• Dwurnik on the Pendereckis

The Polish artist Edward Dwurnik (b.1943) has produced what you might call an ‘interesting’ portrait to mark the golden wedding anniversary of Krzysztof Penderecki and his second wife Elżbieta.  The imagery will probably be better understood in Poland than abroad because of Elżbieta Penderecka’s formidable activities there as an animateur of musical life.  The image was published earlier today by the magazine Podsłuchaj! (Eavesdrop!).

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• Panufnik, Penderecki, Zubel

To add to forthcoming Polish music events in the UK, there are two celebrations this month, in Glasgow and Manchester.  Next Saturday and Sunday (20-21 June), ‘Panufnik. A Celebration’ takes place at City Halls, Glasgow, with three concerts devoted almost entirely to his music.  A few days later (23-26 June), the RNCM in Manchester hosts ‘Seven Gates: The Music of Poland Explored’. Penderecki will conduct the first UK performance (!) of his Seven Gates of Jerusalem, only 18 years after it was premiered; his music and that of the much younger Agata Zubel (b.1978) take the foreground.  Lutosławski features at both events in a supporting role, with Górecki and Szymanowski also included in Manchester.  The Manchester repertoire has some little-known Penderecki works embedded in it, and of the three films Andrzej Wajda’s feature on Katyń and Wiktor Skrzynecki’s documentary about the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ will be well worth seeing.  For repertoire details, see below.

While I am delighted that these composers are being played and heard, I can’t help feeling that the repertoires of both events reinforce the impression in the UK that Polish music still consists of composers (Zubel excepted) who are either dead or reaching their creative dotage.  The one exception in this country, largely confined to sacred music, is Paweł Łukaszewski (b.1968), who has made a strong impact in choral circles here and was featured last year at the Presteigne Festival, which also promoted another Polish composer in his 40s but little-known in the UK, Maciej Zieliński (b.1971).  Zubel’s music is especially welcome this year in this context, and anyone wanting to hear her recent music, but who can’t get to Manchester, is recommended to seek out her CD ‘Not I’ on the Kairos label.

In case you missed it, Hyperion released a CD earlier this year of string quartets by Paweł Szymański (b.1954) and Paweł Mykietyn (b.1971), both of whom are well-established and no longer up-and-coming in Poland yet are virtually unknown here, despite Szymański having had some exposure with the London Sinfonietta some 25 years ago.  I am still waiting for high-profile performances of composers now in their 30s, like Szymański was when the BBC commissioned Partita IV for premiere at the Sonorities Festival in Belfast in 1987.  What about – and this is to name just a few composers in addition to Zubel, some deeply involved in multi-media work, who are headline figures in Poland and have international profiles elsewhere – Wojtek Blecharz (b.1981), Andrzej Kwieciński (b.1984), Dariusz Przybylski (b.1984), Marcin Stańczyk (b.1977) or Jagoda Szmytka (b.1982)?  There are dozens more (by focusing on those born in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I am not forgetting that there are older – even younger – composers equally worthy of investigation!).

…….

Panufnik.  A Celebration
City Halls, Glasgow, 20-21 June 2015

BBC Scottish SO, conducted by Łukasz Borowicz, Alexander Sitkovetsky, Ewa Kupiec

Panufnik: Divertimento, after Janiewicz (1947), Lullaby (1947), Sinfonia rustica (1948), Polonia (1959), Piano Concerto (1961/several times revised), Sinfonia sacra (1963), Violin Concerto (1971), Symphony 10 (1988), unidentified piano music
Lutosławski: unidentified piano music

…….

