• Górecki: Total Immersion (3 October 2015)

HMG Barbican cover 3.10.15Before you ask, no, I don’t know why there’s an arty picture of flowers next to a flipped photo of the composer.  And while I’m in a grump, I do not understand why, after I carefully vet a proof, a copy editor can introduce new errors or miss ones that I have pointed out.  Here they ranged from inserting a cack-handed and unnecessary ‘explanation’ (underlined here) into a perfectly clear statement and then not editing it properly afterwards – ‘… Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 27 No. 1, which was described by its composer as a ‘sonata quasi una fantasia’ (ie a sonata in the style of a fantasia). ‘Quasi una fantasia’.’ – to giving one work the movement headings of another and failing to spot the auto-correct in ‘Lunam et Stellas in potestatem noxious’.  But these blemishes in the printed programme cannot detract from what was a terrific BBC SO ‘Total Immersion’ focus on Henryk Mikołaj Górecki last Saturday at London’s Barbican.

I am not accustomed to writing reviews, and this isn’t intended to be one, but I can’t pass the occasion by without thanking the BBC SO for providing this panorama from his earliest acknowledged work (Four Preludes for piano op. 1, 1955) to one of his posthumous pieces (Kyrie op. 83, 2005).  With only three concerts over a single afternoon and evening, it is impossible to represent all facets of a composer.  In this instance, however, there was a glaring gap between 1956 (Piano Sonata) and 1969 (Old Polish Music) – his most experimental years.  This was odd, given the day’s title – ‘Henryk Górecki: Polish Pioneer’.  When I saw the preliminary programme, I did suggest that the Silesian String Quartet might add Genesis I: Elementi (1962) to its recital of the first two string quartets, but nothing came of it. Could the BBC SO not have replaced the rather formulaic Old Polish Music with Scontri (1960) or Refrain (1965)? This cavil apart, the repertoire choices were excellent and gave the large and highly appreciative audiences much to relish.

I started off proceedings with an hour-long talk at 11.00, in which I deliberately complemented the day’s repertoire with discussion of other pieces.  I was told that the 80 people who turned up were double the number expected, and they seemed to enjoy the mix of musical and anecdotal observations.  The Silesian Quartet at 13.00 was in top form, bringing a grittiness and passion to the music that Górecki would have thoroughly appreciated.

Violetta Rotter-Kozera’s biographical film Please Find Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (2012) was screened at 15.00.  Its generally chronological progress was illuminated by archive clips and multiple interviews made in 2011 in the USA and Europe, although the English-language subtitling for the Polish interviewees occasionally left something to be desired. Consistently translating ‘utwór’ (work/piece) as ‘song’ was an irritating sign of the times, but the film is an honest portrayal and a welcome antidote to the Tony Palmer film of 1993.

The 17.30 concert was shared by the BBC Singers under David Hill and the pianist Emiko Edwards.  Edwards played the two student works with fire and understanding, both crisp and robust.  The BBC Singers were also in top form. Their Polish pronunciation was exemplary, as was their tonal and dynamic balance.  It was good to hear the complete Marian Songs (1985), although they are not the most interesting or varied of Gorecki’s a cappella pieces, but no. 21 of the recently published Church Songs (1986) was a good work with which to end the recital.

Those members of the audience who reached their seats early for the BBC SO’s own concert at 19.30 were treated to a reworking of Totus Tuus under the composer Tim Steiner.  The concert itself was the climax of the day, not least because its repertoire was almost entirely new to the audience, which reacted with enthusiasm.  As I intimated earlier, Old Polish Music is one of Gorecki’s most austere pieces, but the new Kyrie (first performed in 2014 and here being given its UK premiere), was a softer, more intimate work and makes one wonder what the rest of the mass commissioned by Pope John Paul II might have been like if Górecki had got round to completing it.  Mahan Esfahani was the cool and elegant soloist in the Harpsichord Concerto (1980), although I wished that the conductor, Antoni Wit, had not allowed even the reduced complement of strings to obscure the cross-metric subtleties of the solo part.  The final work, and the one that startled the most, was the Second Symphony ‘Copernican’ (1972).  My distant recollection of this rarely performed work (I’ve heard it live only twice before, at the Holland Festival in 1993 and later that same year in Katowice at a celebratory concert for Górecki’s 60th birthday) was revived by Wit, his two soloists (Marie Arnet and Marcus Farnsworth) and the BBC Chorus.  The symphony’s impact was palpable. As both it and the whole day demonstrated, Górecki was far more than just his Third Symphony, and those present recognised this.  Thank you, BBC SO!

