Just over a year ago, on 23 June 2017, Polish virtuoso violinist, Jerzy Milewski, died in Brazil after a long illness. Shortly thereafter, we published his obituary, noting the sadness and great loss to Polish music in his passing.
The strength of Milewski’s character, his gregarious personality and great mastery of the violin remain firmly etched in memories of his many friends in Brazil. One of them, oboist Harold Emert, met Milewski in 1973, shortly after he settled in Brazil and began to perform with Orquestra Sinfonica Brasileira in Rio de Janeiro. Impressed with Milewski’s talent, in the 1970s Emert wrote an article about him for the now extinct English daily, Brazil Herald, under a headline, “Move Over, Heifetz!”
Emert’s more recent tribute to Milewski mentions their touring of southern Brazil with concerts and participating in such prestigious series as Música no Museu, Radio and TV broadcasts, and more. They visited Curitiba, “known for its Polish settlers, culture, and delicious food like the pierogi which the gourmet Milewski loved,” as Emert remembered.
He also noted that, “when it came to music making, like many virtuosos, Milewski’s temperament could often be vitriolic and abrasive, especially in heated rehearsals with his wife and accompanist Aleida. And, like these explosive virtuosos, away from the violin Milewski could be the nicest, kindest guy you could meet: a joker and lover of good food, wine and conversation.”
Aleida Schweitzer, who studied piano at the Chopin Music Academy in Warsaw in the 1960s and met Milewski there, was his excellent musical and partner and a loving spouse. In his homage, Emert quotes Aleida saying, “Jerzy was even harder on himself.” He illustrates it with a recollection of their tour of Aleida’s birthplace province of Santa Catarina in southern Brazil:
“During the tour which included Milewski as our speeding chauffeur in his Mercedes around Aleida’s lovely Germanic state, I observed that, like other virtuosos I have known, inspiration was one per cent of the Milewski day-to-day routine. The other 99 % part of Milewski’s success was perspiration, as the German composer Paul Hindemith once called musical work. At no time during our marvelous mini-tour of Santa Catarina did I witness Jerzy visiting tourist sites, museums, swimming in the pool and so on. Most of the time Jerzy was in his hotel room practicing. And, who knows wherever he is these days, Milewski is still trying to perfect his already marvelous violin playing.”
On August 25, the anniversary of Jerzy Milewski’s death was commemorated with a special concert at the Centro Cultural Feso Pro Arte in Teresópolis, a lovely mountain town above Rio de Janeiro. Given by Jerzy’s widow, Aleida Schweitzer and Rio-based violnist, Daniel Guedes, the program included some of Jerzy’s favorite repertoire, including selections for Schindler’s List by John Williams, Valsa da dor by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Waldyr Azevedo’s Brasileirinho and Jacob do Bandolim’s Flight of the Fly. A collage of visual materials documenting Milewski’s worldwide career accompanied the musical presentations.
The program also featured Harold Emert’s compositions, including Romance (a 1991 work dedicated to Milewski), and Death Comes Early for violin and narrator to words by Fernando Pessoa. Emert’s arrangements for violin and piano of Gershin’s popular songs rounded off the program.
Summarizing Milewski’s impact on music in Brazil, Emert wrote:
“In the land of Villa Lobos and Tom Jobim, the former child prodigy from the land of Chopin, Paderewski and Rubinstein, went on to become a musician whom many called one of the greatest violinists in Brazilian musical history.”