Seven Gates: The Music of Poland Explored
RNCM, Manchester, 23-26 June 2015

RNCM New Ensemble, Dominic Degavino, RNCM SO, Chamber Choir and Chorus, Piero Lombardi Eglesias, Maciej Tworek, Krzysztof Penderecki (other soloists and ensembles tba)

Penderecki: Violin Sonata no.1 (1953), Three Miniatures for clarinet and piano (1956), Brigade of Death (tape, 1963), Agnus Dei (1981, arranged for eight cellos), Cadenza for solo viola (1984), Entrata (1994), Symphony no.7 ‘Seven Gates of Jerusalem’ (1996), String Quartet no.3 (2008),
Górecki: Harpsichord Concerto (1980)
Lutosławski: Dance Preludes (1954), Chain 1 (1983), Piano Concerto (1988)
Szymanowski: Songs of a Fairytale Princess (1915), Masques (1916)
Zubel: Suite for percussion trio (2011), Streets of a Human City (2011), Shades of Ice (2011)

Films:
• Katyń (Andrzej Wajda, 2007)
• Górecki: The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (Tony Palmer, 1993, not 2008 as given in the brochure)
• 50 years of [the] Warsaw Autumn (Wiktor Skrzynecki, 2007)

• Reviews in translation (Górecki-Gibbons)

Penderecki_Gorecki_LutoslawskiFacebook friends will know that I posted last week about an unusual event at Warsaw’s Grand Theatre that was taking place on Saturday 29 November.  Here are my translations of two reviews that have since reached me (apologies for any linguistic infelicities).  I don’t usually occupy myself with reviews, as others are better placed to do them.  But the nature of the event is such that I think these opinions from Sunday 30 November may be of interest. They were written for well-regarded newspaper outlets, polityka.pl and wyborcza.pl.

I’m not going to develop the arguments here, but I may well return, in another post, to the trend of not leaving composers’ works alone.  Chopin is one thing, and his music has been used a creative resource for many years.  But in recent years in Poland it has been the music of lately deceased or living composers that has come in for treatment that ranges from ‘dressing-up’ to something more materially radical.  But that is for another day.

The first of the reviews comes from Dorota Szwarcman’s online blog for Polityka.

Three People, Two People and Spotlights (Trzech, dwóch i reflektory)

Dorota Szwarcman

The purpose of the concert at the Grand Theatre was to record it for DVD, but the audience had to endure aggressive noise emanating from antediluvian spotlights.  It was impossible to convince the organisers to do something about it.  In fact, ‘noise’ is an understatement.  It was a din.  It impeded hearing the performances, was superimposed on them and distorted them, especially in the quiet moments. I understand that it will be filtered out in the recording, but why then invite an audience?  They could have recorded it in rehearsal.  And so we felt simply as if we’d been given a kicking.

OK, but we must consider the pieces.  The ‘Three People’ are Penderecki, Lutosławski and Górecki.  As the only surviving member of this trio, it fell to Penderecki to conduct the works of all of them.  There was a continuation of the Penderecki-Greenwood project (48 Responses to Polymorphia was performed again), extended by the new Réponse Lutosławski by Bryce Dessner; plus works by the members of Radiohead and The National (the ‘Two People’), conducted by Bassem Akiki.  And NOSPR [National Symphony Orchestra of Polish Radio] played.

What can one say about these pieces?  My reflection is that people who play music every day which is completely different, sharper, become awfully polite when they suddenly enter the classical world.  Isolated timid clusters are lost in a sea of wistful tonal fragments, this tonality being slightly disturbed, so that everything is not just repeated literally, but is still all very discreet. While the relationship between Greenwood’s piece and Penderecki’s is very obvious – its successive fragments originate in Polymorphia‘s famous final C-major chord – it is hard to see what links Dessner’s composition with Lutosławski’s Funeral Music, perhaps two notes, not more.  It is easier to hear connections with Philip Glass, who has nothing in common with Lutosławski.  The responses therefore do not constitute in either case a counterbalance to the ‘questions’, i.e. the works by Penderecki and Lutosławski.

