• WL100/10: ‘Breaking Chains’, GSMD 1997

Possibly the most intense and wide-ranging survey of the life and works of Witold Lutosławski that has ever taken place was that at the Barbican, London, in January 1997.  The climax was three days of concerts, organised by the BBC under the banner Breaking Chains on 17-19 January.  I’ll return to these events in a future post.

Preparatory to these concerts, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, in a different part of the Barbican complex, organised five days of complementary events under the Breaking Chains umbrella, 13-17 January 1997. These included concerts, workshops, talks and discussions, as well as an exhibition.  The participants included the GSMD SO and CO, student chamber ensembles and soloists, and several speakers: Steven Stucky, Józef Patkowski, Charles Bodman Rae, John Casken and myself.

WL Breaking Chains, GSMD 13-17.01.97

The GSMD Breaking Chains repertoire included: Symphonic Variations (1938), Symphony no.1 (1947),  Little Suite (1950/51), Straw Chain (1951), Silesian Triptych (1951), children’s song cycles Autumn and Spring (1951) and four other children’s songs (1953-54), Jeux vénitiens (1961), String Quartet (1964), Symphony no.2 (1967), Livre pour orchestre (1968), Variations on a Theme by Paganini for piano and orchestra (1941/78), Novelette (1979), Chain 1 (1983), Fanfare for Louisville (1986), Prelude for GSMD (1989).  In pre-concert and afternoon events during the BBC part of Breaking Chains, GSMD students also performed Overture for Strings (1949), Five Folk Melodies (1945/52), Preludes and Fugue (1972), Partita for violin and piano (1984), songs and music for piano, as well as Chain 1 for the second time.

There were some fantastic student performances during this GSMD week.  Indeed, Symphony no.2, Novelette and Fanfare for Louisville were issued on the SOMM label (SOMMCD 219) in 1999, alongside performances of two works conducted by the composer on his visit to GSMD on 11 May 1989: Prelude for GSMD and the Cello Concerto (1970), in which the soloist was Louise Hopkins.  My strongest recollection is of the performance of the Second Symphony under the dynamic direction of Wojciech Michniewski.

Lutosławski: Symphony no.2

• Movement 1: ‘Hésitant’  

• Movement 2: ‘Direct’ (the track begins c.15″ too early with two brief events for trombones/tuba and bassoons from the end of ‘Hésitant’; ‘Direct’ begins with ppp double basses, partly masked by a final bassoon utterance)  

My own involvement also included directing a workshop performance of Jeux vénitiens and putting together an exhibition called The Hidden Composer: Witold Lutosławski and Polish Radio, of which more anon.

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