• Polish commissions for 2013-14

In an age when transparency in government agencies is increasingly demanded, I wonder how many British or other national arts organisations can rival the almost brutal way in which commission applications by Polish composers become available as publicly as this.  In its latest newsletter, issued today, the Institute of Music and Dance in Warsaw announced a summary of the latest round of music commissions, with a link to the full list published by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.  All the details are there, whether or not a composer or organisation has been successful.  Top of the list came a proposal from Baltic Opera for a new opera Olimpia by Zygmunt Krauze.

Polish commissions 2013-14, top 5

Each application was awarded a score (first column), the sponsoring organisation named, the nature of the commission given (with a + sign linking to a breakdown of the points given in column 1 into three components: organisational – 10%, merit – 60%, strategic – 30%).  Successful applications had to achieve a minimum total rating of 60%.  The value of the award is given in the final column (roughly 5zł = £1).  The minimum awarded was 10,000zł (c. £2000), the maximum 60,000zł (c. £12,000), depending on the nature of the project (60,000zł for an opera is absurdly low and, I trust, only part of Krauze’s total commission fee, especially when compared with 25,000zł for a string quintet).  In this year’s round, 81 of the 218 applications have been  successful and the total disbursement by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage is 2,324,950zł (approximately £465,000).  The range of activity is impressively broad, as also befits a selection panel comprising two composers, a conductor and representatives from broadcasting and higher education (Zbigniew Bagiński, Joanna Grotkowska, Eugeniusz Knapik, Wojciech Michniewski and Krzysztof Szwajgier).

• WL100/41: Symphony 4 (Polish premiere)

This time twenty years ago, Lutosławski was dashing around Europe.  On 18 May 1993, he received the Polar Music Prize in Stockholm.  Four days later, on 22 May, he conducted the London Sinfonietta in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. And the following night he was back in Warsaw for the Polish premiere of his Fourth Symphony.  On this occasion, he was in the audience at the Studio Koncertowe S1 at Polish Radio – it would be named after him three years later.

I too had dashed in May 1993 from the QEH to S1.  There was a last-minute change of programme (Novelette replaced Chantefleurs et Chantefables) and, yes, the tickets did cost 50,000zł each!

Your Song Is Mine 1

Twenty years later, I’m again in Warsaw on 23 May, this time for the premiere at Teatr Wielki of a double-bill of works by composers two generations younger than Lutosławski: Dla głosów i rąk (For Voices and Hands) by Jagoda Szmytka (b.1982) and Transcryptum by Wojciech Blecharz (b.1981).  The excitement is still there!

Projekt-P-big

• Zubel Zings!

series_page_image_c_kopia tarasin jan_w238The Philharmonia’s Orchestra’s Woven Words celebration of the centenary of the birth of Witold Lutosławski has come to its end in London, although it is taking some of its repertoire abroad from time to time until September.  It has been an undeniable success, with great performances of Lutosławski’s music under Esa-Pekka Salonen.  I went to all three London concerts in the Royal Festival Hall, and the clear highlight for me was Krystian Zimerman’s superlative interpretation of the Piano Concerto in the first concert (30 January).  Jennifer Koh brought an exceptional intensity and drive to Chain 2 in the final concert (21 March) and Truls Mørk’s performance of the Cello Concerto in the second concert (7 March) was also very fine.  I wish I could be as enthusiastic about Mathias Goerne in Les espaces du sommeil, but his weak diction and exceedingly nervous manner were severe distractions.  The programming of Debussy and Ravel was inspired, especially the placing of Ma mère l’oye at the start of the third concert.  The performances of the French repertoire were, however, hit and miss: the complete Daphnis et Chlöe was riveting, La mer rather matter-of-fact, while La valse – the last piece in the series – went for absolutely nothing because of Salonen’s expression-denying, helter-skelter speed.

Less trumpeted were the complementary concerts.  Students from the Royal College of Music played a sterling role in this regard, in concerts on 4, 6 and 27 February and on 6 March.    There were also three events by young Polish musicians playing music of their contemporaries, though these events were barely evident in either the Philharmonia’s online publicity, which failed to keep up-to-date with some programme changes, or within the RFH signage itself.  This was a pity, and something of a discourtesy to the Polish side of the partnership (the Adam Mickiewicz Institute), which had brought fresh imagination to these supporting recitals.  (A full list of the Lutosławski and other Polish repertoire in the London concerts is given at the foot of this post.)