Another thing: the visuals were terribly distracting, supposedly attractive and interesting (made by the same people who have been in charge of the staging of concerts at Wrocław’s Centenary Hall), but here too expressive and riveting.  It was hard to take in the music at the same time.  There may be some for whom it was easier…

The second half was another story.  Starting with the visuals themselves, which were the work of John Milton, who is in charge of the packaging and staging for Portishead concerts, and ending with the introduction of Beth Gibbons in Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.  In an “excuse me for living” position (I thought that, in her situation, she was being unusually shy, but it turns out that she is always like this), she sat on a chair and sang into a microphone.  It has to be said that she had been really well coached by an expert – after all, she does not read music, knows no Polish and, moreover, has never sung in any language other than English, and furthermore has never sung with an orchestra [AT: although she and Portishead have performed with a backing orchestra]. Somehow she made it happen, even if in some places she had to sing down an octave; she sang in her own way, just as she does with Portishead, the voice slightly murmuring, slightly whining, but clear for all that…  The greatest advantage of this singing was its sincerity and directness – she knew what she was singing about and tried to express it; one may say that her singing was ‘sorrowful’ in reference to the work’s title, though this term is ambiguous.  The visuals underlined the claustrophobic-despressive mood, showing a wall of lichens, murky corridors without end, guttering candles.  All in all, I don’t know the reason for this experiment, because Górecki’s Third Symphony has just no need of popularisation, but apparently foreign concert halls are already interested in this concert.  Well, let’s see.

The second review, also dated 30 November 2014, is by Anna S. Dębowska for Wyborcza.

Anglo-Saxons from the World of Pop in a Concert with Music from the Polish Classics (Anglosasi ze świata popu na jednym koncercie z muzyką polskich klasyków)

Anna S. Dębowska

Radiohead, The National and Portishead connected with Polish music in a National Audiovisual Institute project.  The result was at least debatable, but what kind of art is without controversy?  A review of Saturday’s concert in the Grand Theatre – National Opera in Warsaw.

Commissioned by the National Audiovisual Institute, Jonny Greenwood and Bryce Dessner composed short pieces for string orchestra inspired by Krzysztof Penderecki’s Polymorphia from 1961 (Greenwood) and by Witold Lutosławski’s Funeral Music from 1958 (Dessner).  Beth Gibbons sang the soprano part in Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s Third Symphony ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ (1976).  The performances of the Polish music were conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki and the new pieces by Bassem Akiki, the young Lebanese-Polish conductor who made his debut at Wrocław Opera a few years ago.  The National Symphony Orchestra of Polish Radio played.

That about sums it up.  The idea came from Michał Merczyński, head of the National Audiovisual Institute, the artistic selections made by Filip Berkowiczm director of the Kraków festival Sacrum Profanum. “I’m very interested in bringing together the worlds of serious music and ambitious entertainment”, he told Wyborcza. “Such collaborations provide an extraordinary boost to the participants, for their work reaches a whole new audience.  I am glad that Michał Merczyński has once more invited me to collaborate and again allowed me to stir it.”

Water and Fire One Year Later

Indeed, Berkowicz has stirred things up.  He’s already done it many times.  It is sufficient to recall projects like ‘Penderecki Reloaded’ – initiated jointly with Merczyński, processing the classics through performances by Greenwood and Aphex Twin – or ‘Polish Icons’ – with Skalpel remixing Penderecki, Górecki and Lutosławski at Sacrum Profanum [AT: 2014].  But this is nothing compared with Beth Gibbons, the vocalist with the trip-hop group Portishead, cast in the oratorio-cantata soprano role in Górecki’s Third Symphony.

Saturday’s concert was due to happen a year ago during the jubilees of the three great Polish composers.  I do not think that the change of date influenced its reception.  For some it was from start to finish a proposition that was hard to take, while others saw in it an interesting attempt to link different worlds, for which the blurring of boundaries is a trump card.  For others it is an alarming attempt to tamper with copyrighted musical texts.

That is why Gibbons fans reacted enthusiastically, in contrast to classical music connoisseurs, who took the thing with chilly scepticism (the family of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki disassociated themselves from the project). This attempt to reconcile fire with water convinced me more, however, than the compositional proposals of Greenwood and Dessner, who entered too willingly into the role of imitators.

