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Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra 

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WARSAW PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA

The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra has been Poland's flagship orchestra since 1901, when it kicked off its first season in an architectural jewel of a hall and with prime-minister-to-be Ignacy Paderewski at the piano. Its fortunes have waxed and waned over the decades: Before World War II, the orchestra was considered one of the finest in Europe, an exemplary practitioner of the mellowed, folksy central European sensibility; by the end of the war, half of its roster of 80 had fled or been killed, and its hall lay in ruins. During the communist era, the government lavished resources on the orchestra, rebuilding both its personnel and the concert hall. In return, it demanded adherence to the political agenda, and so for years the orchestra's repertoire was heavy on Polish glories from past centuries and on Russian and German imports, largely ignoring the trailblazing works of native sons such as Lutoslawski and Penderecki. But by most accounts it throve on excellent string playing, the kind envied by most western European ensembles. In fact in the early 90s, no longer generously supported by the state, it had trouble keeping its star players from defecting to the West. On the other hand, its conducting staff was able to weed out musicians who had come to regard their jobs as sinecures, and the orchestra is reportedly in far better shape than it was in the chaotic final days of the military regime--despite the fact that the musicians are still playing the same hand-me-down instruments they did then. Unfortunately, the orchestra's programming is now presumably guided by audience preferences, and if the program for the Chicago stop of the Poles' U.S. tour is any indication, conservatism remains the norm. Putting familiar pieces by Brahms (Variations on a Theme by Haydn), Mozart (Piano Concerto no. 21), and Rimsky-Korsakov (Sheherazade) on the bill for a showcase of Polish performers amounts to another slap in the face for Polish composers. The conductor is Kazimierz Kord, an orchestra builder who's marking his 20th anniversary with the Warsaw crew. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): orchestra photo.

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