Grażnya Bacewicz’s Concerto for String Orchestra

Notes by TŌN violist Sean Flynn

The Concerto for String Orchestra by Grażyna Bacewicz is considered to be the composer’s finest work. In what is known as the “neoclassical” style, Bacewicz utilizes forms and melodic elements from the Baroque and Classical eras in tandem with modern rhythms and harmonies. This combination allows the piece to be accessible to even a first-time listener while still holding many surprises and ear-catching moments. Despite other great composers like Prokofiev and Stravinsky writing in this style, the concerto stands out as a wholly original work, particularly with the composer’s Polish roots being made apparent in many of the folk-like elements heard throughout the piece. The work follows a standard three-movement concerto form (fast–slow–fast), with each instrument group being asked to display their specific virtuosic capabilities throughout. In addition to composing, Bacewicz was also an accomplished violinist, and her knowledge of string-playing allowed this piece to have great textural and technical variety. It is rare to find an orchestral piece where each instrumental group has a part written for them that feels both essential to the whole and is continuously engaging to play. As a violist, I am no stranger to less-than-engaging orchestral parts, but there certainly are none of the like to be found in this concerto. Bacewicz asks a lot of the players of this piece; a number of solos, complicated rhythmic passages, and melodic lines with difficult intonation make for an intense but endlessly exciting playing experience, but I am sure that this intensity and excitement will be felt by listeners as well.