• Remembering Andrzej Chłopecki

It came as a shock to hear on Sunday that Andrzej Chłopecki, the Polish writer on contemporary music, had died that day, aged 62.  He was a singular man with multiple attributes.  He was keenly perceptive, wise, staunch, quirky, witty, impish, and never afraid to speak out whenever he came across the shallow or the hollow.  He got into very hot water with the Establishment when he dared to criticise Penderecki’s Piano Concerto after its Polish premiere at the end of the 2002 ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival.  I admired him hugely for being a real critic.  Above all, he was the most warm-hearted of colleagues and friends.

Others in Poland knew him much better than I did (he published almost exclusively in Polish, although his penetrating CD notes were translated into other languages for non-Polish labels).  And they can verify his enormous contribution to Polish musical life over the past 40 years and more.  He was for many years a key member of the Repertoire Committee of the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ and at the time of his death was the Artistic Director of the biennial ‘Musica Polonica Nova’ festival in Wrocław.

He was a brilliant broadcaster, acute in his thinking and challenging in his debates.  My abiding personal memory is of when we jointly presented the live opening concert of BBC Radio 3’s Polska! festival on 19 November 1993, from the Witold Lutosławski Studio at Polish Radio in Warsaw.  He, however, was in a balcony on the opposite side of the hall, with a clear view of the artists’ entrance (which I could not see) below my balcony seat.  We were supposed to have a shared script and timing.  But Andrzej decided that he had more to say, with the result that I, with no experience of live concert presentation, ended up scrabbling to describe the interior of the hall (in English, across the EBU network) while he continued to improvise on the merits of the programme to Polish listeners, barely one eye on the players waiting below me.  I had no idea how long this was going to last.  Later on, there was a party at someone’s flat (it may even have been his) and, as the photo indicates, there were no hard feelings, though perhaps my expression indicates something along the lines of “You cheeky …!” and his of “Never mind, that’s what you get with me!”.  The cheeky fingers above Andrzej’s head belong to the composer Paweł Szymański.

Andrzej came from the generation whose composers succeeded Górecki, Kilar and Penderecki and brought new blood into Polish music in the late 1970s and 1980s.  Among them was not only Szymański, but also Rafał Augustyn, Eugeniusz Knapik, Stanisław Krupowicz, Andrzej Krzanowski and Aleksander Lasoń.  They came of age during the anti-communist protests of the 1970s and the rise and fall of Solidarity at the turn of the decade.  They were activists through music, and Andrzej paid for this by losing his job at Polish Radio between 1981 and 1991.  Their position has been vindicated by history.

I trawled through my photograph albums today and found a second photo, taken two years later in 1995, at a party held to mark the 25th anniversary (…) of my first visit to Warsaw and the ‘Warsaw Autumn’.  Quite why I’m holding a shotgun – and pointing it at him – is a mystery, but the ever-convivial Andrzej is obligingly filling my glass.  Behind me is Krupowicz, to his right Szymański, and behind/between them my longest-standing Polish friend, Michał Kubicki.  We had a good evening, and no-one got shot.

Andrzej would have wanted those who knew him to have a good wake in his memory.  Like all his friends and colleagues, I’m devastated that he has gone.  A crumb of comfort – which may turn out to be not that small – is that a week before he died he completed a book about Lutosławski which will be published in time to mark his centenary next year.  Thank you Andrzej for everything.

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