WWI Commemorative Season Gets Underway
The Sembrich Summer Film Series at Bolton Free Library gets underway on Monday, June 23rd at 7:30 pm with a free screening of Steven Spielberg's "War Horse." This epic saga about a boy and his horse separated during the first days of the Great War initiates The Sembrich's season-long commemorative series, 1914: Summer of Destiny, Sembrich and the Dawn of WWI.
"'War Horse' is but the first of over a dozen events scheduled throughout the summer to commemorate the centennial of the First World War," says Sembrich Artistic Director Richard Wargo. Highlights of the series include members of the Philadelphia Orchestra in a program of war-era works, including Vaughan Williams evocative "Lark Ascending" (consistently voted the most beautiful piece ever written on an annual poll conducted by BBC Radio). Music from Salem features repertoire from two different fronts; from England, in Elgar's Piano Quintet and Austria, in Zemlinsky's String Quartet No. 2. Brooklyn Art Song Society presents a concert of music by composers whose lives were affected by the Great War, including George Butterworth, who was killed in action at the Battle of the Somme. NOT ABOUT HEROES, a theatrical reading of the play by Stephen MacDonald paired with music of Finzi, Barber and Browne, chronicles the friendship of British war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.
"World War I became a defining event of the young century," observes Wargo, "A marker, of sorts, between the lost empires of old Europe and a new, uncertain world. In the season ahead, we'll track the course of the summer of 1914 and explore how the events of those months altered the path of music and art---and, ultimately, led Marcella Sembrich to seek out a summer refuge in the Adirondacks."
A defining date of those weeks was July 31st, an anniversary that will be observed with a piano recital by Thomas Pandolfi. "Marcella Sembrich and her husband William Stengel had traveled across the border from the south of France to Switzerland to attend the name-day party of their friend and compatriot, Ignacy Paderewski," says Wargo. "By the end of the evening, Germany had issued a call for reservists and all but one of the household staff rushed to the railroad station. War had been declared. Sembrich and her husband, Polish subjects who held German passports, were unable to return to France. They remained stranded and in peril for some months." To commemorate this historic night, Pandolfi will recreate one of Paderewski's Carnegie Hall Recitals for American Polish Relief, a virtuosic program that includes works of Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Paderewski, Chopin, Schubert and Rubinstein.
Paderewski is also the focus of a concert by Ukrainian pianist Marianna Humetska, artistic director of the Lviv Philharmonic's annual "Discover Paderewski Festival." "Last spring, I had the opportunity to meet Marianna and hear her perform in Warsaw," says Wargo. "We're honored that such a distinguished musician from Marcella Sembrich's homeland is able to join us for this important series." In May, Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski personally presented to Humetska the Knight's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, one of the country's highest honors, in recognition of her involvement with the music of Paderewski. The program planned for The Sembrich includes Paderewski's Sonata in E-flat minor, music by Chopin and a set of enchanting Paderewski songs from Madame Sembrich's repertoire, performed by guest soprano, Malgorzata Kellis.
Several new exhibitions in the studio museum, assembled especially to complement this season's theme, vividly convey the chronicle of the outset of war and Marcella's Sembrich's tireless efforts to raise funds for the relief of the Polish people. "Many of the items featured this summer are on display for the very first time in the museum's seventy-seven year history," comments Lisa H. Hall, chair of the collections committee. Vintage photographs depict Sembrich's villa in the south of France and Paderewski's Swiss estate. A portfolio of colorful prints of the Polish Legions by Wojciech Kossak, gifted to Madame Sembrich by the Supreme National Committee, fills one of the costume cases. A second case is devoted to the life and career of the brilliant pianist and first prime minister of Poland, Ignacy Paderewski. A nearby wall is adorned with posters, photos and programs of A NIGHT IN POLAND, a "Grand Pageant" with Sembrich and Stengel dressed as Polish nobility, an event held at the Biltmore Hotel "to raise funds for Polish non-combatants, women and children made destitute and homeless by the War."
The focal point of the new display is a spectacular six-by-eight foot flag emblazoned with the Polish Eagle crafted to hang at concerts and fund-raisers for the American Polish Relief Committee. "What I find particularly striking about this design," says Wargo, "Is that instead of the bold red color that one expects in a traditional Polish flag, this banner is woven with a deep Lenten purple hue, as if to suggest a parallel between the besieged suffering Poles and the Passion of Christ." This ecclesiastic theme is echoed elsewhere in the exhibit, in an icon-sized depiction of a martyr carrying a cross, entitled "Pologne."
The series comes to a close on Labor Day weekend with a Gala performance by renowned Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe. "We'll Meet Again, The Songs of Kate Smith" is described by the New York Times as "richly entertaining" and "commandingly sung." Ms. Smith, a uniquely American talent, spent summers on Lake Placid and, like Sembrich, worked diligently for the war effort, in her case, for World War II relief.
"The summer of 1914 marked a turning point in the life of Marcella Sembrich and is a crucial part of our history," states Wargo. With the outset of hostilities, the famous prima donna, displaced from family, friends and her beloved Poland, found comfort and consolation during the summer months in the mountains and lakes of the Adirondacks. Eventually, the soprano came to settle on a fourteen acre estate on the western shore of Lake George, four acres of which remain today as The Sembrich. "One can make the case that were it not for the momentous events of the summer of 1914, that the Sembrich Museum might never have come into existence."