• A Brush with Lutosławski

18619_437344239663934_545288166_nI’ve just been to Warsaw to celebrate Lutosławski’s centenary.  I’ve returned with commemorative books, CDs, a pencil, a medal and a brush, with the promise of an IoS app to follow.  More importantly, I’ve experienced an enlightening and inspiring five days with friends old and new, all gathered together by the music and memories of one man.  It was a bit surreal: we were there, but he wasn’t, except in his music.  I felt his absence keenly, even though it’s almost 19 years since he died.

Day 1 (Thursday, 24 January)

It had all been a bit hairy getting from Cornwall to Warsaw.  Yesterday, I made it to Poole for a performance by Johannes Moser, the Bournemouth SO and Kirill Karabits of Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto.  Moser is playing it a dozen times or so this year and his was a vibrant and alert reading.  We also had a great discussion in a pre-concert event with Tom Hutchinson of the RPS (who had commissioned the work and was on the eve of its own 200th-anniversary celebrations) and I’m looking forward to poring over the score with Moser in the near future.  But neither threats of snow and ice nor broken-down trains got in the way of my safe arrival in Poland today to snow and minus temperatures that back home would be regarded as a national catastrophe.

4230738-1The pre-centenary concert was given mainly by the young generation of Polish and visiting artists in the Royal Palace, as the opening concert of this year’s Łańcuch X (Chain 10) festival built around Lutosławski’s music.  There were fine readings of Musique funèbre, Grave (with Marcin Zdunik) and Paroles tissées (with the Dutch tenor Marcel Beekman) by the AUKSO CO under Marek Moś.  A special treat were the readings from Paul Valéry, Henri Michaux and Cyprian Kamil Norwid by one of Poland’s most famous actresses, Maja Komorowska.  She was in the very first Polish film that I ever saw, Zanussi’s Zycie rodzinne (Family Life).

An unexpected part of the evening was the presentation of a specially minted medal by the Witold Lutosławski Society not only to Lutosławski’s stepson and wife, Marcin and Gabriela Bogusławski, but also to about a dozen other guests.  These included the Polish conductor Jan Krenz, long a champion of Lutosławski’s music, Polish writers such as Mieczysław Tomaszewski (who was at the PWM publishers when Lutosławski’s career really took off in the early 1950s) and Michał Bristiger.  Both Tomaszewski and Bristiger are in their 90s and as sprightly in body and spirit as ever.  Younger Polish writers also honoured included Danuta Gwizdalanka and the composer Krzysztof Meyer, whose joint two-volume study of Lutosławski’s life and music is being issued in a single, German-language volume later this year, and Zbigniew Skowron, whose editorial and archival work has done much to bring Lutosławski’s music and thought to non-Polish readers.

IMG_7475 copy IMG_7473 copy

Non-Polish recipients included the German musicologist Martina Homma, the Russian musicologist Irina Nikolska, the American composer and author of the first major study of Lutosławski’s life and work, Steven Stucky, and two British writers: Charles Bodman Rae and myself.  James Rushton of Chester Music accepted the medal as Managing Director of Lutosławski’s publishers, Chester Music.  The following day, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Antoni Wit also received the medal on the stage of the Philharmonic Hall at the end of the opening centenary concert.  The Poles are good at this type of recognition and we were all honoured and touched by the generosity of the gesture.

Day 2 (Friday, 25 January)

Today was the big day and a packed programme for the visiting guests.  First stop was the Chopin Museum, where we were shown a recently purchased autograph of Chopin’s Waltz in F minor.  Krzysztof Meyer inspected it closely.

IMG_7426 copy

The Director of the Chopin Institute Artur Szklener and the Senior Curator of the Chopin Museum Maciej Janicki were our expert guides. Janicki then took us through the interactive displays and artefacts installed in the museum. We could also glimpse a more recent tribute to Chopin in the shape of a giant mural on a nearby building.  You can see the even more giant and infinitely less prepossessing national stadium on the other side of the River Vistula.

IMG_7430 copy

At lunchtime we moved across from the reconstructed Ostrogski Palace that houses the Chopin Museum to the ultra-modern facilities of the National Frederic Chopin Institute.  We weren’t there for Chopin, but for a press conference to launch a smartphone app: Witold Lutosławski: Guide to Warsaw.  As I write, it’s available only on Android; the IoS version is awaiting approval from Apple.

4027574

I was impressed, not only by the way in which the creators outlined their intentions – principal among the people involved were (from left to right above) Grzegorz Michalski, President of the Lutosławski Society, Danuta Gwizdalanka, Kamila Stępień-Kutera and Artur Szklener – but also how good the application looked.  It’s been designed by the Kraków-based company NETIGEN and project-managed by a former music student Kamil Ściseł.

7149506The app has English and Polish versions, numerous photos, spoken and written texts, and it guides the user through Lutosławski’s Warsaw, visiting over fifty locations.  The team decided early on not to include music so as to keep the app manageable.  It seemed from the demonstration to be both handsome and user-friendly and should prove to be a major source of interest to a wide spectrum of people around the world.  It will be much cheaper for those with foreign SIM cards to use at home than on the streets of Warsaw, but it is designed to inform users who are following Lutosławski’s footsteps either on the ground or virtually.

