The Ashkenaz Foundation is pleased to announce the launch of an international partnership and long-term collaboration with the POLIN Museum in Warsaw. This initiative has been in the works for over a year, delayed by the pandemic, but now ready to launch in earnest. It begins on Sunday December 13 with the online premiere on YouTube and Facebook of a newly-commissioned composition by renowned Polish composer Marcin Masecki, created in tribute to the rich tradition of mandolin orchestras and mandolin music in Polish-Jewish life. The performance will feature the composer on piano, joined by Mike Marshall, one of the world’s greatest mandolin virtuosos. Among his many accomplishments, Marshall is also the leader of the Ger Mandolin Orchestra, a one-of-a-kind ensemble that exists as a living tribute to pre-WWII Polish-Jewish mandolin orchestras. Some of you may recall the Ashkenaz presentation of this group at Toronto Centre for the Arts in 2013 (watch the highlight reel from that show below).
The mandolin – today a somewhat niche instrument – has an extremely rich history and 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 left-wing 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, especially through the work of the Ger Mandolin Orchestra (created in 2011 to commemorate the pre-war Jewish mandolin orchestra from the town of Góra Kalwaria, whose name in Yiddish is Ger). 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.
POLIN Museum in Warsaw
YouTube and Facebook