Another historic concert this week – legendary violinist Henryk Szeryng returning to the New York Philharmonic after a six year absence to perform with Toronto Symphony Music Director Andrew Davis, guest conducting in this March 15, 1978 broadcast.
The program starts with Dances of Galanta by Zoltan Kodaly – Szeryng joins the Orchestra in a performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto and the concert concludes with the Symphony Number 6 by Prokofiev.
Polish born and naturalized Mexican citizen Henryk Szeryng made his solo debut on 6 January 1933 playing the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under Romanian conductor George Georgescu. From 1933 to 1939 he studied composition in Paris with Nadia Boulanger.
When World War II broke out, General Wladyslaw Sikorski – the Premier of the Polish government in exile – asked Szeryng, who was fluent in seven languages, to serve as his liaison officer and interpreter. Szeryng took these positions and discontinued his studies, although he continued to perform on the violin, giving over 300 concerts for Allied troops all over the world. When he accompanied Sikorski on a mission to Mexico in 1941 seeking a home for 4,000 Polish refugees, the positive reception moved Szeryng so deeply that he decided to become a Mexican naturalized citizen, and did so in 1946. In 1945 he accepted the request (made in 1943) that he head the string department of National University of Mexico.
In 1954, the pianist Arthur Rubinstein – also a Jewish refugee from Poland – gave a concert in Mexico City; Szeryng visited him backstage afterwards, and accepted Rubinstein’s invitation to come to his hotel to play music. Szeryng’s playing of solo violin music of Johann Sebastian Bach that night, said Rubinstein, “reduced me to tears….Real music lovers want emotion–great moments–which Szeryng’s playing gives them.” Rubinstein encouraged Szeryng to begin concertizing again, and introduced him to impresario Sol Hurok to help achieve this end. Rubinstein and Szeryng made music together regularly for the rest of their careers, and recorded much of the classic chamber music literature either as a duo or in a trio with cellist Pierre Fournier. Szeryng went on to win such major awards as six Grand prix du Disque awards, the Médaille d’Argent of the city of Paris, two Edison Awards, and was also made an Officer of the Order des Arts et Lettres in Paris in 1963, among many other honors received.
In 1960, Szeryng was named Mexican Cultural Ambassador. In 1966, by which time he had moved to Paris, he was designated Honorary Director of the Conservatory of Music in Mexico City, and a Henryk Szeryng Music Festival was held in his honor in Mexico City. He returned to Mexico twice a year and traveled on a diplomatic passport as Mexico’s official cultural ambassador, but lived in Paris for two decades, then spent his last five years in Monaco.
Szeryng died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Kassel, Germany, on 3 March 1988. He was buried at Cimetière de Monaco, the headstone bearing the concluding bars of the Ciaconna from Bach’s Partita No.2 for Solo Violin (with his own published annotation).
Enjoy the concert.