• Toasting Pianophonie

One of the highlights of this year’s Warsaw Autumn was the performance of Kazimierz Serocki’s Pianophonie (1976-78) for piano, electronics and orchestra at the closing concert two days ago.  I was gutted not to able to get to the concert, so I had to make do with listening online just a few miles away.  Its impact was still startling.  Serocki was an original, a composer who kept his avant-garde head while many around him were losing theirs.

Today I saw a link to a review by Tadeusz Deszkiewicz, who had a family connection with Stanisław Wisłocki, the conductor of the Polish premiere at the 1979 Warsaw Autumn.  I’ve taken the liberty of translating (I hope faithfully) Deszkiewicz’s recollections and thoughts.

You can hear the 1979 recording here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJt5zotNk10.

___________

Kazimierz Serocki’s Pianophonie, under the baton of Jacek Kaspszyk, dominated the final concert.  I was curious to see how this work would sound today, 35 years after its Polish premiere during the 23rd Warsaw Autumn in 1979.  I was in the Philharmonic then not only because I was a radio journalist at Polish Radio 2 but also because it was my uncle, Stanisław Wisłocki, who was conducting.

The work was recorded before the Warsaw Autumn, and Wisłocki later described the event:

On 13 September (1979) we were in Warsaw, in the National Philharmonic Hall, for two rehearsals and a recording for LP of Kazimierz Serocki’s composition, Pianophonie.  For its performance it was necessary to import special electronic sound-processing equipment from Germany. […]  The soloist was the pianist Szabolcs Esztényi, who thanks to a special console placed next to the piano drew out of it a variety of sound effects.  He and the natural sound of the orchestra created a soundscape hitherto not used in music.  Serocki wrote this interesting composition in 1976-1978 on the initiative and at the request of Radio Südwestfunk in Baden-Baden and the Freiburg Experimental Studio.  It was the first performance in Poland and probably the last, because it is unlikely that any Polish orchestra can again afford to bring this incredibly complicated, unique and vast apparatus from the Federal Republic of Germany.

Wisłocki could not have imagined that, 35 years later, miniaturisation would have eliminated the vast apparatus and the group of technicians to support it.  And so today, for the first time, we heard an absolutely new electronic version of Pianophonie, which gave Serocki’s piece a fresh, excellent sound.  The creation of new software and the digital processing of the analog recording was created from ​​Kamil Kęska’s original.  The effect was revelatory, and the audience’s cries of delight and long applause greeted the work.  The excellent pianist Adam Kosmieja also aroused admiration.  He had the task of simultaneously playing the piano at breakneck speed, extracting sounds directly from the strings and using the computer placed next to him.  It takes a great musician to realise this difficult music so excellently, keeping in mind the phrasing, dynamic range and technical perfection required.

In 1979, the Warsaw audience also received the work very warmly. Wisłocki wrote:

After the interval, we performed Kazimierz Serocki’s Pianophonię (c.30′), in which the role of the sound engineer Hans Peter Haller was as important as that of the other performers.  The audience gave Serocki an ovation. After the concert, Kazimierz hosted a party at his home.  There was a great deal of vodka.  Kazio drank continuously to one and all and by the end of the party he was just reeling.  I did not even try to reason with him, because it would not have helped. […]  A few days later, I received the news that Kazio had been taken to hospital with symptoms of a cerebral haemorrhage.

After returning home from convalescence, Kazimierz Serocki tried to write with his left hand (his right hand was incapacitated after the stroke), but Pianophonie was to be his last piece.  This great composer – a co-founder of the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ – died in January 1981.

Tadeusz Deszkiewicz, 28 September 2014

2 Responses to • Toasting Pianophonie

  1. jonathanpowell says:

    Last time I was in Warsaw (mid Sept) I was very lucky to find a first edition of Serocki’s Piano Sonata (only 20zl!) which I am determined to play.

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