You can catch the three concerts on the BBC as follows:

String Quartet no.2http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06fldxd  (available on BBC iPlayer until the beginning of November)
BBC SO concert plus String Quartet no.1 in the interval: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06flpnl  (available on BBC iPlayer until the beginning of November, presented by Petroc Trelawny, with Mahan Esfahani and myself)
BBC Singers and Emiko Edwards: this will be broadcast on Radio 3 during the last week of October and will then be available on iPlayer for 30 days

And here are a few links to the immediate reviews – both good and middling:

• George Hall: 3* http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/oct/04/total-immersion-henryk-gorecki-review-bbcso
• John Allison: 4* http://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/classical-music/gorecki-total-immersion-barbican-review/
• Gavin Dixonhttp://www.theartsdesk.com/classical-music/total-immersion-henryk-g%C3%B3recki-barbican
• John-Pierre Joyce: 5* http://www.musicomh.com/classical/reviews-classical/bbc-so-wit-barbican-hall-london
• Richard Whitehousehttp://www.classicalsource.com/db_control/db_concert_review.php?id=13157

and added to on 11 November:

• Fiona Maddockshttp://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/oct/11/daniil-trifonov-royal-festival-hall-review-angela-hewitt-gorecki-total-immersion
Paul Driverhttp://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/culture/music/article1616360.ece (first two paragraphs, the remainder subject to subscription)

My programme essay and notes may be found by clicking on this link.

• Górecki/BBC SO: One Week To Go

This day next week – Saturday 3 October – the BBC Symphony Orchestra is hosting Henryk Górecki: Polish Pioneer, its first Total Immersion day of the 2015-16 season, with the participation of the Silesian String Quartet, the BBC Singers, Mahan Esfahani, Antoni Wit and many others.  There’s a creative project on Totus Tuus and a recent film not seen before in the UK.  I’ll be introducing the film, giving the opening talk and chatting with Petroc Trelawny for the delayed broadcast of the BBC SO’s evening concert.  The recitals by the Silesian String Quartet and BBC Singers will be broadcast live on Radio 3, while the BBC SO concert goes out on the following Tuesday evening, 6 October.

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• Woodworm Don’t Like Your Music

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 09.10.32I don’t think I have ever seen such a colourful series of titles for the BBC Radio 3 series Composer of the Week.  Today, and for the rest of this week, it’s the turn of Grażyna Bacewicz, presented by Donald Macleod with me muttering a few words from the wings.  The titles are nothing to do with me, but I hope that they bring in the listeners!

Programmes are broadcast at 12.00 (BST) and repeated at 18.30 (except Fri, when the repeat is at 19.00).

An Unseen Little Engine (Mon 25 May)
A Mood of Determined Resistance (Tues 26 May)
A False Dawn (Wed 27 May)
Opening the Modernist Floodgates (Thurs 28 May)
Woodworm Don’t Like Your Music (Fri 29 May)

Full repertoire details in my earlier post.

• BBC R3: Bacewicz is COTW (25-29.05)

n1877p01At last!  In two weeks’ time, Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-69) will be BBC Radio 3’s Composer of the Week.  Five programmes, each lasting an hour, will be broadcast 25-29 May, at 12 noon and again at 18.30.  Donald Macleod presents, as usual, and I’ll be chipping in with a few comments towards the end of each programme.  I’ve not been involved in the selection of the repertoire.

…….

I’ve just been looking back at coverage of Polish composers on COTW.  Sadly, the BBC webpages (once you’ve learned how to navigate them) are reliable only for the past ten years.  Before that, specific years and dates then become very patchy and there is nothing concrete before 2001 except an alphabetical list of names since the series’ inception in 1943.