From the press confeence it was on to Warsaw’s Powązki Cemetery, where Lutosławski was buried on 16 February 1994.  Most of us had been there many times before, not least because there are the graves of so many famous creative artists in its grounds.  Lutosławski’s grave is close by those of many other musicians.  It was getting pretty cold by mid-afternoon and the snow had piled up.  Earlier visitors had, however, cleared the gravestone of Lutosławski and his wife Danuta and it was already covered in huge wreaths.

IMG_7458 copy

There was little room in the space between the rows of graves to fit everyone in.  Krzysztof Meyer adjusted the wreath ribbons.

IMG_7442 copy

Speeches were made by the President of the Polish Composers’ Union Jerzy Kornowicz and by Steven Stucky.

IMG_7446 copy

In the photo above, you can see (from left to right) Jerzy Kornowicz, Krzysztof Meyer, Martina Homma and Irina Nikolska.  Below, Steven Stucky, Krzysztof Meyer and Danuta Gwizdalanka partly hidden, Mieczysław Tomaszewski, Martina Homma and Irina Nikolska (also partly hidden).

IMG_7448 copy

Being a little frivolous by nature, I couldn’t help noticing that the profile of the conductor Stefan Rachoń behind Lutosławski’s grave had been lent a certain Victorian air by the accumulation of snow.

IMG_7440 copy

I stepped the other side and was followed by Meyer through the snow drifts between the graves.  I then took a final photo of Kornowicz, Stucky and Homma.

IMG_7456 copy

IMG_7455 copyThe major event on the centenary of Lutosławski birth was the evening’s concert by the Warsaw Philharmonic under Antoni Wit.  It was an interesting and in the event a brave choice to open with a piece not by Lutosławski but by one of the younger generation whom Lutosławski helped with scholarships and other funding.  Pawel Szymański (b.1954) is arguably the best-known Polish composer of his generation, but he’s been out of the limelight for some time, mainly finishing his opera Qudsja Zaher (premiere, Teatr Wielki, Warsaw, 20 April 2013).  His new orchestral piece, Sostenuto, is characteristically oblique, slow-moving (initially) and demanding of concentration.  Its main climax approached Lutosławski’s in intensity and it subsided in a similar fashion.  Szymański dedicated Sostenuto to Lutosławski, including a brief reference to the latter’s Partita (which I missed) and ended with a veiled reference, also missed, to Brahms’s Piano Concerto no.1.  Szymański remains as enigmatic as ever.

Wit’s performance of Lutosławski’s Third Symphony was solid and well-paced, even if it didn’t fully catch fire.  The fireworks came with Anne-Sophie Mutter’s performance of Partita-Interlude-Chain 2 in the second half.  This is her piece (These are her pieces?) and she gave them all the subtlety and passion that they deserve.  The hall was packed and it was great to meet up again with friends like the conductor Wojciech Michniewski (who’s conducting the premiere of Szymański’s opera) and the pianist and composer Zygmunt Krauze.

Day 3 (Saturday, 26 January)

The official celebrations are over for the time being.  I decided to stay on for a few days, and today I had two events. The first was completely unrelated to Lutosławski.  It was a piano recital by the Hungarian-born, Polish-domiciled Szábolsc Esztényi of music by his friend Tomasz Sikorski (1939-88).  Sikorski, a contemporary of Krauze, was one of the most original voices in Polish music, and his strong, repetitive minimalist idiom is as challenging today as it was back in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

This recital was being given in the old Królikarnia palace in south Warsaw, which looked picturesque under lamplight, surrounded by deep snow, but was pretty cold inside too.  The cause was the launch of two CDs – issued by Bôłt records in association with DUX and Polish Radio among others – of music by Sikorski.  Esztényi’s double CD also includes two of his own works (Creative Music no.3 in memoriam Tomasz Sikorski, 1989, and Concerto, 1971).  There’s also Presence (2007) by Kasia Głowacka.  The other pieces, by Sikorski, are mainly archival – Echoes II (1963), Antiphones (1963), Diario 87 – as well as his Solitude of Sounds (1975).  The second CD is by John Tilbury, who plays his own Improvisation for Tomasz Sikorski (2011) alongside Sikorski’s Autograph (1980), Rondo (1984) and Zertstreutes Hinausschauen (1971).

The Bôłt series is a fascinating and inventive mix of archival performances and new interpretations and I’ll be doing a substantial survey of some of its repertoire – around ten CDs – in the near future.

Unfortunately, I was double-booked that night and had the chance to hear only two of the Sikorski pieces in Esztényi’s recital, including Sikorski’s Sonant (1967).  I was immediately struck by the correlation between Sikorski’s remorseless, expressionless repetitions and the opening of Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto.  I wonder…

I rushed from south to north Warsaw via the magic of the metro, which offered relief from the temperatures which were plummeting towards -21C.  I was on my way to an informal supper party at Lutosławski’s house.  Unfortunately, I got lost on the way from the Plac Wilsona station and was lucky to find other souls out on the streets who could direct me towards Śmiała 39.  I recognised it immediately, although I’d not seen it in the snow before.