Simple and Authentic Beth Gibbons

Accepting Gibbons in the Górecki demanded openness and a reorientation to a different kind of vocal expression.  It is difficult to measure the star of Portishead as a classical singer and compare her to Stefania Woytowicz, Dawn Upshaw or Zofia Kilanowicz, great performers of the Third Symphony.  Not that vocal strength, that range or that technique.  That is not what it is about.  Despite obvious vocal shortcomings, she found herself surprisingly at home in the atmosphere of Górecki’s music, inspired by the lament of a mother in pain at the death of her son.  The trump card was the musicality, simplicity and authenticity of a non-professional.  She was herself – she sang sitting at the microphone, sheltering behind her hair like an introvert. She must have put in a great deal of work on her Polish, because it sounded impeccable at times.  The high notes were evidently problematic for her, but the amplification helped in producing them.

It was an interesting experiment, but one hopes even so that Gibbons does not spawn imitators (Bjork once turned down an invitation to sing the Third Symphony).  Górecki is only superficially simple and wistful, not suitable for the stage.  Rather he did not approve the use of his music for other purposes, as when he did not permit the Polish distribution of the film in which the director Tony Palmer illustrated the Third Symphony with images of war.

Rockers Write in a Twentieth-Century Fashion

In the case of Greenwood’s and Dessner’s meeting with the classics there was nothing new.  The commissioning of orchestral works from them was the result of compositional try-outs by both musicians. Dessner has had a classical training and has written for the Kronos Quartet.  It is great that someone suggested Lutosławski to him, although Philip Glass was a greater influence in his piece (Réponse Lutosławski) than the great Pole, except maybe for the cluster from Funeral Music.  Even so, the Dessner seems a more interesting, more independent composer that Greenwood with his 48 Responses to Polymorphia, in which he drew liberally from the arsenal of avant-garde and sonoristic devices from the second half of the twentieth century.

Time will tell whether Dessner’s piece will be an encouragement to fans of The National to reach for Lutosławski.  If that happens, there awaits them a meeting with unusually complicated musical material of outstanding expressive qualities.  Saturday’s performance of Funeral Music once again showed that it is a masterpiece.  Likewise, Polymorphia under the baton of its creator, Krzysztof Penderecki, has lost nothing of its freshness and acuity.

It was moving that these pillars of Polish music (Polymorphia, Funeral Music, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) sounded out under the baton of Krzysztof Penderecki, the only performer who had been a witness and co-originator of the era in which these works were created.  He naturally became the keystone of all of the concert’s themes.  Recruiting him for this project was Michał Merczyński’s and Filip Berkowicz’s unquestionable success.

The concert will be released on DVD by NiNA.

 

• 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).

• NINATEKA: WL, KP & HMG

My preparations for and execution of my peregrinations in France prevented me from highlighting a major online resource that was launched in Poland at the end of 2013.  I have been provoked into posting details now by the world premiere on 21 April of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s Kyrie.  Although a recording has already been posted on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNuWAb_5OPk), there is also an audio file on NINATEKA: Three Composers.  It can, however, take some time for the NINATEKA files to load on the in-built player, although I can’t tell if this is down to the strength or weakness of the wifi signal.

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NINATEKA is hosted by Poland’s Narodowy Instytut Audiowizualny (National Audiovisual Institute) and covers a wide range of creative arts.  It is a Polish-language site, with the notable exception of Trzej Kompozytorzy (Three Composers).  Witold Lutosławski, Krzysztof Penderecki and Górecki all had significant anniversaries in 2013, and this initiative brings together archive recordings of their music, mostly from Polish Radio.  Here you will find not only the major concert works but also smaller, less familiar pieces.  There are timelines, biographies and glossaries (‘alphabet’).  Tucked away is the roster of the editorial team, led by Dr Iwona Lindstedt.

The navigating tools are fairly straightforward once you have worked them out.  Under ‘music’, you can pick an individual year or span of years, you can see a composer’s complete repertoire (‘all forms/genres’) or narrow it down under this same heading or in groups (scroll down ‘all categories’).  You can be guided by ‘recommended’ or ‘popular’ or read the playlists suggested by musicians and family members.  Or you can use ‘advanced search’ to filter by duration, instrumentation etc..  But if you want to look chronologically, you may initially be stumped.  For this, you have to look higher up the page and click on ‘creative periods’.