Chopin has been well represented over the years, but what of 20th-century Polish composers?  Is it not strange that neither Górecki nor Penderecki has been featured?  (I was asked to contribute to a Górecki week last year, but when I was unavailable for recording the proposal was postponed and I’ve heard nothing since; I hope it will resurface soon.)  If COTW can cover Henze (2005), Ligeti (2009) and Schnittke (2010), why not their near-contemporaries in Poland?  Panufnik was featured in his centenary year (2014), but Lutosławski was passed by in his (2013).  Szymanowski, on the other hand, has been almost over-exposed.  Here is my list, extracted from the COTW webpages (the 2006 slot may be a repeat):

• 2014: Andrzej Panufnik
• 2011: Karol Szymanowski
• 2010: Fryderyk Chopin
• 2008: Fryderyk Chopin
• 2006: Karol Szymanowski
• 2004: Karol Szymanowski

Before Donald Macleod became the voice of COTW, other presenters participated, including myself.  In the 1990s I presented a few weeks and Roxana Panufnik presented one on her father:

• 1998: Karol Szymanowski
• 1993: Andrzej Panufnik (as part of R3’s Polska! festival)
• 1993: Polish Romantics (“) – Karłowicz, Moniuszko, Noskowski, Paderewski, Wieniawski, Zarębski
• 1993: Witold Lutosławski

It seems to me that there is an unanswerable case for Górecki, Penderecki and Lutosławski to be included in future plans for COTW.  They are more than equal to quite a few composers who have been featured in the series over the past ten years.  There are other Polish names too, who might be grouped together if there was insufficient recorded material for them to be treated singly: Kazimierz Serocki, Tadeusz Baird, Wojciech Kilar and Zygmunt Krauze come to mind, or even composers of younger generations.  And there is now much more available on 19th-century Polish music, not to mention the Polish Renaissance and Baroque.  But back, for now, to Bacewicz.

…….

Part of the challenge for a representative coverage of Bacewicz’s music is the lack of recordings of certain periods, although there was a surge of CDs around the centenary of her birth.  This is particularly obvious of the mid-1960s, where works such as Musica sinfonica (1965), Contradizione (1965), In una parte (1967) and the Viola Concerto (1968) have never been issued on CD.  There is, for example, only one recording of the key work Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion (1958).  That was made for the Chandos label in 2009, her centenary year.  Once again, when it comes to the recording of Polish music, it is a British company that has taken the lead.  Given the available recorded repertoire, the choice made by COTW presents a good, more-or-less chronological sample of Bacewicz’s music.  I hope it will garner new enthusiasts for her music, especially among performers and promoters.  Here’s the day-by-day list of works that have been selected (movement details tbc):

Monday 25 May
• Sonatina for piano, first movement (1933)
• Violin Sonata no.3 (1948)
Children’s Suite for piano, movements 1-5 (1933)
• Sinfonietta for strings (1936)
• Violin Concerto no.1 (1937)

Tuesday 26 May
• Three Songs (1938)
Three Grotesques for piano (1935)
• Violin Sonata no.1 ‘Sonata da camera’ (1945)
• Violin Concerto no.2, movements 2 and 3 (1945)
• Overture (1943)

Wednesday 27 May
• String Quartet no.3 (1947)
• Violin Sonata no.4 (1949)
• Concerto for String Orchestra (1948)

Thursday 28 May
• String Quartet no.4, first movement (1951)
• Partita for violin and piano (1955)
• Ten Concert Studies for piano, nos 1-3 (1956)
Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion (1958)

Friday 29 May
Pensieri notturni for orchestra (1961)
• Piano Quintet no.2, movements 1 and 2 (1965)
• Violin Concerto no.7 (1965)
• Divertimento for strings (1965)

• 6th Festival of Premieres, Katowice

Last November, the 21st to be exact, I visited the new and magnificent home in Katowice of NOSPR, the Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra.  The occasion was a performance of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony under the baton of the 91-year-old Stanisław Skrowaczewski.