Kwartludium

The first supporting event in the RFH came before the second concert (7 March) and was given by the Polish ensemble Kwartludium (clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, percussion, piano).  The advertised repertoire of music by Wojciech Blecharz (b.1981) and Jagoda Szmytka (b.1982) was replaced by pieces by other Polish composers: Sławomir Wojciechowski (b.1971), Wojciech Ziemowit Zych (b.1976) and Dariusz Przybylski (b.1984).  Dagna Sadkowska and Piotr Nowicki began the recital with a performance of Lutosławski’s Subito, which the full ensemble followed with a ghostly ‘impression’ of the piece.  All three of the other works had great dynamism and instrumental imagination.  A fragment of Zych’s piece (in Polish: Stale obecna tęsknota) is available on the Kwartludium website: http://www.kwartludium.com/Zych.mp3.   This recital was an extremely rare opportunity in this country to hear Polish music written since 2000, and that in itself should give us pause for thought.  We are too wedded to the triumvirate of Lutosławski, Penderecki and Górecki.  There are not only many other Polish composers born before 1945 who are totally neglected in the UK, but also four decades of composers who now range in age from their mid-60s to their mid-20s and whose names are barely known, let alone their music.  Our concert repertoire – and not only with regard to Poland – remains more insular than we (are prepared to) recognise.

Cellotronicum and Cellonet

The second supporting event took place before the third concert (21 March).  The first part was given by Cellotronikum, comprising the cellist Andrzej Bauer with computer input by the composer Cezary Duchnowski (b.1971).  They gave the world premiere of For A.B. by Ryszard Osada (b.1972), followed by Duchnowski’s Broda.  In the second part, given by the Cellonet ensemble, Bauer conducted eight of his own students in Penderecki’s own arrangement of his Agnus Dei and in Octagon by the Ukrainian composer Lubawa Sydorenko (b.1979).  In both pieces, Cellonet was absolutely stunning, and you can hear the Sydorenko on the Cellonet MySpace site: http://www.myspace.com/cellonet/music/songs/lubawa-sydorenko-octagon-58524337.  This was music-making of an unusual order, and it is a measure of its quality that two of the eight cellists – Bartosz Koziak and Marcin Zdunik – have won the Lutosławski Cello Competition (in 2001 and 2007 respectively).  I heard Zdunik give an inspired performance of Lutosławski’s Grave in Warsaw in January and he told me after the RFH recital that he’s about to record the Lutosławski Cello Concerto, so that is definitely something to look out for.

El Derwid

The final supporting event, and the most neglected, came after the third Philharmonia concert and was held in the distinctly unsuitable Clore Ballroom (diabolical acoustics, nil atmosphere).  It was a reworking of eight of over thirty dance songs that Lutosławski wrote in the late 1950s and early 60s under the pseudonym ‘Derwid’.  For some unfathomable reason, the evening’s concert sheet failed to mention this rather crucial connection.  I’ve known the Derwid songs in their original recordings for over twenty years, but even I was flummoxed by the unexplained heading ‘EL DERWID’.  Had someone been reading Doctorow?  Was there some unknown Venezuelan bandit connection?  Subsequent research revealed that the ‘El’ comes from ‘Elettrovoce’, a duet comprising the composer and singer Agata Zubel (b.1978) and Duchnowski.  Somebody might have thought to explain this.  Zubel and Duchnowski (on piano as well as computer) teamed up several years ago with Bauer to perform their realisations of a selection of Derwid songs; a recording of this ‘El Derwid’ repertoire is due out on CD Accord this autumn.

Even though I caught only five of the songs (their performance must have started the minute the concert ended, as they were on song no.3 by the time I got downstairs), they were sufficient to whet my appetite for the CD.  Zubel has great stage presence and a wonderfully flexible voice.  In Czarownica (Witch), she and Bauer seemed to be having a domestic tit-for-tat, to humorous effect, while in Daleka podróż (Distant Journey) the trio brought a grating darkness to this tale of dreaming of distant, sunny climes.  In this bitterly cold March weather, I knew how they felt.  The title song for their set, Plamy na słońcu (Sunspots), delightfully and unexpectedly interlaced Derwid’s music with the Passacaglia theme from Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra.  Woven works.  This fringe event brought a smile to the lips of those who had found it, and it gave the festival a properly fizzing conclusion.

