The Sembrich
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Simon Mulligan at The Sembrich. Photo credit: YM Photography

The Sembrich Commemorates 100th Anniversary of Outbreak of World War I with New Concert Series

Mirror story 2014

On July 31, 1914, the world renowned opera singer Marcella Sembrich and William Stengel, her husband and manager, left their home in the south of France for what they expected to be a brief visit to Switzerland.

Ignacy Paderewski, the pianist and composer who was not only their friend but also a Polish compatriot, was celebrating his name day, and Sembrich was looking forward to the re-union.

History, however, intervened, says Richard Wargo, the artistic director of Bolton Landing’s Sembrich Museum and an authority on the singer’s life and work.

“By the end of the evening, Germany had issued a call for reservists and all but one of Paderewski’s household staff rushed to the railroad station. Sembrich and her husband, who were Polish subjects who held German passports, were unable to return to France. They remained stranded and in peril for some months,” Wargo recounts.

Three days earlier, Austria- Hungary had declared war on Serbia, unleashing the forces that would envelop Europe in the First World War. On August 1, Germany declared war on Russia. Russia’s ally, France, mobilized its forces the same day, and on August 3, France and Germany declared war on each other. The German army’s planned invasion of neutral Belgium, announced on August 4, forced Britain to declare war on Germany.

The nationalists who were subjects of the empire of Austria- Hungary before the war and the founders of the independent, Central European republics afterward, began migrating to Great Britain and the United States, Sembrich and Paderewski among them.

This summer, the Sembrich will commemorate the centennial of the outbreak of World War I and its life with “1914: Summer of Destiny; Sembrich and the Dawn of World War I,” a new series of concerts and programs.

“The summer of 1914 marked a turning point in the life of Marcella Sembrich,” said Wargo. “With the outset of hostilities, separated from family, friends and country, Sembrich found comfort and consolation in the mountains and lakes of the Adirondacks. Eventually, the soprano came to settle on a fourteen-acre estate on Lake George. Were it not for the momentous events of the summer of 1914, the Sembrich Museum might never have come into existence.”

To complement the series, The Sembrich has organized an exhibition of photographs and artifacts illuminating the crucial roles played by Sembrich, Stengel and Paderewski in organizing relief for the war’s Polish victims, on the side of the Allies and, after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the creation of an independent Polish state.

For example, one exhibit concert in Lake Placid for Polish refugees and includes photographs, the original program and a rare, handmade banner from the Sembrich textile collection which the museum’s 77-year history.

A highlight of the season will Eve of War,” a tribute to Paderewski to be performed on July 31, one hundred years after his name-day party. Pandolfi will recreate one of Paderewski’s Carnegie Hall Recitals for American Polish Relief, a virtuosic program that includes works of Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Paderewski, Chopin, Schubert and Rubinstein.

Paderewski is also the focus of a July 12 concert by Ukrainian pianist Marianna Humetska, artistic director of the Lviv Philharmonic’s annual “Discover Paderewski Festival.”

“Last spring, I had the opportunity to meet Marianna and hear her perform in Warsaw,” said Wargo. “We’re honored that such a distinguished musician from Marcella Sembrich’s homeland will be able to join us for this important series.”

Her program for The Sembrich includes Paderewski’s Sonata in E-flat minor and a set of Paderewski’s songs from Sembrich’s repertoire performed by soprano Malgorzata Kellis.

“For me, there is a similarity between Poland during the time of Paderewski and Sembrich and today’s Ukraine. Both in my country, Ukraine, and in Poland, America is viewed as a symbol of freedom. I dream that Ukraine might one day attain that same freedom that the United States and Poland now enjoy. That’s why this concert is especially important to me,” said Humetska.

“1914: Summer of Destiny; Sembrich and the Dawn of World War I,” begins on Sunday, July 6 with “Over There: A Remembrance of World War I,” by the chamber group Music from Salem. The concert, which starts at 7:30 pm, features Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A minor and Zemlinsky’s String Quartet No. 2.

“Both works are epic pieces on a grand scale and were influenced  by tragic events of the war,” said Lila Brown, the director of Music from Salem. “The music is etched with very personal references, incorporating both compassion.”

On Wednesday, July 9 Bard College professor Peter Laki will present a studio talk on “Symphonies for New Worlds,” tracing the effects of the Great War on the world of classical music. Laki’s talk starts at 1:30 pm,

The series will conclude on Labor Day weekend with a Gala performance by Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe of “We’ll Meet Again, The Songs of Kate Smith.” According to Wargo, Smith spent summers on Lake Placid and, like Sembrich, lent her talents to the relief of war refugees.

For a complete schedule of concerts and events, visit the website,