IMG_7470 copy

The giveaway was the relief plaque on the wall.

IMG_7468 copy

The house is now occupied by Lutosławski’s stepson and his wife, who welcomed us all inside with whiskey, wine and good food.  It was nice to relax and to be back in this special place.  At one point, we were led up to Lutosławski’s studio on the first floor (the lit window on the exterior photograph above), where I had spent three days exploring his books, sketches and scores in September 2002.  The arm of the studio containing his desk and main bookshelves (by the lit window) is much as I remember it, whle some of the other bookshelves have been removed or replaced.  Sadly, Lutosławski’s 1970 carpet that he bought in London is no more, revealing the clunky parquet flooring which he had covered over for acoustic purposes.

Day 4 (Sunday, 27 January)

Bitterly cold again.  A morning trip to visit the newly opened gallery at the National Museum devoted to 20th-century and 21st-century Polish art.  It’s really good.  The Poles have developed such an extraordinary visual acuity, teamed with a range of symbolism (much of it socio-political), that every item has something intriguing and stimulating to offer.  There was Leopold Lewicki’s sculpture Musical Composition (1935), which offered multiple cubist viewpoints.

Leopold Lewicki Musical Composition 1935

There were several pieces by Władysław Strzemiński, whose unistic paintings so inspired Krauze’s music in the 1960s.  His little piece Cubism – tensions of material structure (1921) was particularly striking.

Strzemiński Cubism (1921)

The period since 1945 was represented by some socialist-realist pieces through to contemporary film and video.  If you are going to Warsaw, do visit.  I was most thrilled to see in the flesh again Bronisław Linke’s Autobus, about which I have enthused previously in these pages.  Close-up (and you can get much closer to the artwork here than in most of the other galleries I go to), this is a stunning, visceral work that has lost none of its power to shock since it was painted just over 50 years ago.

After a family lunch with my friends, it was off to the Lutosławski Studio at Polish Radio for a concert by the Polish Radio SO conducted by Łukasz Borowicz: Lutosławski’s Little Suite in its original version for chamber orchestra, Penderecki’s Piano Concerto in its revised version, and Stravinsky’s Symphony in C.  This is a lively orchestra, giving its all to two relatively minor pieces by the Polish composers (I’m afraid that Penderecki’s Piano Concerto is as vacuous and overscored a piece as it was when I heard its Polish premiere in the original version in 2002; others disagree).

Day 5 (Monday, 28 January)

andrzej-chlopecki-przewodnik-po-muzyce-witolda-lutoslawskiego-postslowie-okladka-2013-01-29-530x635I was back at Polish Radio this afternoon for the press launch of a book on Lutosławski by Andrzej Chłopecki, who died last autumn.  It is subtitled ‘Przewodnik po muzyce Witolda Lutosławskiego’ and is available only in Polish.  I’ll return in a future post to this rather special guide, to a new photo album and an 8-CD box set of archival recordings also published to mark Lutosławski’s centenary.

My final Lutosławski experience was in the evening’s concert by the Wrocław PO under its conductor Jacek Kaspszyk.  The main item was Lutosławski’s Piano Concerto, played by Garrick Ohlsson, who won the Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1970.  He was still feeling his way into the piece (he’d played it for the first time just two days earlier, but every performer has to start somewhere!) and frankly there was no comparison with Krystian Zimerman’s magical performance in London with the Philharmonia under Esa-Pekka Salonen two days later.  In the same way that the Philharmonia celebrations for Lutosławski are pairing him with two of his favourite composers (Debussy and Ravel), the Wrocław PO completed its concert with dynamic performances of Stravinsky’s Firebird suite and Ravel’s La Valse.

And so, as the temperature rose on Tuesday to a balmy 0C, I left Warsaw for London, thoroughly invigorated and grateful to friends old and new for five days of celebration for a composer who has been hugely important to me since I was a student.

Oh, the brush!

The Poles are so imaginative.  The Adam Mickiewicz Institute, which along with the Institute of Music and Dance and the Witold Lutosławski Society has brought these events to fruition, decided to give a special present to its guests on Friday evening at the Philharmonic.  It looked at first glance like an old-fashioned pencil box.

IMG_7477 copy

On opening it, there was a familiar, early photo of Lutosławski working at his piano.

IMG_7478 copy

Underneath, inside the box, was a pencil and a mini version of the brush in the photo.

IMG_7480 copy

What was it for, you may ask?  Clue: Lutosławski worked in pencil, frequently rubbing out and correcting his sketches and scores.  And he was a naturally tidy man and disliked mess…  I remember seeing a brush on his desk when I was in his studio in 2002, so this resonated with me.  What a brilliant gift to bring back home!