1510969_530640500404789_5062398667736756849_nIt was a searing account, made all the more special because that very morning I had come across a programme from 1949 when Skrowaczewski had conducted the same work with the other Katowice orchestra, the Silesian Philharmonic.  65 years on, and still going strong.

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I hope that in 2080 someone will come across the programme of NOSPR’s 6th Festiwal Prawykonań (Festival of Premieres, 17-19 April 2015) and make a similar connection with a performer or composer being featured in this edition.  The big change is that all the concerts will take place in the orchestra’s new home, barely ten minutes’ walk from Henryk Mikołaj Gorecki’s home.  The siedziba, as it’s called in Polish, not only includes the main symphony hall but the equally fine acoustics of the chamber hall.

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Back in 2013, I listed the repertoire of the 5th Festival.  This year, such is the diversity and extent of Polish composition that 75% of the names are different.  This biennial event is a great initiative, arguably the most important showcase for new Polish concert music.  It demonstrates the cultural significance of publicly-funded bodies like radio orchestras (Radio France take note).  I do not know the schedule of live or deferred broadcasts planned by Polish Radio Dwójka (PR2).

6-festiwal-prawykonanThe ensembles featured include Camerata Silesia, conducted by Anna Szostak, Orchestra Muzyki Nowej (New Music Orchestra), conducted by Szymon Bywalec, NOSPR conducted by Alexander Humala, Szymon Bywalec and José Maria Florêncio, Kwartludium, Kwartet Śląski (Silesian Quartet) and the AUKSO Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Marek Moś.

Here’s this year’s repertoire, in alphabetical order by composer:

** World premiere   * Polish premiere
• Rafał Augustyn: String Quartet no.3 ‘Monadologia’**
• Zbigniew Bagiński: String Quartet no.5**
• Zbigniew BargielskiHierofania 2 for orchestra**
• Marcin BłażewiczVisions for soprano, violin and piano**
• Marcin Bortnowskiku dźwiękom nocy for string quartet and accordion**
• Stanisław BromboszczAir for instrumental ensemble and electronic media**
• Roman Czura: Piano Concerto ‘Kraftfelder’**
• Jacek DomagałaElegia for voice and ensemble**
• Zofia DowgiałłoKompozycja z ruchomym tłem for orchestra**
• Cezary DuchnowskiSymfonia zbiorów for instrumental groups and electronics**
• Grzegorz DuchnowskiW malinowym chruśniaku for soprano and piano**
• Jan DuszyńskiSfex for accordion and cello**
• Mikołaj GóreckiElegia for cello and string orchestra**
• Marek GruckaRetaeh for piano, strings and percussion**
• Maciej Jabłoński: Symphony no.6 ‘Oneirophrenia’ for orchestra, electronics and multimedia**
• Zaid Jabri (Syrian composer living in Kraków): Beati Pacifici for soprano and piano*
• Justyna Kowalska-Łasoń która wszystko tworzy, wszystko ochrania for mixed choir of soloists, chamber orchestra and live electronics**
• Hanna Kulenty: Trumpet Concerto no.3**
• Sławomir Kupczak: white over red for mixed choir**
• Andrzej Kwiecińskierschallen for double bass and orchestra**
• Krzysztof MeyerMuzyka świata i półcienia for orchestra*
• Piotr Mossgo where never before for choir and instrumental ensemble*
PRASQUAL (aka Tomasz Prasqual): Muqarnyas for accordion and two orchestras in six spatial groups**
• Zbigniew SłowikThe Motor Poem (Quo vadis homine) for orchestra**
• Joanna Szymała: Clarinet Quintet**
• Sławomir Wojciechowski…play them back for ansambl and electronics**
• Emil Bernard WojtackiZefiro torna for soprano and orchestra**
• Artur ZagajewskiMechanofaktura**

• MoMA on Polish Music

moma-logo-post-new1Yet another initiative that I missed earlier this year is a series of essays and other items emanating from New York’s Museum of Modern Art.  I came across MoMA’s post – notes on modern and contemporary art around the globe while writing my preceding post about the late Bohdan Mazurek.  On 19 December 2013 MoMA published a theme called Polish Radio Experimental Studio: A Close Look, in which Mazurek features.