Happy exploration.  NINATEKA: Three Composers really is a treasure trove.

• Poles in Presteigne

UnknownThe 2014 Presteigne Festival in mid-Wales (21-26 August) has designed a special focus on Polish music.  This includes a new commission and premieres as well as sampling the music of composers such as Bacewicz, Lutosławski, Penderecki and Górecki.  There is a particular emphasis on the music of Andrzej Panufnik, on the centenary of his birth.  The full schedule may be found at: https://www.presteignefestival.com/PDFs/PF2014_brochure_for_web.pdf.

Here is an alphabetical-by-composer list of the Polish repertoire plus details of relevant talks and discussions
(** World premiere, * UK premiere):

Grażyna Bacewicz
• Concerto for String Orchestra (1948)
• Two Etudes for piano (1956)

Henryk Mikołaj Górecki
Two Sacred Songs for baritone and piano (1971)
• String Quartet no.1 ‘Already It Is Dusk’ (1988)

Witold Lutosławski
Dance Preludes for clarinet and piano (1954)
• Grave for cello and piano (1981)
• Partita for violin and piano (1984)

Paweł Łukaszewski
• Piano Trio (2008)
• Requiem** (2014, Festival commission)

Andrzej Panufnik
Miniature Etudes (Circle of Fifths), Book II, for piano (1947)
Landscape for string orchestra (1962/65)
Song to the Virgin Mary for choir (1964/69)
• Sinfonia Concertante for flute, harp and strings (1973)
• Love Song 
for mezzo-soprano and piano (1976)
• String Quartet no.3 ‘Wycinanki’ (1990)

Krzysztof Penderecki
• Prelude for solo clarinet (1987)
• Quartet for clarinet and string trio (1993)
• Serenade for string orchestra (1997)

Maciej Zieliński
• Lutosławski in memoriam for oboe and piano (1999)
Trio for MB for clarinet, violin and piano (2004)
Concello* (2013)

Talks and Discussions

• Warsaw Variations (award-winning Fallingtree Production, first broadcast on BBC R4 in 2012, with contributions by Beata Bolesławska-Lewandowska, Camilla Panufnik and Adrian Thomas), followed by a discussion with Camilla and Roxanna Panufnik, radio producer Alan Hall, chaired by David Wordsworth
• Pre-concert event: Roxanna Panufnik, with Stephen Johnson
• Pre-concert event: Paweł Łukaszewski, with Thomas Hyde
• Pre-concert event: Paweł Łukaszewski, with Adrian Thomas
• Talk: Three Generations of Polish Composers (Adrian Thomas)
• Pre-concert event: Maciej Zieliński, with Adrian Thomas

• Penderecki Festival, 17-23 November 2013

KP brochure 11:2013:1I have been remiss in not uploading details of the major Polish celebration of Krzysztof Penderecki’s 80th birthday, which falls on this coming Saturday, 23 November.  A week-long festival is taking place in Warsaw and boasts a star-studded line-up of soloists and conductors.  It encompasses his orchestral, choral and chamber music from over 50 years and is a well-chosen survey that demonstrates his unique contribution to the music of our times, ranging from the Three Miniatures for clarinet and piano (1956), through Strophes (1959), the (in)famous Threnody to the victims of Hiroshima (1960) and Dimensions of Time and Silence (1961) and on to the style-changing First Violin Concerto (1976).  The most recent works are the Double Concerto for violin and viola (2012) and Missa brevis (2012).  There are four of the symphonies: no.2 ‘Christmas’ (1980), no. 4 ‘Adagio’ (1989), no.7 ‘Seven Gates of Jerusalem’ (1996) and no.8 ‘Songs of Transience’ (2005/2007).  Choral music includes Credo (1998) and Kaddish (2009).  There is a good deal of chamber music, including the three string quartets (1960, 1968, 2008), plus two works by other composers, Aulis Sallinen and Paul Patterson.  Here’s the brochure.

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