himself would have wanted. Verdi, just as Szymanowski, to whom the inauguration is dedicated, was a great patriot and a man involved in building an Italian state united during his lifetime, just as Szymanowski was close to the idea of rebuilding Polish statehood.
The programme of the Festival evokes dramatic events from history, each of which to some extent is associated with the pursuit of freedom – for states, social groups, and individuals. The programme is an invitation to reflect on independence and self-determination – do we really want to be free? What do we want to free ourselves from? How much effort are we able to put in the struggle for independence? Let reflection be inspired by music that is always a space of freedom.
To explore any of these concerts, visit the full calendar of the Festival at www.nfm.wroclaw.pl/en/wratislavia-cantans-2018/calendar.