• New Polish CDs from Bôłt

Thanks to the eagle eye of The Rambler – thanks, Tim! – I’ve just been reading an article uploaded by Agata Pyzik on her blogsite nuitssansnuit on 21 May 2012. Published in a shorter version a year ago in The Wire (March, 2011), her article ‘Polish Radio Experimental Studio released’ gives a brief overview of PRES in order to promote a new venture by the independent Polish label, Bôłt.  Bôłt has recently remastered electronic music produced at PRES since its foundation in 1957.  Key works, especially from the early years of PRES, are now available in digital form, and Bôłt deserves huge congratulation for taking the trouble to sort through the studio archives.

Pyzik’s article includes links to several sound files on YouTube.  Its English translation is not always ideal, unfortunately, and there are a few loose ends, but it’s worth reading as an introduction to this formative period in the careers of Andrzej Dobrowolski, Włodzimierz Kotoński, Krzysztof Penderecki and Bogusław Schaeffer, among others.  You will not yet find any music by Dobrowolski or Kotoński on the Bôłt series (but Pyzik provides YouTube links to a few of their pieces).  I thought it might be helpful to write a few words on each of the six PRES CDs so far issued by Bôłt (there are over a dozen other CDs in its catalogue which range more broadly both chronologically and geographically outside Poland).  You can access the Bôłt CD home page at http://boltrecords.pl/en_cd.html.

The first double CD (BR ES01) shows that Bôłt’s intentions are not just to provide an historical record of a past age.  The first CD consists of seven tape pieces from the PRES archives (by Bohdan Mazurek, Penderecki, Eugeniusz Rudnik and Schaeffer). The second CD consists of new ‘covers’ of  these pieces, plus another of Schaeffer’s Symphony (1966), although the original realisation of this historically significant work by Mazurek is not included.  It does appear, however, on the sixth disc of the series, which is devoted to Schaeffer.

The second double CD (BR ES02) is devoted to Mazurek, whose name and achievement as a composer have for too long been overshadowed.  In the early years, through the 1960s and beyond, Mazurek, like Rudnik, was one of the sound engineers employed by PRES, so his own compositional output never had the space to breathe that it deserved.  This neglect has now been rectified.  His pieces are presented solely in their original versions.

Elsewhere, the significant aspect of this venture – and I hasten to add that I’ve not yet had the opportunity to hear any of the discs so far issued – is the revisiting of the past and the possibility for listeners to compare originals with their covers.  It’s a neat and inventive idea.  The third, single CD (BR ES03) consists of new versions of PRES pieces, ranging from works by Rudnik and Mazurek to later works by younger composers Krzysztof Knittel and Elżbieta Sikora, performed by Zeitkratzer.

Knittel and Sikora reappear on the fourth, triple CD (BR ES04) along with Wojciech Michniewski.  Although Michniewski has since made his career as a conductor, this trio, known collectively as KEW from their first-name initials, was a driving force as an improvising ensemble in the early 1970s.  This is the CD issue that excites my anticipation most, because much of it has not been heard since those years.  There are three substantial group tracks, one by Michniewski, seven by Knittel and five by Sikora.

Rudnik is also given a separate, single CD of his own (BR ES05), this time reinterpreted by D J Lemar (aka Marcin Lenarczyk), who has worked with a wide range of musicians, including the Royal String Quartet (as in a 2007 recording in which Szymanowski’s Symphony 4 makes an appearance – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEEpLBctesM).  The CD cover, by not mentioning Rudnik by name, implies that Lenarczyk’s improvisations are somehow more significant than Rudnik’s original input.

The last of the six CDs so far issued (BR ES06) is a double CD devoted to Schaeffer. The four originals on disc 1 are reinterpreted on disc 2 (there are two new versions of Assemblage to add to the two on BR ES01).  Nowhere is the Bôłt approach more appropriate.  Schaeffer has been an iconoclastic figure throughout his career and much of his experimental output was intentionally open to new versions.  These six CD issues, comprising eleven discs in all, uniquely combine archival and live performances which promise to bring an important repertoire of the Polish avant-garde to the attention of new audiences.

• Polish Music ‘Muzyka Nowa’, WQXR ★★★☆☆

If you tune into New York’s WQXR Q2 this week, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a week-long celebration of Chinese music, ‘The Year of the Dragon’.  Bringing new music to its audiences is WQXR Q2’s mission.  It’s been ‘on air’ since October 2009 and is a listener-supported online streaming service devoted to music by living composers. The nature of its audience’s musical preferences may be gleaned from its 2011 ‘New-Music Countdown’, where listeners voted for their favourite music written since 1900.  22 of the top 50 pieces were by living composers, most of them American: Adams (5 works), Adès, Andriessen, Carter, Corigliano, Dennehy, Duckworth, Glass, Golijov (2), Gordon, Lang, Lindberg, Pärt (2), Reich (2) and Riley.

The only Polish composer in the top 50, unsurprisingly, was Górecki, whose Third Symphony came in fifth.

On 20 December last year, Q2 announced a new week-long venture: Muzyka Nowa. A Celebration of Contemporary Polish Music’ (16-22 January 2012).  Well, I was all ears at this news and last week I spent more waking hours listening via iTunes than I had first intended.  This was partly because the streaming audio experience was new to me and I was curious to see how it worked in practice.  I was particularly fascinated to find out how Q2 would tackle such a big theme editorially, given the dearth of Polish names in their end-of-year poll.  The results, as you’ll see, were mixed.