This really is a superb English-language introduction to one of the ground-breaking initiatives in Western and Eastern European music in the 1950s.  PRES was the brainchild of Józef Patkowski. It was a most unlikely development in communist Poland and one that had a profound impact on the sound of Polish music.  Many composers, including Penderecki, Kotoński, Schäffer and Dobrowolski, made use of its expertise (principally Bohdan Mazurek and Eugeniusz Rudnik), and soon non-Polish composers also flocked to use its facilities.

The MoMA theme includes the following:

Essays

• Daniel Muzyczuk, ‘The Future Sound of Warsaw: Introduction to PRES
• David Crowley, ‘Spatial Music: Design and the Polish Radio Experimental Studio
• Michał Libera: Alchemist Cabinet of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio: Music Scores of and for Experiments

Interview

• Daniel Muzyczuk, ‘How much Rudnik is in Penderecki, and how much Rudnik is in Nordheim?  Interview with Eugeniusz Rudnik

Scores

• PRES Music Scores 1959-1972
[browsable scores originally published by PWM]
• Kotoński Music for One Cymbal Stroke (1959)*
• Dobrowolski Music for Magnetic Tape (1963)*
• Schaeffer Symphony – Electronic Music (1964)*
• Dobrowolski Music for Magnetic Tape and Oboe Solo (1965)
• Dobrowolski Music for Strings, Two Groups of Wind Instruments and Two Loudspeakers (1966)
• Kotoński Aela. Electronic Music (1970)*
• Dobrowolski Music for Magnetic Tape and Piano Solo (1972)*

No sound files are included on the MoMA site, but there is a fascinating double CD (2013) from Bôłt Records that brings together the original realisations of the five scores marked * above, plus modern realisations of the same pieces.  The two CDs are called PRES Scores and also include then-and-now versions of Penderecki’s Psalmus (1961).

• Bohdan Mazurek (1937-2014)

kronika_3_-_mazurekThe Polish composer and sound engineer Bohdan Mazurek – a key figure in the development of electronic music in Poland – has died at the age of 76.  Alongside Eugeniusz Rudnik, Mazurek helped to develop the Polish Radio Experimental Studio after its foundation in 1957 by Józef Patkowski into a central force in Polish music in the 1960s and 70s.  He assisted many composers in realising their electronic music but was also a composer, in his own right, of both electronic and film music.  His music won prizes in several competitions (Dartmouth, Bourges) and he taught not only at the Warsaw Music Academy but at several institutions in the USA.

I knew Bohdan Mazurek early on in my involvement in Polish music.  He was a gentle giant, modest and with a selfless devotion to his metier.  He was a thoroughly decent and lovely man and I recall spending many good-spirited hours in his company.  He helped me hugely as I tried to find my way in the rich panorama of Polish music.  His own music went largely undervalued, with very little percolating abroad.  Bozzetti was, however, included in the 1970 boxed LP set ‘Electronic Panorama’ (Philips 6740 001), which profiled new electronic compositions from Paris, Tokyo, Utrecht and Warsaw.

br_es02Fortunately, in 2010  the Warsaw-based independent label Bôłt Records, in partnership with Polish Radio and Foundation 4.99, issued a double CD of Mazurek’s music, Sentinel Hypothesis’.  It includes an excellent essay and notes by Bolesław Błaszczyk. The twelve works on these discs are: Bozzetti (1967), Epitaph for Jan Palach (1969), Sinfonia Rustica (1970), Canti (1973), Ballade (1976), Children’s Dreams (1976), Daisy Story (1977-79), Six Electronic Preludes (1981), From the Notebook (1983), Letter to Friends (1986), Pennsylvania Dream (1987), Reverie (1989).

An appreciation just published (in Polish) at culture.pl includes YouTube links for Bozzetti (1967) and Canti (1973).

OBITUARY

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