It is with great pleasure that I introduce “Freedom,” which brings together two works commissioned by my Dolce Suono Ensemble and one discovery, all receiving their first recordings here. This has been a journey of over six years of artistic exploration and planning during which pianist Charles Abramovic and I performed and lived with these works extensively. It began when we commissioned Richard Danielpour to write a trio for Dolce Suono Ensemble - pianist Charles Abramovic, cellist Yumi Kendall, and me. I had known and worked with Richard since my student days at the Curtis Institute of Music and had long been thinking of collaborating on a new piece. As it happened, the people of Iran erupted in protest for their freedom while he was composing the work in 2009, sparking Richard to reflect on his Persian-Jewish roots and the plight of the Iranian people living under a brutally repressive regime. The result was Remembering Neda: Trio for Flute, Cello, and Piano , a work of great depth, a powerfully emotional contribution not only to our repertoire for flute, cello, and piano trio, but to the chamber music repertoire at large.
The next piece to enter my life was Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Five Pieces for Flute and Piano . In 2011, I met with Bret Werb, the musicologist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, to get his advice on a project I was planning on the music of the Holocaust. Toward the end of our conversation, Werb showed me a facsimile of a flute and piano work by Mieczyslaw Weinberg he had come across in St. Petersburg, saying he could not find references to any public performances since shortly after it was written in 1947, and published by the Soviet Composers’ Union the following year. Playing through it, I was immediately captivated by its beauty and depth. This fortuitous meeting resulted in a nearly four year journey of exploration of Mieczylsaw Weinberg’s Five Pieces for Flute and Piano and his life and music. I had the privilege of giving the United States premiere of the work with Charlie on the Dolce Suono Ensemble series in Philadelphia in 2013, with subsequent performances at the National Flute Association in Chicago and on concert tours.
Mieczyslaw Weinberg suffered personal tragedy at the hands of both the Nazis and the Soviets. A Polish Jew, he narrowly escaped the Nazi invasion by fleeing to the Soviet Union, but his whole family was murdered in the Holocaust. For Weinberg and his fellow artists working under the Soviet regime, artistic expression was fraught with the threat of censorship, imprisonment, and murder. He formed a close friendship with Dmitri Shostakovich, and both composers were persecuted in the anti-Formalist purge of Stalin in 1948, along with Prokofiev, Khachaturian, and other composers. It is not known whether political events played a role in Weinberg’s Five Pieces , effectively lost until recently, but the piece does come from a particularly turbulent period in Weinberg’s life. He was imprisoned for several months in 1953, but was saved in part because of Stalin’s death.
Five Pieces for Flute and Piano is a suite of contrasting character pieces. "Landscape", a lyrical movement, connotes a sense of spaciousness through ample rubato and silences. Three movements are contrasting dances – “First Dance,” a march-like Allegretto which is sometimes elegant, at times ponderous; “Second Dance,” which veers from a classical-sounding minuet to an off-kilter waltz; and “Third Dance,” a virtuosic Presto in which flute and piano engage in playful dialogue culminating in a rousing finale. The fourth piece, “Melody,” is the emotional core of the set, a soulful, at times anguished song.
I decided to commission David Finko to write his Sonata for Flute and Piano in 2012 after I performed and recorded his piccolo concerto with Orchestra 2001 and conductor James Freeman. I was impressed with Finko’s compositional craft, part of a lineage stretching back through Shostakovich to Prokofiev to Rimsky- Korsakov. And I was moved by the searing personal stamp in his music when he reflects on his history of narrowly escaping the Nazis and suffering persecution under the Soviets as an artist and as a Jew. Something resonated with me as a Jewish artist of Eastern European descent, and I knew that if David wrote for me the result would be a profoundly eloquent work.
Working on this collection of pieces has been one of the most inspiring projects in my musical life, as it deals with the universal human yearning to be free. Danielpour writes on this theme, and the life stories of Weinberg and Finko are a testament to their courageous dedication to their art.
I dedicate this recording to the artists who at different times and places have dared to express themselves whatever the risks, in recognition of the triumph of artistic freedom and of the human spirit. (Mimi Stillman)