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  January 6-13, 2003

Wladyslaw Szpilman:
The Real Pianist
Born in 1911, Wladyslaw Szpilman studied the piano at the Warsaw Conservatory under A. Michalowski and subsequently at the Academy of Arts (Akademie der Kuenste) in Berlin under Arthur Schnabel and Leonid Kreutzer. He also studied composition under Franz Schreker. In 1933, he returned to Warsaw where he quickly became a celebrated pianist and a composer of both classical and popular music. From 1945 to 1963 he held the position of Director of Music at Polish Radio. He also performed as a soloist and with the violinists Bronislav Gimpel, Roman Totenberg, Ida Haendel, Tadeusz Wronski and Henryk Szeryng. In 1963, he and Gimpel founded the Warsaw Piano Quintet with which Szpilman performed world-wide until 1986. During these years he composed several symphonic works and about 500 songs, including some children's songs, as well as music for radio plays and film. Especially his film scores and songs become very popular in Poland before the 2nd WW.

Szpilman Web Site

The Pianist: Original Recordings of Wladyslaw Szpilman

Read the Book

The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945
by Wladyslaw Szpilman


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Our writers welcome your comments on their pieces.  Send your witty bon mots to jbowles@sequenza21.com and we might even publish some of them here.  And, don't forget--if you'd like to write for Sequenza21 (understanding that we have no money to pay you), send me a note. JB

A Tale Of Two Concertos To conductor James Levine's way of thinking, there is plenty of important American music from the 20th Century that never had fair hearing. So he looks upon his new appointment as director of the Boston Symphony as a way to do something about it. "One of the principal attractions for Levine is that he will finally have the opportunity to serve as an advocate for contemporary music, and American music in particular. For him, this has been a lifelong commitment, but none of his previous positions has enabled him to pursue it fully." Boston Globe 01/05/03 

Please Release Me - Treasured 50s Recordings Entering Public Domain A treasure trove of recordings made in the 1950s is about to slip out of copyright. "Copyright protection lasts only 50 years in European Union countries, compared with 95 years in the United States, even if the recordings were originally made and released in America. So recordings made in the early- to mid-1950's — by figures like Maria Callas, Elvis Presley and Ella Fitzgerald — are entering the public domain in Europe, opening the way for any European recording company to release albums that had been owned exclusively by particular labels." The New York Times 01/03/03 

Customizing Your Record Collection Vox Music Group has announced that it will burn individual CD copies of any part of its vast out-of-print catalog through a web site, eliminating the traditional process of a small repeat pressing, which often has been quite unprofitable. The announcement is exciting in part because it may signal a new wave of such 'individual' pressings by other companies, but also because Vox's old recordings are some of the most extensive and sought after in the business. Washington Post 01/02/03 

Former KGB Spies Offer Anti-Piracy Plan A group of foermer KGB spies is offering recording companies a new "watermarking" technology to protect their music from music pirates. This month a music distrbutor "will introduce watermarking technology developed by former Russian spies in St Petersburg, in the hope of attracting more music companies on to the web. The Guardian (UK) 01/06/03 

How To Start A Piano Tuner Riot "Don A. Gilmore, an amateur piano player and professional engineer from Kansas City, Mo, has developed an electronic system that he says could allow pianists to tune their own instruments at the touch of a button." The system relies on heated strings, electricity, and an elaborate computer program which 'remembers' an initial tuning and can replicate it under almost any circumstances. The self-tuning models won't be cheap, but then, neither are piano tuners. The New York Times 01/02/03 

SF Opera - Taking the Bold Road San Francisco Opera has an almost $8 million deficit. But the company doesn't seem particularly worried. Rather than sit back and play it safe, Pamela Rosenberg, the company's general director, has ambitious plans. "We are not going to get through this economic downturn and come out the other end by replacing quality with mediocrity," Ms. Rosenberg, who has set the company on course to becoming America's most adventurous opera house, said in a recent telephone interview." The New York Times 01/01/02 

Homeless Choir Packs It In After 1000 Performances A homeless choir formed in Montreal in a men's shelter in 1996 to sing Christmas carols for spare change in the city's subway, has finally disbanded, a thousand performances later. "The group achieved international recognition, including an invitation to sing at Paris's busiest subway stations in 1998. The choir also released two CDs, was the subject of a book and a TV program and performed at the Just for Laughs comedy festival as a free street act." Why quit? Many of the singers found jobs and their lives became more stable. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 01/01/03 

Tune Smith San Francisco's Davies Hall is "tuned" for every performance. The computer-controlled acoustical canopy that dangles over the stage looks like some huge constructivist sculpture and reflects sound back to the musicians and out to the audience. It's composed of 59 slightly bowed 6-foot squares of Plexiglas - they collectively cover 3,400 square feet - whose height and angle are adjusted according to the size of the ensemble or to the piece being performed." San Francisco Chronicle 12/30/02 

Readers Defend Baz Boheme Readers take New York Times critic Anthony Tomassini to task for his piece criticizing Baz Luhrmann's Broadway La Boheme. "Mr. Luhrmann has got me happy to stand in line again, and has made some of us (including all the twentysomethings who stood alongside me for three hours for tickets) excited about returning to the opera." The New York Times 01/05/03 