It is perhaps worth comparing a few statistics with the New York Juilliard School’s 27th Focus! festival – Polish Modern: New Directions in Polish Music since 1945′ – which took place exactly a year ago (22-28 January 2011). Juilliard’s Polish Modern festival presented 39 works by 36 composers (one piece per composer, with the exception of Lutosławski, who had the final concert to himself).  It had six concerts, with some 8 hours of music.  Q2’s Muzyka Nowa, by my count, had 107 (post-1945) works by 38 (Polish-born and Polish-trained) composers.  These were spread over six and a half days, including two 24-hour all-Polish marathons (actually, they were just over 21 hours). Where Polish Modern was concentrated, Muzyka Nowa tended towards the diffuse.

Streaming

At least half of each weekday’s playlist at Q2 is unhosted.  That means no announcers and no ‘on air’ indication of what is being played (you have to look ‘on screen’).  There are two main hosted programmes, each repeated twelve hours later: an hour-long slot for music involving keyboard – ‘Hammered!’ – with a short introduction to the day’s repertoire at the top; and a four-hour programme with more conventional introductions and back announcements to each piece.  This means that the online playlists are crucial for anyone wanting to find out what is ‘on air’.  These were fairly easy to access (they give composer and performer details, plus the source).  There were several times in this Polish week, however, when the playlists gave only the title, not the composer. So we had Subito (Lutosławski), Stabat Mater (Szymanowski), En blanc et noir (Augustyn, not Debussy) and String Quartet no.6 (Bacewicz? Meyer? no – Lasoń).  The major drawback is that there is generally no advance notice of programme details.  This makes structured listening impossible.  For some listeners, that may be perfect, the ideal ‘innocent ear’ environment.  But for anyone who likes to plan some or all of their listening, it can be immensely frustrating.  It doesn’t do, either, to expect a programme to begin or end at the allotted hour.

The appearance of Szymanowski was anachronistic, given the basic idea behind Muzyka Nowa.  In fact, his contribution was quite slight, with Métopes (1915), the Mazurkas op.50 (1925) and Stabat Mater (1926) being the only major pieces.  But at least they were written within the past 100 years.  Karłowicz’s 1902 Violin Concerto (3 complete airings plus two of the three movements on another occasion) was a puzzling inclusion, while the appearance of Chopin’s Polonaise in F sharp minor (1841) on this ‘Living Music. Living Composers’ station was altogether bizarre.  And even the presenter was surprised by the inclusion, during Wednesday’s all-Polish marathon, of the Tenth Piano Sonata by a Russian composer: “Scriabin, of all people”, he muttered.

A further sign of editorial fluidity was the way in which programme titles changed as the week progressed.  ‘Jakub Ciupiński Hosts’ became ‘The Holy [‘Holy’?] Trinity of Contemporary Polish Music’ and ‘Poland’s Next Wave’, while the four-hour hosted programme ‘Polish Composers: 20th Century Masters to the Next Generation’ became the exaggerated ‘Titans of Polish Music: Past, Present and Future’.  Outside the two marathon days, this particular slot, like the unhosted segments, generally devoted 50%-60% of its play time to Polish repertoire.

Presentation

To be brutally honest, little was added to listener enjoyment or knowledge by the hosted programmes, with the exception of the two slots specially hosted by Jakub Ciupiński.  Ciupiński is a young Polish composer now living in New York and he brought an insight to his chosen repertoire that was a model of enthusiasm and concision.  He should do more broadcasting.  The shame was that Q2 seemed not to have used his ability as a native speaker to do something about other presenters’ pronunciation of Polish names.

Almost twenty years since Górecki became a household name, it was extraordinary to hear ‘Goorekki’ rather than ‘Gooretski’.  Nowa inexplicably became ‘Nuova’, Piotr became ‘Peetor’.  The consonant ‘z’ frequently became invisible/inaudible.  Bruzdowicz was first said correctly (hooray!), then immediately ‘corrected’ to ‘Brudowicz’.  For Andrzej we heard ‘Andrezh’.  And yet, seconds later, the ‘J’ of Jacek miraculously was not a ‘Zh’ but the correct ‘Y’. Such manglings were all too common.  Unhosted segments suddenly seemed more attractive.

The quality of the commentaries also left something to be desired.  The real low-point was the introduction to Penderecki’s Polish Requiem during the first marathon on Wednesday.  Having described it as “big, beautiful, crazy, awesome” – a less appropriate, more vacuous series of adjectives is hard to imagine – the presenter concluded with “he sort of wrote it piecemeal … he sort of expanded it … at the basic level it’s just a setting of the requiem … Antoni Wit is the conductor of the whole shebang”.