Postscript

Two further aspects of Woven Words are worth mentioning.  Firstly, and more importantly, the detail and skill that have gone into the woven-words.co.uk website.  It is a model of its kind: launched well in advance of the festival (three months), it contains links to several specially commissioned films and a series of essays on Lutosławski.  This is a very valuable resource, not just for the festival but for future readers and viewers.  Secondly, there was a Lutosławski Study Day – ‘Lutosławski and the Interior Drama: The Spaces of Dream’ – held at the RFH on 16 March. There were five sessions: talks by Steven Stucky (‘Glimpsing an Ideal World’), myself (‘The Spaces of Dream: Lutosławski and Surrealism’) and Nicholas Reyland (‘The Sense of an Ending: Late Music, Enduring Concerns’), plus a workshop on the String Quartet with Steven Stucky and the Jubilee String Quartet, who then played the work complete.  The day concluded with a panel discussion by the three speakers.

Woven Words: 20th- and 21st-Century Polish Repertoire

Lutosławski/Philharmonia: Concerto for Orchestra (1954), Musique funèbre (1958), Cello Concerto (1970), Les espaces du sommeil (1975), Chain 2 (1985), Piano Concerto (1988), Symphony no.4 (1992)

• Lutosławski/RCM: Two Studies (1941), Bucolics (1952), Dance Preludes (1954), Jeux vénitiens (1961), String Quartet (1964), Epitaph (1979), Grave (1981), Mini-Overture (1982), Symphony no.3 (1983), Partita (1984), Fanfare for CUBE (1987), Subito (1992)

• Lutosławski/Kwartludium: Subito (1992)

• Lutosławski/Jubilee String Quartet: String Quartet (1964)

• ‘Derwid’/El Derwid: Cyrk jedzie (The Circus is Coming), Jeden przystanek dalej (One Stop Further), Z lat dziecinnych (From Childhood), Czarownica (Witch), Złote pantofelki (Golden Shoes), Daleka podróż (Distant Journey), W lunaparku (At the Funfair), Plamy na słońcu (Sunspots)

• Other 
Cezary Duchnowski: Broda (2005)
Ryszard Osada: For A.B. (2013?) world premiere
Krzysztof Penderecki: Agnus Dei (1981), arr. eight cellos (2007)
Dariusz Przybylski: Medeas Träume (2008)
Sławomir Wojciechowski: Rope of Sands (2009)
Wojciech Zimowit Zych: Ever-Present Longing (2005)

• 5th Festival of Premieres, Katowice

Unknown

Festiwal Prawykonań (Festival of Premieres) is a biennial celebration of new pieces by Polish composers of all generations.  This year’s event runs over the last weekend of next month, 26-28 April 2013 (the Polish website is complete but the English is still under construction).  It’s organised in Katowice by NOSPR (Narodowa Orkiestra Symfoniczna Polskiego Radia – National Symphony Orchestra of Polish Radio; or as NOSPR bizarrely prefers to translate it – Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra).  The festival started in 2005 and a full list of previous festival concerts is available under its Archiwum tab.

There’s a mix of chamber and orchestral concerts (seven in all).  Some are free, the others have a one-price tag of 10zł (c. £2).  How’s that for a bargain?  I’m sure that most if not all of these concerts will be broadcast online by Polish Radio Dwójka (PR2), either live or delayed.  Here’s this year’s repertoire, in alphabetical order by composer:

** World premiere   * Polish premiere
• Marcin Bortnowski: Miserere for chamber choir and percussion ensemble**
• Michał Dobrzyński: Three Songs to words by Rilke**
• Ryszard Gabryś: Voyelles de Arthur Rimbaud**
• Mikołaj Górecki: Symphony no.2**
• Aleksandra Gryka: 10, 12, 13, -31 for string quartet**
• Paweł Hendrich: Ertytre for cello ensemble**?
• Rafał Janiak: Symphony no.2**
• Dobromiła Jaskot: Elferiae for string quartet**
• Krzysztof Knittel: Partita for saxophone, orchestra and electronic media**
• Benedykt Konowalski: Nowa pieśń chwały for clarinet and mixed chamber choir**
• Włodzimierz Kotoński: Arietta e i fiori for trombone and synthesized sounds**
• Justyna Kowalska-Lasoń: String Quartet no.3**
• Zygmunt Krauze: Canzona for instrumental ensemble*
• Stanisław Krupowicz: Piano Concerto**
• Hanna Kulenty: String Quartet no.5*
• Andrzej Kwieciński: Canzon de’ baci for tenor and orchestra**
• Mikołaj Majkusiak: Pulsaciones for accordion, classical guitar and string orchestra**
• Maciej Małecki: Concertino for cello and orchestra**
• Krzysztof Meyer: Piano Quartet op.112 (new version)**
• Piotr Moss: Cavafy Verses for baritone and orchestra**
• Aleksander Nowak: Z górnego piętra for violin and percussion**
• Tomasz Opałka: L.A. Concerto for violin and orchestra**
• Ryszard Osada: Double Reflection for cello octet**
• Bronisław Kazimierz Przybylski: Lofoten, Concerto-Symphony for viola and orchestra**
• Dariusz Przybylski: Cello Concerto**
• Marta Ptaszyńska: Of Time & Space, concerto for percussion, electronics and orchestra**
• Adrian Robak: Vocal Concerto ‘Camerata’**
• Marcin Rupociński: Non possumus for choir, chamber ensemble and electronics**
• Wojciech Widłak: Festivalente for orchestra**
• Sławomir Wojciechowski: Fingertrips for eight prepared cellos**
• Agata Zubel: Pomiędzy odpływem myśli a przypływem snu for voice and string orchestra**

