“Even as a child, it was clear to me that I would become a violinist,” Daniel Stabrawa once said in an interview for the Digital Concert Hall. His passion for the instrument and music predestined him for this profession. Born in Cracow, he became a member of the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1983, and in 1986 he took over from Michel Schwalbé as 1st concertmaster. Since then, Berliner Philharmoniker audiences have known him in this function, effortlessly and unobtrusively coordinating the communication between conductor and orchestra since then, and impressing listeners with wonderfully performed solo passages. Daniel Stabrawa also appears regularly as a soloist with the orchestra. Most recently, he performed Karol Szymanowski’s Second Violin Concerto under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle in 2016. The violinist has also appeared as a soloist with Kirill Petrenko, Sir Simon’s successor as chief conductor of the Philharmoniker: in 2012 he performed the Music for Violin and Orchestra by the little-known composer Rudi Stephan, who died at a young age.
In a programme in May 2020, the musician – who discovered orchestral conducting in the mid-1990s – was to appear not only as solo violinist but also as conductor with the Philharmoniker. However, due to the restrictions necessitated by the corona pandemic, the originally planned performances of Mozart’s First Violin Concerto and Schubert’s Fifth Symphony had to be cancelled. Andrzej Panufnik’s only violin concerto, which in its original version is also accompanied only by a string orchestra, is however still able to be performed as planned – albeit without an audience – as part of the Berlin Phil Series.
In Panufnik’s composition, the vocal and lyrical sides of the violin are shown to their best advantage. The Polish composer wrote the piece for Yehudi Menuhin in the early 1970s: “When Menuhin asked me to compose a violin concerto for him, I immediately thought of his unique spiritual and poetic qualities and felt that I should give him the opportunity to bring out these rare gifts and not obscure his deep inner musicality with virtuoso fireworks.”
In two works added to the programme, Daniel Stabrawa can also be heard as a chamber musician and, in an archive recording, as concertmaster with the full orchestra: together with his Philharmoniker colleagues Krzysztof Polonek and Ignacy Miecznikowski, he plays Dvořák’s unusually scored trio for two violins and viola. It reveals in miniature form the melodic ingenuity, the inspiration of Czech folklore and the feeling for dance rhythms that distinguished the composer.
Daniel Stabrawa played for the longest time as concertmaster of the Philharmoniker under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle. The violinist is grateful to him among other things for his tireless exploration of the repertoire and rediscovery of works. Among the composers who played an important role under Herbert von Karajan was Jean Sibelius, and with Rattle, a passionate advocate of the composer once again shaped the course of the orchestra. The conductor twice performed all of Sibelius’s symphonies during his tenure. Stabrawa has chosen the Fourth for the Berlin Phil Series concert: Unlike the much more famous Fifth, this one does not end in triumph, but rather fades away after an extended process of searching, which, while it does not abandon tonality, nevertheless leaves a question mark in its persistent circling around dissonance.