Repertoire

The range of post-1945 music included in Muzyka Nowa was fairly impressive (a full repertoire list is given at the end of this post).  It highlighted, as Q2 put it, the ‘Titans’ or the ‘Holy Trinity’ – Lutosławski, Penderecki and Górecki – and included composers born in every decade from the 1900s to the 1980s, with the youngest composer, as far as I can tell, being the 24-year-old Jacek Sotomski.  There was a good variety of solo, chamber, orchestral, vocal and vocal-instrumental music, though no examples of opera, music theatre or jazz.  It also skirted a little around the experimental trends of the past 50 years (no Schaeffer, just one piece by Krauze).

There did not appear to be much in the way of editorial planning in terms of sub-groupings or sub-themes, and this left the sense of an opportunity missed.  After all, there is surely no automatic equation: ‘unhosted=unthemed’. Would it not have been possible to retitle and structure some of the random unhosted segments, just for this Polish week? Closest to such an idea was the programming of the six CD-available string quartets by Lasoń, but nowhere was this flagged up as a feature.  There were no complete symphonies by any of the ‘Holy Trinity’, no works written for the seminal chamber ensemble ‘Music Workshop’, no focus on any selected genre, generation or sub-period, such as sacred music, ‘Generation ’51’ or music post-1989.  But anyone who has programmed a festival will know that there is always too much choice, so hats off to Q2 at the very least  for bringing its listeners a decent if apparently random selection from the Polish table.

A word on sources.  Q2 is primarily a CD operation although it’s not afraid to use private recordings, some of them live, when it suits the programming and is of acceptable quality.  That’s all to the good.  I imagine that it is run on something of a shoestring, so is dependent on what is to hand, such as a copious supply of Naxos CDs.  It had also evidently been given a number of CDs made by the superb Silesian Quartet from Katowice.  On this occasion, importantly, it had access to live performances:

• Since the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival began in 1956, it has sought to promote the (mainly Polish) music that it has programmed by means of recordings, its ‘Sound Chronicles’.  These were issued initially on LPs, later on tape cassettes, and now on CDs.  Unfortunately, the Sound Chronicles have never been available commercially.  University libraries and major radio stations are the most likely places to hold these extensive and valuable recordings.  Q2 made most use of a selection of highlights from the first 50 years of the festival, compiled in 2007 by the Polish music critic Andrzej Chłopecki.  It’s a 10-CD box set, with single pieces by 70 composers, eight of which were included in Muzyka Nowa.  Recordings were also taken from the Sound Chronicles for the 2008 and 2009 festivals.
• Q2 trumpeted its broadcasting of excerpts from two other festivals.  The first of these was the 2011 UNSOUND festival in Kraków.  In the event, only one Polish piece was aired – (Michał) Jacaszek’s launch of music from his new album Glimmer – although it was very much worth it, as reviews for the album have already proved.  The second festival was last year’s Juilliard Focus! on Polish modern music, mentioned at the top of this post.  Sad to report, but only four of the 39 pieces from Polish Modern made it onto the Muzyka Nowa playlist.
• Top of the live performance contributions was Q2’s own recording of a concert last November, given to mark the first anniversary of Górecki’s death.  More on this towards the end of this post.

The outline of 107 works by 38 composers spread over almost 160 hours needs some elaboration.  At the heart of the WQXR Q2 operation is the principle of repeat programming.  This not only applies to the hosted segments, as outlined above, but to the rest of the schedule too.  So it’s not surprising to find that 2/3rds of the 107 pieces were repeated.  That’s fair enough.  But when the repetitions themselves were repeated, alarm bells started to sound and interest began to wane.  When the number of repeat airings increased further, the only conclusion that could be drawn was that insufficient editorial control had been exercised (did we really need five performances of Górecki’s Four Preludes or Lutosławski’s Piano Sonata, both early and unrepresentative works?).  34 pieces had three or more airings, with 13 of them heard four or more times:

• Joanna BruzdowiczWorld (4)
• Jakub CiupińskiMorning Tale (7: Lin, 3; Chow, 4)
• Henryk Górecki: Piano Concerto (2) = Harpsichord Concerto (4), Four Preludes (5)
• Wojciech Kilar: Chorale Prelude (5: Juilliard/Sachs, 4; NOSPR/Wit, 1)
• Eugeniusz KnapikCorale, interludio e aria (4)
• Andrzej Krzanowski: String Quartet no.3 (4)
• Witold Lutosławski: Piano Sonata (5)
• Andrzej Panufnik: Violin Concerto (4)
• Elżbieta Sikora: Canzona (4: Moscow CME/Thorel, 1; New Juilliard E/Sachs, 3)
• Stanisław SkrowaczewskiMusic at Night (4)
• Paweł Szymański: Two Studies (7: Grzybowski, 4; Esztényi, 3), Une suite de pièces de clavecin par Mr Szymański (7)

All in all, there were 131 repeat airings (not including partial repeats), compared with the basic repertoire of 107 compositions.  That made 238 broadcast items overall, at least by my reckoning (that’s equivalent to 34 a day, or one and a half pieces an hour).  There was no discernible rationale for which pieces were or were not repeated.  I for one welcome the additional exposure for Knapik, Krzanowski and Sikora (she fared particularly well).  If Q2 wanted to raise the profile of Bruzdowicz, however, they could have done better than to broadcast her song cycle World in a recording which harboured the most grotesque singing that I have ever heard.