• New Web Page for Marek Stachowski

A new web page for Marek Stachowski (1936-2004) has just appeared.  It’s partly in English – Biography, Works (an essay by Maciej Jabłoński), Compositions, Prizes and Awards – and partly in Polish – Kalendarium and Wspomnienie (Recollection, by Mariusz Dubaj).  Thanks to the composer and cellist Jacek Ajdinović for drawing this to my attention (his website is in Polish, but there’s an English bio at http://www.myspace.com/jacekwiktorajdinovic).

http://www.marekstachowski.pl

I have exceptionally happy memories of my meetings with Marek: at his home and at numerous concerts and festivals.  His music may have been eclipsed, like that of his fellow Cracovian Zbigniew Bujarski (b.1933), by his better-known contemporaries.  These include not only another Kraków-based composer, a certain Krzysztof Penderecki (b.1933), but also two composers from nearby Katowice, Wojciech Kilar (b.1932) and Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (1933-2010).  But Stachowski’s music is distinctive in its own right and is well worth exploring, not least for its often delicate and lyrical qualities.

This new website doesn’t (yet) have a Discography.  There is at present only one (CD-ripped) recording on YouTube, called ‘One Rose’.  It’s the concluding section from one of his first works, Pięć zmysłów i róża (The Five Senses and a Rose, 1964) for mezzo soprano, flute, xylorimba, trombone and harp, to a text by Tadeusz Kubiak.  It makes for an interesting comparison with contemporary pieces by his more famous colleagues.

 

• A Polish Quintet

On the plus side of the recent WQXR Q2 Muzyka Nowa week of Polish music was being introduced to the music of a handful or so of composers who are still in their mid 20s to late 30s.  The five whom I mentioned briefly at the end of my review of Muzyka Nowa all have something different and interesting to say.  So here are a few details, the odd observation, and some links.  Each has his/her own website, either entirely in English or in English/Polish, where you can find all the details that they want you to know!

Jakub Ciupiński (b.1981)

http://www.ciupinski.pl/
http://www.myspace.com/jakubciupinski

Jakub Ciupiński presented two short guest selections during Muzyka Nowa and was without doubt its star broadcaster.  He studied at the Music Academy in Kraków, then at the Birmingham Conservatoire in the UK before moving on to the Juilliard School in New York, where he now lives.  He has two compositional personalities.  As (Jakub) Żak, he’s composed pop-electronica-world albums, the most recent of which is Dezyderata (2011). As Jakub Ciupiński, he has a wide range of output, from chamber and orchestral to live electronics. His elegant website has audio samples – including Morning Tale (2009) and Street Prayer (2009), which were played during Muzyka Nowa – and a video of the premiere of Flashbacks for small orchestra and electronics (2009).  There are several uploads available on YouTube, including a two-part interview (in Polish, with video excerpts).

I was particularly interested to see that Ciupiński has brought the art of the theremin back to life: http://www.ciupinski.pl/Jakub_Ciupinski_-_homepage/Theremins.html.  In 2009, Ciupiński co-founded a composer collective called Blind Ear Music, ‘a team of open-minded composers and great performers with incredible sight-reading ability’.  Its activities are predicated on the real-time manipulation of loops, transmitted from a ‘master’ computer (composer) to ‘slave’ computer screens (performers).  This is an aesthetic as well as a technical challenge, and you can check it out for yourself on their website, Blind Ear Music.  (There doesn’t appear to have been any concert activity over the past year, however.)

