Ashkenaz is pleased to partner with Warsaw’s POLIN Museum to present the online premiere of a newly-commissioned song suite by the brilliant Polish pianist and composer Marcin Masecki. He is joined for the performance by Mike Marshall, one of the world’s greatest mandolin virtuosos, and leader of The Ger Mandolin Orchestra. Masecki’s suite is inspired by the pre-WWII Polish-Jewish mandolin traditions to which the Ger Mandolin Orchestra has so powerfully paid tribute (watch highlights below of the group’s 2013 performance at Toronto Centre for the Arts). But this new music is decidedly modern and typically idiosyncratic, combining contemporary classical impulses with sly references to Polish folk and popular music sounds of the early 20th century. Tune in live on POLIN’s Facebook page or Ashkenaz’s YouTube Channel.
The mandolin – today a somewhat niche instrument – holds a special place in the history of Polish and Jewish musical culture. Mandolin clubs and orchestras were at one time ubiquitous in Poland, Jewish Eastern Europe and in North American immigrant communities. The instrument was frequently incorporated in the curriculum of Yiddish schools, and was closely associated with social and workers movements. The instrument also provided one of the only means of musical expression for women in pre-war Jewish communities. As a ‘social’ instrument that brought individuals and communities together, the mandolin was simply unrivaled. While mandolin orchestras still dot the landscape in Poland, the tradition has for the most part lost its resonance in post WWII Jewish life.
But like so many things old that have become new again, the mandolin has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years and has been resurrected as a medium for Jewish musical creation and story-telling. Over the next two years, Ashkenaz and POLIN Museum will collaborate in re-telling, and re-inventing, this forgotten story. New mandolin music composed by Marcin Masecki will first be premiered in duo format before it will eventually be heard in its intended orchestral form.
This project was financed thanks to the support of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage as part of the Composing Commissions program. The premiere of the piece is possible thanks to the kind support of the Goethe Institute in Warsaw. Ashkenaz’s partnership with POLIN museum is supported through a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.