Undoubtedly the most unbalanced programming was accorded to Szymański, whom I have admired for over 30 years and remain an ardent champion.  But even he would acknowledge that to air two of his keyboard compositions seven times apiece – and one of them with just one recording – was out of proportion.  It’s not even as if they are his most distinctive or distinguished works.

Just think what could have been done had the extent of the repetitions been cut back.  If those two keyboard works by Szymański, for example, had had just two airings each, instead of seven, that would have freed up 3 hrs 45′.  We might then have heard a wider range of Szymański works, like his Partita III, Partita IV, Lux Aeterna or Miserere.  All of these pieces, totalling just under an hour of music, are on the same CD from which Q2 drew the three airings of Szymański’s Two Studies which were played by its dedicatee, Szábolcs Esztényi.  How easy it would have been to include these four other works, and to what benefit of the repertoire.  Furthermore, their inclusion would still have left 2 hrs 45′ for other new repertoire.  The principle of this idea is self-evident.  This was a programming opportunity missed, and Muzyka Nowa was the poorer for it.

Absent Friends

It was even poorer for some serious omissions from its roster of composers.  Whether or not the relatively modest number of 38 composers was a deliberate decision is impossible to say, but seven other names among many were notable for their absence.  Firstly, though perhaps not most importantly, was Henryk Górecki’s son Mikołaj, who is also a composer and teaches in Texas.  Q2 had spoken to him and posted An Interview with Mikołaj Górecki online. They even got him to provide a playlist, commenting also that he “is plenty accomplished in his own right”.  But not a note of his music was heard.  Also absent was one of Poland’s most imaginative and internationally recognised composers, Marta Ptaszyńska, who has lived and taught in the United States for many years.  Where was she? Where also were Tadeusz Wielecki and Stanisław Krupowicz, contemporaries of Knapik, Lasoń and Szymański and equally important figures in Polish music since the late 1970s?  And where was Hanna Kulenty, surely one of the most talented and exploratory composers born in the 1960s?

The most astonishing hole in the repertoire was left by the total exclusion of Tadeusz Baird and Kazimierz Serocki. Baird and Serocki were the driving force behind the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival, on whose Sound Chronicles Q2 relied for the majority of its ‘live’ output.  Even if such historical significance is put to one side, is there anyone with any knowledge of Polish music who would deny that Baird and Serocki were composers of international significance, composers of striking individuality whose music stands up as well today as it did when they were alive?  All Q2 had to do, with minimum effort, was to take Chłopecki’s choice from the 1956-2005 ‘Warsaw Autumn’ boxed set – as it did for pieces by Augustyn, Bargielski, Grudzień, Knapik, Krauze, Meyer, Stachowski and Szymański – and broadcast Baird’s Play and Serocki’s Impromptu fantasque.  While Serocki is not well served by the CD catalogue, several CDs of Baird’s music are available and would have immensely enriched the mix of the week’s repertoire.

Górecki live

‘In memoriam Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’ was the flagship event for Muzyka Nowa.  It was a recording of a concert given at the New York bar/café (Le) Poisson Rouge, which has a full artistic programme of events embracing a wide musical spectrum.  On 8 November 2011, Q2 recorded two pieces: the Second String Quartet ‘Quasi una fantasia’, performed by the JACK Quartet, and Little Requiem, performed by Signal Ensemble.  The concert was preceded by an interview with Bob Hurwitz, the founder of Nonesuch Records and the man responsible for that recording of Górecki’s Third Symphony.  The transmission was scheduled for 19.00 local time (midnight UK time) last Thursday, 19 January.

Things could not have gone more disastrously wrong.  For unexplained reasons, the broadcast began 50 minutes early, the last 3′ of Quasi una fantasia were overlapped by the first 3′ of Little Requiem, and the pre-concert talk was broadcast at the end.  Fortunately, the rebroadcast during the second marathon, on Saturday, was all in order (although the ambient noise of the venue and the uneven miking did not help on either occasion).  Was this episode a consequence of misfortune or incompetence?  It certainly made me realise what a blessing it is in the UK to have responsible broadcasters.

Postscript

Despite my criticisms, I don’t want to leave the impression that this was by any means a failure, just that with a little more thought and programming tweaks it could have been excellent.  It was a bold venture and one which reaped many rewards, not least the unexpected juxtapositions of composers and pieces.  Q2’s principal aim – to bring a vibrant musical repertoire to the attention of a potentially new audience – was in good measure realised.