Music As A Football Match Football's popular. So maybe classical music ought to be more like football, writes Julian Lloyd Webber. "In future, all concerts must be refereed. Points for performances will be awarded and performers' league tables established. Issues of promotion and relegation will be keenly watched by merciless, gum-chewing managers, who will have their chosen substitutes from the youth team eagerly waiting on the bench. Wrong notes will be severely penalised and performers adopting too slow tempi will be yellow-carded for time-wasting. String players using over-sentimental portamenti - and pianists who over-pedal - will be justly punished 'for bringing the music into disrepute'." The Telegraph (UK) 01/04/03 

 Last Week's News

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Record companies, artists and publicists are invited to submit CDs to be considered for our Editor's Pick's of the month.  Send to: Jerry Bowles, Editor, Sequenza 21, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, NY, NY 10019  Also, feel free to nominate your favorite composer-- even if it's you--for Spotlight of the Week.
The Pianist: 
Music as Redemption, 
Music as Survival 
by Jerry Bowles

When Roman Polanski’s father snipped a hole in the barbed wire fence of the Crakow ghetto, hugged his ten-year-old son for the last time, and sent him to fend for himself among sympathetic Polish families, he might have hoped that his son would live to bear witness to the most monumental of the 20th century’s many atrocities—the systematic extermination of six million European Jews.  It has taken the famously self-indulgent Polanski nearly 60 years to repay the debt.  But, repay it he has, with a film that demonstrates conclusively that Chinatown was no fluke and that Polanski belongs in same league of great international filmmakers as Bergman, Fellini, Kurosawa, Truffaut and Ousmane Sembene. 
   As Polanski’s extraordinary new film The Pianist opens, a young composer and pianist named Wladyslaw Szpilman is playing a live performance of Chopin's C sharp minor Nocturne at the broadcasting studio of Polish Radio. The date is September 23, 1939 and the sound of bombs can be heard in the distance.  As they get closer, nervous technicians signal to Szpilman to stop playing but he is engrossed and continues.  Suddenly, a bomb shatters the widow and knocks the pianist to the floor.  Polish Radio goes silent.  When the station resumes broadcasting six years later, the first sound listeners hear is Szpilman playing the same Chopin Nocturne. 
   What happened to Szpilman during those six years—the story of one man’s survival—is one of the most harrowing and powerful accounts of man’s inhumanity to man ever recorded—in word or film.  Its closest literary relative is not another film, but One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn’s heartbreaking masterpiece of daily life in a Soviet labor camp.
   There will be inevitable compar- isons to Spielburg’s Schindler’s List, which attempted to paint the horror of the Holocaust on a broad canvas, but the world of The Pianist is deliberately small and confined, tightly focused on Szpilman and his family and a handful of Poles who helped him survive.  If we know more than the characters know, it is only because of history.  We live for the duration of the film inside Szpilman’s head, recording and absorbing the passing horrors cumulatively, our view of the outside world confined to the windows of secret flats owned by a few gentile friends, trapped like a rat scratching through rubble for a rotten potato.  We see what he sees, feel what he feels, and eventually —like him--become numb to the atrocities.  Brutality is so common, it seems, even it can become banal. 
   For Polanski, never known as a man of moderate tastes, the film is a triumph of understatement. There are no showy emotional scenes, no sensational camera shots, no wordy interior dialogues to explain what the characters are feeling. The bloody scenes are bloody but matter-of-fact.  What lingers are the small vignettes. 
   Szpilman and his family survive the first two years of the occupation in the Warsaw ghetto, which was sealed off from the rest of the city on November 15, 1940.  He plays in the bars and cafés that continued to open for business behind the walls and finds work for his father, mother, brother and two sisters. 
   But, the inevitable day comes when he and his family are ordered to the Umschlagsplatz to sit and wait, amidst the rotting corpses, to be herded onto trains headed for the gas chambers at Treblinka. In one of the most poignant moments, the family pools its remaining money to buy a single tiny piece of caramel from a boy. Szpilman’s father divides it carefully into six parts with his penknife. That will be the last meal the Szpilman family ever has together. 


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Piano Music Vol. 4
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Messiaen is this year's flavor of the month as record companies continue to  turn out dozens of  versions of his works both large and small.  This Naxos series is the best bargain of the lot, with wonderful, well-recorded performances that reflect the growth of Messiaen's reputation as one of the giants of 20th century music.

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Conductor: Enrique Barrios
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Naxos - #8555917 
All the greatest hits of Mexico's  best dead composer, performed marvelously by a sympathetic orchestra, at a bargain basement price.  If you don't know Revueltas' work, shut down the computer immediately, run to the nearest CD store, plop down your money and prepare to be amazed.

SEQUENZA21/is published weekly by Sequenza21/, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019
Publisher:  Duane Harper Grant  (212) 582-4153
Editors:    Jerry & Suzanne Bowles   (212) 582-3791
Contributing Editor: Deborah Kravetz 
(C) Sequenza/21 LLC 2000

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