(Michał) Jacaszek (b.1972)

http://www.jacaszek.com/
http://www.myspace.com/jacaszek

Jacaszek, as he prefers to be known, is the best known, and oldest, of these five Polish composers.  I know nothing about his background, except that he was trained as an art restorer and that his first compositional foray was to rip a recording by Jack DeJohnette and Keith Jarrett on the family’s PC in the mid-90s (source: a 2011 interview for the Czech radio station ‘Wave’: http://soundcloud.com/easterndaze/michal-jacaszek-interview).  His website indicates his decided preference for acoustic over electronic sound sources.  He’s particularly keen on the interaction of live instruments with electronically manipulated sound sources.  Jacaszek’s myspace site (>Profile>Albums) currently hosts nine Vimeo videos.  His is an immersive world, one which blends natural sounds, existing music and electronic manipulation.  The reviews for his most recent album, Glimmer (2011), are enthusiastic.  Here are links to a few that I’ve found on the web:

• http://themuseinmusic.com/2011/11/27/no-one-reads-reviews-anymore-glimmer-by-jacaszek
• http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/16150-glimmer/
• http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/fj8r
• http://www.residentadvisor.net/review-view.aspx?id=10178

The Czech radio interview took place at the time that Jacaszek launched his Glimmer album at the 2011 UNSOUND festival in Kraków (it was broadcast during Muzyka Nowa last week).  UNSOUND subsequently uploaded part of this event.  If I’m not very much mistaken, there’s a clear reference in the closing minutes of this excerpt to the opening idea of Górecki’s Little Requiem.

Mateusz Ryczek (b.1986)

http://mateuszryczek.com/
http://www.myspace.com/mateuszryczek

Mateusz Ryczek is the youngest of this selection of Polish composers. He studied at the Music Academy in Wrocław and has already produced a sizeable body of work, ranging from chamber and orchestral pieces to music for the theatre.  His works have been played at the Composers’ Union Youth Circle concerts at the ‘Warsaw Autumn’, from whose 2009 Sound Chronicle his NGC 4414 (2008) was played during Muzyka Nowa.  Perusing his website, I came to the conclusion that he is energetic and rather good-humoured – as witnessed by his brief birthday salute to Lutosławski three days ago (I reposted it yesterday).

An audio file of the world premiere of NGC 4414 (which, for the uninitiated like me, is the name of a galaxy 60 million or so light years away) is available on Ryczek’s YouTube channel,<http://www.youtube.com/user/kompozer86>.  It was given at the Musica Polonica Nova festival in Wrocław in 2008 by Kwadrofonik.  Audio and video files may also be accessed on his websites.

Krzysztof Wołek (1976)

http://www.krzysztofwolek.com/
http://www.myspace.com/krzysztofwolek

Krzysztof Wołek’s interests embrace chamber, orchestral and electronic mediums; he also works in dance collaborations and with video.  He has the most artful and informative of all the websites, including plentiful samples from his wide range of compositions, although I could find only looped excerpts lasting about 2′ each rather than complete works.  This was a bit frustrating, as the excerpts whetted the appetite, from the early (A)Symmetrics for orchestra (1999) to Elements (2008), which was played during Muzyka Nowa (admittedly under the misapprehension that his surname was Wolef).  Wołek’s complete Mobile Variations for six-channel tape (2005) is, however, on his myspace site and is a fresh take on an electronic soundworld that dates back to the 1950s. Educated initially at the Music Academy in Katowice, Wołek subsequently studied at the University of Chicago and now teaches at the University of Louisville.

Agata Zubel (b.1978)

http://www.zubel.pl/

If the photo on the homepage of her website is anything to go by, Agata Zubel is the most exuberant of the five in this selection.  She studied both voice and composition at the Music Academy in Wrocław and she continues to combine both activities.  As a singer, she performs music from Augustyn to Zubel, taking in classics like Berio’s Sequenza III along the way.  As a composer, she works in a wide range of media, including music theatre, electronics and orchestral music (she already has three symphonies to her name).  She tends to set modern poetry in her vocal works, particularly Beckett, as in Cascando (2007) which was broadcast during Muzyka Nowa.  Her most recent piece What is the word, already dated 2012, is another Beckett setting.  Like Wołek, Zubel has put only extracts on her website (they’re even shorter than Wołek’s), but her music has been released on several CDs, including the monographic Cascando (2010), and on DVD.  Here she is in action as vocalist in her own Parlando for voice and computer (2000), recorded in Moscow last October.

• Happy 99th, Luto (2 days late!)

I’ve just this minute come across a brief salute to Lutosławski by a Polish composer 73 years his junior.  Mateusz Ryczek (b.1986) uploaded this two days ago, on what would have been Lutosławski’s 99th birthday – or, looked at another way, the start of his 100th year!  Ryczek takes the opening gesture of the Third Symphony and refashions it into the opening of the Polish birthday song, Sto Lat (One Hundred Years).

In case you’re wondering, Polish musicians often abbreviate Lutosławski to ‘Lutos’.  Non-Poles seem to say ‘Luto’.

• 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

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