His moving Holocaust opera "The Passenger", which revolves
around a former camp guard who recognizes a former inmate on an
ocean liner decades later, was not performed until four years
after his death in 1996.
Even a close friendship with Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich
seems to have worked against him, prompting critics to look at
him as a lesser version of the Russian master.
"If you read about his life and his biography, the impression
that comes to mind is 'How much can one person actually take?',"
German violinist Linus Roth asked in an interview with Reuters.
Roth, a protege of German violin superstar Anne-Sophie Mutter in
his mid-30s, has become a leading advocate for Weinberg's music
with the release this year of the first recording of all six of
his violin sonatas on the Challenge Classics label.
Championing the work of a little-known composer who fled from
Poland to Russia to escape the Nazis and was denounced there as
a "cosmopolitan" who wanted to create a breakaway Jewish state
is an interesting career move for Roth.
FORGOTTEN AND FIRST-RATE
"Often these forgotten composers are forgotten because somehow
they are mediocre or second-rate," Roth said at a London coffee
shop, keeping a discreet watch on the case containing the
Stradivarius he uses to play Weinberg's haunting melodies, often
tinged with a hint of Jewish traditional music.
"But this composer was forgotten and first-rate — it's really
For example, he said, "The Passenger" — an eclectic mix of
musical styles as well as subtle plotting based on a novel by
concentration camp survivor Zofia Posmysz — is "probably the
only opera about the Holocaust that's really worth watching."
Roth saw the production at Austria's Bregenz Festival. "The
music is really amazing and it's completely touching," he said.
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The composer's Shostakovich connection — they lived near each other
in Moscow and were in frequent contact up until the Russian's death
in 1975 — is another reason Roth holds up to say the world should
have a second look at Weinberg.
"Shostakovich played every piece, before going to print, for
Weinberg, to get his okay, until he died," Roth said, adding that
Weinberg's music showed his neighbour's influence. "That shows how
highly he valued Weinberg as a composer."
TRANSPARENCY AND BEAUTY
A life of such tragedy and hardship inevitably resounds in
Weinberg's music, but Roth insists it's not all depressing.
"There are moments of beauty that he found in all this," he said. "I
am sometimes reminded of Schubert because it's so transparent and
actually simple melodies — not the harmonies, which have nothing to
do with Schubert, but the transparency and beauty, the simple
Knowing so much about Weinberg's life has made it grow on him as he
rehearses and performs it, Roth said.
"For me, Weinberg is somebody I can have a conversation with, more
or less, when I play his music. I know so much about him and his
music, I have so much empathy for him and his life ... so it feels
like a friend."
Does such a focus mean Roth risks becoming known as "that German
violinist who does Weinberg"?
"I mean, I do play Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and other
things — Britten, for example," he said, referring to the British
composer's violin concerto coupled on his Challenge Classics
recording with Weinberg's concerto. "I love this piece."
(Editing by Tom Heneghan)
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