For this listener, there were some real highlights, among them:

• being reacquainted with music by Polish composers now in their 40s and early 50s, such as Jacek Grudzień’s Ad Naan (2002) with its dynamic use of electronic manipulation, and Agata Zubel’s Cascando (2007), in which she was the engaging vocal soloist.
• being introduced to the music of younger composers, still in their 20s or early 30s, such as Jacaszek’s electro-acoustic Glimmer (2011, already mentioned), Mateusz Ryczek’s NGC 4414 for two pianos and percussion (2008) and Krzysztof Wołek’s Elements for ensemble and live electronics (2009).
• and, best of all, hearing the extraordinary jazz trumpeter Tomasz Stańko improvising over Tomasz Sikorski’s tape piece Solitude of Sounds (1975) at the 2009 ‘Warsaw Autumn’.

…….

Q2 ‘Muzyka Nowa’ Repertoire, 16-22 January 2012

alphabetical by composer, with works in the order in which they first appeared
the (x) after a work indicates the number of times that the same recording was used

• Rafał AugustynEn blanc et noir
• Grażyna Bacewicz: Piano Sonata no.2 (2), Violin Concerto no.1, Partita for violin and piano (3), Piano Quintet no.2 (3), Overture, Concerto for String Orchestra (2), Capriccio, Violin Concerto no.3 (2), Piano Quintet no.1 (3), Sonata no.2 for Solo Violin
• Zbigniew BagińskiDanza generale
• Zbigniew BargielskiSlapstick (3)
• Wojciech BlecharzTorpor
• Wojciech BłażejczykSeica
• Marcin Bortnowski…looking into the heart of the light, the silence
• Joanna Bruzdowicz16 Pictures at an Exhibition of Salvador Dali (2), World (4)
• Jakub CiupińskiMorning Tale (7: Lin, 3; Chow, 4), Continuum/II (3), Street Prayer
• Henryk Górecki: Piano Concerto (2) = Harpsichord Concerto (4), Miserere, Four Preludes (5), Symphony no.2/II, String Quartet no.2 (2), Little Requiem (2), Piano Sonata (2), Szeroka woda, Symphony no.3, Symphony no.2, O Domina NostraGood Night
• Jacek GrudzieńAd Naan (3)
• (Michał) JacaszekGlimmer 
• Wojciech KilarOrawa (2), Kościelec 1909, Chorale Prelude (5: Juilliard/Sachs, 4; NOSPR/Wit, 1)
• Eugeniusz KnapikCorale, interludio e aria (4), String Quartet
• Krzysztof KnittelA Memoir of the Warsaw UprisingLipps (3), Harpsichord Concerto
• Jerzy KornowiczFrayed Figures
• Zygmunt KrauzeAus aller Welt stammende (2)
• Andrzej Krzanowski: String Quartet no.3 (4), Relief V
• Aleksander Lasoń: String Quartet no.6 (2), String Quartet no.2 (2), String Quartet no.3, String Quartet no.5 (3), String Quartet no.1 (2), String Quartet no.7
• Witold Lutosławski: Piano Concerto (2), String Quartet (2), Livre (2) Chantefleurs et Chantefables (3: Anderson, 2; Pasiecznik, 1), Piano Sonata (5), Symphony no.2 (2), Concerto for Orchestra (3), Subito, Variations on a Theme of Paganini (2), Sacher Variation (2), Overture for Strings (3), Symphony no.4, Symphony no.3
• Krzysztof MeyerFireballs (3)
• Paweł Mykietyn3 for 13 (2), Sonata for Cello (2)
• Aleksander NowakFiddler’s Green and White Savannahs Never More (2), Songs of Caress (3), Sonata ‘June-December’ (2)
• Andrzej Panufnik: Violin Concerto (4), Sinfonia Sacra (2), String Sextet (3), Sinfonia di sfere (3), String Quartet no.2 (2)
• Krzysztof PendereckiAnaklasis (2), Seven Gates of Jerusalem/I (2), Te Deum (2), Hymne an den heiligen Daniel (2), Polish Requiem (2),  Polish Requiem/Lacrimosa, Polish Requiem/Chaconne (2), St Luke Passion, Horn Concerto, Violin Concerto no.1, De natura sonoris no.2
• Grażyna Pstrokońska-NawratilEl Condor … ‘thinking of Vivaldi’ (Spring) (2)
• Mateusz RyczekNGC 4414 (3)
• Elżbieta Sikora: Suite (2), Le Chant de Salomon (3),  Concertino for ‘Blue’ Harp and Orchestra ‘South Shore’ (3), Three Lieder ‘Eine Rose als Stutze’, Canzona (4: Moscow CME/Thorel, 1; New Juilliard E/Sachs, 3)
• Tomasz SikorskiStrings in the Earth (2), Solitude of Sounds (2)
• Stanisław SkrowaczewskiMusic at Night (4)
• Jacek SotomskiEnneaszyna
• Marek Stachowski: Divertimento
• Witold Szalonek: Chaconne (2), Inside? – Outside?
• Paweł Szymański: Two Studies (7: Grzybowski, 4; Esztényi, 3), Une suite de pièces de clavecin par Mr Szymański (7), Singletrack (3), Gloria (3)
• Ewa TrębaczErrai
• Krzysztof WołekElements (2)
• Agata ZubelCascando (2)
• Wojciech Ziemowit Zych: Symphony no.1 (3), Bass Clarinet Concerto

%d bloggers like this: