• Polish ‘Awangarda’ CDs

For years, I’ve been bewailing the lack of CD representation of post-war Polish composers other than ‘the big three’. And there are still notable gaps, especially in the coverage of the music of Kazimierz Serocki: Musica concertanteSymphonic Frescoes (played at this year’s ‘Warsaw Autumn’), Forte e PianoPoezjeDramatic Story, Swinging MusicPianophonie.  But over the past couple of years the Polskie Nagranie company, in conjunction variously with the publishers PWM, Ricordi and the Polish Music Information Centre, has begun to issue and reissue archive recordings (from 1959 onwards) of some of the early figures of the Polish avant-garde.

Three CDs have appeared so far in the ‘Awantgarda’ series: Krzysztof Penderecki conducted by Andrzej Markowski (2011) – and it’s the Markowski connection that makes this CD interesting (Penderecki does not want for coverage!), Serocki (2012) and Włodzimierz Kotoński (2013).  A similar project, but outside the ‘Awantgarda’ sequence, was that of the music of Tadeusz Baird, in a double CD package (2011).  For anyone wanting to hear their music, these CDs are a great place to start, not least because there are some recordings never released on CD before and others never heard beyond the confines of the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ Chronicle recordings whose circulation was extremely limited.  There are one or two never released on any format before.  Any performance dates in the second half of September are from the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival.  ** = first performance, * = Polish premiere.

Tadeusz Baird. Selected Works (PNCD 1399, two CDs)

This double CD was first issued in 2003 (PNCD 525A/B).

Baird.m3404 Love Sonnets (second version, 1969): Andrzej Hiolski/Kraków PRO/Jan Krenz (July 1978)
Colas Breugnon (1951): WOSPR/Krenz (May 1955)
Trouvère Songs (1963): Krystyna Szostek-Radkowa/National PO, Warsaw/Witold Rowicki (24 June 1968)
• 5 Songs (1968): Szostek-Radkowa/Wrocław PO/Andrzej Markowski (June 1974)
Psychodrama (1972): WOSPR/Wojciech Michniewski (1 February 1979)
Erotyki (1961): Stefania Woytowicz/National PO/Rowicki (21 April 1963)
• Symphony 3 (1969): National PO/Krenz (10-11 June 1969)
Elegeia (1973): WOSPR/Michniewski (1 February 1979)
Concerto Lugubre (1975): Stefan Kamasa/Kraków PRO/Jacek Kaspszyk (10 April 1977)
Voices from Afar (1981): Jerzy Artysz/National PO/Rowicki (**, 22 January 1982)

Krzysztof Penderecki conducted by Andrzej Markowski (PNCD 1373)

Markowski was an extraordinary champion of new Polish music, and especially of Penderecki’s ground-breaking early scores.  This selection spans 1958-61, and only Emanations, the First String Quartet and Fonogrammi are missing from these years.

AWANGARDA_M.m340Psalms of David (1958): National PO (8 January 1966)
Strophes (1959): Silesian Philharmonic CO (**, 17 September 1959)
Anaklasis (1959-60): National PO (8 January 1966)
Dimensions of Time and Silence (1960): National PO and Choir (24 June 1972)
Threnody (1961): Kraków PO (22 September 1961)
Fluorescences (1962): National PO (8 January 1966)
Polymorphia (1961): Kraków PO (*, 26 September 1963)

Kazimierz Serocki (PNCD 1441)

It is terrific to have two early pieces on this CD, formative for both Serocki and Polish music around 1960, as well as the three ‘Warsaw Autumn’ performances.

Serocki_awangarda.m340Episodes (1958-59): WOSPR/Krenz (24 March 1965)
Segmenti (1960-61): WOSPR/Krenz (24 March 1965)
Continuum (1965-66): Warsaw Percussion Group (28 February 1980)
Fantasmagoria (1970-71): Roger Woodward/Hubert Rutkowski (23 September 1976)
Fantasia elegiaca (1971-72): Karl-Erik Welin, Hesse RSO/Markowski (*, 28 September 1973)
Arrangements for four recorders (1975-76): (20 September 1978)

Włodzimierz Kotoński (PNCD 1521/polmic 099)

Kotónski, now 88, has languished in the shadows of his contemporaries.  His early tape pieces especially were key to the development of the Polish avant-garde.  Less than a handful of his works had been commercially released on any format prior to this CD.  (There’s no Kotoński web-page yet on the Polskie Nagrania site.)

Homma 1993Study on One Cymbal Stroke (1959): (Polish Radio Experimental Studio, 1960)
Microstructures (1963): (PRES, 1963)
Aela (1970): (PRES, 1977)
Les ailes (1975): (Bourges, 1977)
Aeolian Harp (1974): Rozwitha Trexler and four instrumentalists (*, 21 September 1975)
Musique en relief (1959): National PO/Stanisław Wisłocki (*, 25 September 1960)
Musica per fiati e timpani (1964): National PO/Rowicki (1966)
Music for 16 Cymbals and Strings (1966): WOSPR/Jerzy Maksymiuk (1977)

• Polish Music at the 2013 BBC Proms

Polish Music at the 2013 BBC Proms

p0179z7mThe 2013 BBC Proms have been launched today.  It is great to see Polish music taking a prominent role, instigated by the centenary this year of the birth of Witold Lutosławski.  This is no mean feat, given that 2013 also marks the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten and the bicentenaries of Verdi and Wagner.  And this is not to mention other anniversaries, like the 50th anniversary of the death of Francis Poulenc.

There are seven pieces by Lutosławski in this year’s programme.  There are also two by both Andrzej Panufnik (his centenary falls next year) and Karol Szymanowski.  And there is one each by Henryk Mikołaj Górecki and Krzysztof Penderecki, who were born 80 years ago.  There is also a concert including music of the Polish Renaissance.  An outline calendar of Polish music at the 2013 Proms is given below.

My essay for the BBC Proms Guide may be read here.

Prom 1 • 12 July
• Lutosławski: Variations on a Theme by Paganini

PCM 1 • 15 July
• Lutosławski: Partita

Prom 8 • 17 July
• Lutosławski: Cello Concerto

Prom 9 • 18 July
• Szymanowski: Symphony no.3 ‘Song of the Night’

PCM 2 • 22 July
• Polish and other European Renaissance Music

Prom 32 • 7 August
• Lutosławski: Symphonic Variations
• Lutosławski: Piano Concerto

Prom 44 • 15 August
• Penderecki: Concerto Grosso

Prom 55 • 23 August
• Lutosławski: Concerto for Orchestra
• Panufnik: Tragic Overture
• Panufnik: Lullaby

PSM 4 • 24 August
• Lutosławski: Paroles tissées

Prom 68 • 2 September
• Szymanowski: Violin Concerto no.1

Prom 71 • 4 September
• Górecki: Symphony no.3 ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’

• New CD Note (Penderecki & Lutosławski/Hyperion)

034571179438-1I have been a fan of the Royal String Quartet for several years.  I heard these superb Polish musicians play Górecki’s Third String Quartet at the St Magnus Festival on Orkney in 2010 and subsequently wrote the booklet note for their Hyperion CD of all three Górecki quartets.  Now they’ve released an equally stunning account of the three Penderecki quartets alongside Lutosławski’s sole contribution to the genre.

Here’s the link to my booklet note for Penderecki & Lutosławski String Quartets, or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• Lutosławski: Ein Leben in der Musik

WL OsteuropaKickstarting the Lutosławski centenary in print is this volume which has just appeared in the osteuropa series (I received my copy today).  It contains thirteen items from Germany, Poland, Russia and the UK:

• Danuta Gwizdalanka: ‘Klassiker der Avantgarde. Witold Lutosławski: Leben und Werk’
• Anne-Sophie Mutter: ‘ “Ein neuer musikalischer Kosmos”. Über Witold Lutosławski’
• Dorota Szwarcman: ‘Auf den Schultern von Riesen. Lutosławski und seine Vorgänger’
• Dorota Kozińska: ‘Gründe und Abgründe. Lutosławski und der Sozialistische Realismus’
• Maciej Gołąb: ‘Lutosławski auf der Suche. Elemente und Ursprünge des Frühwerks’
• Krzysztof Meyer: ‘Pan Lutosławski. Erinnerungen an meinen Lehrer und Freund’
• Sebastian Borchers: ‘Von Warschau nach Darmstadt und zurück. Lutosławski, Penderecki und Górecki’
• Rüdiger Ritter: ‘Heißhunger auf Neue Musik. Das Ende des Stalinismus und der Warschauer Herbst
• Wojciech Kuczok: ‘Unsortierte Bemerkungen. Von Lutosławski zur schlesischen Komponistenschule’
• Adrian Thomas: ‘Das Cello-Konzert lesen. Lutosławski und die Literatur’*
• Izabela Antulov: ‘Wütender Antagonismus. Lutosławskis Cello-Konzert’
• Vladimir Tarnopol’skij: ‘ “Ein Symbol der Freiheit”. Lutosławskis Einfluss auf der Sowjetunion’
• Adam Wiedemann: ‘Heiliger Witold, bitte für uns’

This issue also includes a CD with two pieces: Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto (the Naxos recording by Andrzej Bauer with the Polish National Radio SO under Antoni Wit) and Krzysztof Meyer’s Farewell Music (1997), written in tribute to Lutosławski.  The abstracts are also given in English and may be accessed online here.  The volume may be ordered online here (22 euros).

* This is a translation of my paper ‘Lutosławski and Literature’ (2010).

• BBC Scottish SO’s ‘Muzyka Polska’

Later this week I’m paying a flying visit to Glasgow to give a pre-concert talk as part of the first night of the BBC Scottish SO’s Muzyka Polska series during its 2012-13 season.  This has been built around next year’s centenary of the birth of Witold Lutosławski and I’m very happy to have been able to play a small part in advising on the choice of repertoire.  With its concentration on Lutosławski and on Szymanowski, the 75th anniversary of whose death falls this year, there was limited room for other major figures (no Baird, Górecki or Serocki, for example).  I’m particularly delighted to see Mieczysław Karłowicz’s Eternal Songs (1906) in the mix and pleased to see that there is music by at least one composer born after World War II, Paweł Szymański’s A Study of Shade (1989).  The ‘big’ night is on 17 January 2013, when six Polish works will be performed.

• Chopin  Piano Concerto no.2 (1829-30)   14 March 2013
• Chopin  Piano Concerto no.1 (1830)   11 October 2012
• Szymanowski  Concert Overture (1905)   11 October 2012
• Karłowicz  Eternal Songs (1906)   15 November 2012
• Szymanowski  Songs of a Fairytale Princess (1915, orch. 1933)   17 January 2013
• Szymanowski  Violin Concerto no.1 (1916)   15 November 2012
• Szymanowski  Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin (1918, orch. 1934)   17 January 2013
• Bacewicz  Concerto for String Orchestra (1948)   25 October 2012
• Lutosławski  Concerto for Orchestra (1954)   17 January 2013
• Penderecki  Polymorphia (1961)   17 January 2013 (Post-Concert Coda)
• Lutosławski  Cello Concerto (1970)   28 February 2013
• Szymański  A Study of Shade (1989)   17 January 2013 (Post-Concert Coda)
• Lutosławski  Symphony no.4 (1992)   17 January 2013

There are two supplementary chamber recitals as Post-Concert Codas: Johannes Moser will play Polish music for cello on 28 February after his performance of Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto, and Garrick Ohlsson will play solo piano pieces by Chopin on 14 March after his performance of Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto.  Ohlsson rocketed to fame after winning the Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1970.  Moser is becoming one of the foremost performers of the Lutosławski.  His Glasgow appearance follows on from a performance in Poole in January with the Bournemouth SO (which premiered the work with Rostropovich in 1970), three performances in Stuttgart the week before he comes to Glasgow, and he then plays it twice in Bilbao in April.

The full schedule for the BBC SSO Muzyka Polska series may be accessed here or by navigating from its home website.

• 5 Archival Polish Music Videos

Five videos of Polish music have newly been made available online.  They date from 1968-75 and are all of performances at the Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw during the annual ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival.  There are two pieces by Lutosławski and one each by Baird, Penderecki and Serocki.  Not only can we now witness Peter Pears, Wanda Wiłkomirska and Karl-Erik Welin in action but we can also experience Lutosławski conducting his own music as well as appreciate that inspirational and tireless champion of new music, Andrzej Markowski (1924-86).  Many Polish composers owed him a huge debt of gratitude, including Baird, Penderecki and Serocki.

In chronological order of recording, these five videos are:

• Krzysztof Penderecki: Capriccio for violin and orchestra (1967).  Wanda Wiłkomirska, National Philharmonic, cond. Andrzej Markowski, 21 September 1968 (opening concert).
• Kazimierz Serocki: Fantasia elegiaca for organ and orchestra (1972).  Karl-Erik Welin, Sinfonie-Orchester des Hessischen Rundfunks, Frankfurt, cond. Andrzej Markowski, 28 September 1973 (Polish premiere).
Very little of Serocki’s music post-1956 is available in audio formats, let alone video, so this upload is welcome.
• Witold Lutosławski: Preludes and Fugue for thirteen solo strings(1972).  Chamber Ensemble of the National Philharmonic, cond. Lutosławski, 30 September 1973 (Polish premiere).
A minor frustration here: this was the first half of the concert which closed the 1973 festival.  In the second half, Lutosławski conducted Heinrich Schiff in the much-postponed Polish premiere of the Cello Concerto.  How I would love to see a video of that!
• Tadeusz Baird: Elegeia (1973).  National Philharmonic, cond. Andrzej Markowski, 21 September 1974 (opening concert).
• Witold Lutosławski: Paroles tissées (1965).  Peter Pears, Chamber Ensemble of the National Philharmonic, cond. Lutosławski, 25 September 1975.
Peter Pears had been the dedicatee and first performer of this song cycle at the Aldeburgh Festival ten years earlier, on 20 June 1965This was not its Polish premiere, but it was the only time that Pears sang it there.

• 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.

• Iwaszkiewicz on Górecki

The recently published third and final volume of diaries by the Polish poet, playwright and novelist Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz (Warsaw: Czytelnik, 2011) has brought to light some interesting comments on music.  Despite showing intense bitterness and self-absorption on political matters (he had, to say the least, a controversial history of working with the communist establishment since 1945), Iwaszkiewicz (1894-1980) had some keen insights on cultural matters.  His background in music went back to his early years when, as Szymanowski’s younger cousin, he not only suggested the idea for and wrote the libretto of King Roger (1918-24) but also provided Szymanowski with translations of Rabindranath Tagore for the Four Songs and his own poems for Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin, both written in 1918.  He also provided the verse for Szymanowski’s Three Lullabies (1922).

Here are three diary entries which have been drawn to my attention by a friend in Warsaw, who also kindly provided the translations.  The first, from 1966, is a tart nostalgia for the musical past.  The second (1969) and third (1977) entries contain somewhat surprising observations on two pieces by Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, who was the only Polish composer to whom Iwaszkiewicz paid any detailed attention in these diaries.  I’ve added some contextual information to two of the three entries.

8 August 1966

W radio ostatni obraz Harnasi  i Infantka Ravela.  Wierzyć się nie chce, że oni byli, żywi, prawdziwi, dotykalni.  Karol!  Ravel!  Co za postaci półpowieściowe, nieuchwytne, niewyobrażalne.  Czy rzeczywiście nie ma już takich ludzi?  Czy tylko mi się wydaje, bo jestem stary i zmęczony, i nie widzę, co mam pod bokiem.  Lutosławski?  Penderecki?  Mój Boże, chyba tego nie można porównać.  Może  w ogóle teraz nie ma artystów.  Może tamci jako ‘artyści’ naprawdę należeli do XIX wieku?  Jak Chopin, jak Liszt?

On the radio, the last scene of Harnasie and Ravel’s Infante.  I do not want to believe that they were here, living, real, tangible.  Karol!  Ravel!  What characters, half taken from a novel, elusive, unimaginable.  Are there really no such people any more?  Or is it only my impression, because I am old and tired and do not see what I have close at hand.  Lutosławski?  Penderecki?  My God, surely one cannot make any comparison.  Perhaps there are no artists at all now.  Perhaps those men, as ‘artists’, truly belonged to the 19th century?  Like Chopin, like Liszt?

24 September 1969

Taka cudowna noc dzisiaj księżycowa.  I pomyśleć, nie mam nikogo, z kim bym mógł wyjść na spacer po ogrodzie.  Hania° nie wychodzi nigdy do ogrodu, zwłaszcza po zachodzie słońca.  Wysłuchałem tylko co Muzyki staropolskiej Góreckiego.*  Monotonne to, ale bardzo ‘wielkie’.  O szerokim  oddechu, prymitywne, z puszczą, z wiatrem, z mordem.  Nic z lukrowanego obrazka a la Wołodyjowski.†  Chyba taka Polska jest prawdziwa.

Such a wonderful moonlit night tonight.  And to think that I have no one with whom I could go for a walk in the garden.  Hania° never goes out into the garden, especially after sunset.  I have just listened to Gorecki’s Old Polish Music.*  Monotonous this, but very ‘great’.  Broadly breathed, primitive, with a primeval forest, with wind, with murder.  Nothing like the sentimental picture-book that is Wołodyjowski.†  Such is perhaps the true Poland.

° Iwaszkiewicz’s wife, Anna
* This must have been the live broadcast on Polish Radio of the world premiere, given by the National Philharmonic SO, conducted by Andrzej Markowski, as part of the 12th ‘Warsaw Autumn’ International Festival of Contemporary Music.
† Wołodyjowski: a reference to a recent feature film Pan Wołodyjowski (Jerzy Hoffman, 1969) which was based on Henryk Sienkiewicz’s historical novel of the same name (1888).

8 September 1977

Iwazkiewicz at Baranów, 1977

Iwaszkiewicz gave the opening paper at a conference of musicologists and musicians at Baranów, 4-12 September 1977.  He made this diary entry after the delegates had listened on 7 September to a recording of Górecki’s Third Symphony ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ (1976).  This must have been a tape of the world premiere given in Royan five months earlier as the piece had not yet been performed in Poland (it was given its Polish premiere at the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ on 25 September 1977).

[…] tak od czasu do czasu wpisywać jakieś laments daje fałszywe wyobrażenie o całym continuum wewnętrznym, które wcale nie składa się wyłącznie z lamentów.  Nie jest też tym continuum przerażającym, jakie wczoraj zaprezentował Górecki w swojej III Symfonii.  Beznadziejny powrót tego samego akordu w pierwszej części symfonii sprawia wrażenie psychopatyczne, maniakalne, a jednak wstrząsające – właśnie jako continuum wewnętrznego, czegoś bardzo głębokiego i tragicznego jakby w założeniu, bez dramatycznych zawołań, bez żadnego ‘teatru dla siebie’.  To bardzo dziwny i niepokojący utwór.

[…] writing down from time to time laments of some kind gives a false impression of the whole internal continuum, which does not at all consist solely of laments.  Nor is it a terrifying continuum, of the kind presented yesterday by Gorecki in his Third Symphony.  The hopeless return of the same chord in the first movement of the symphony makes a psychopathic, maniacal, and yet shocking impression – exactly like an inner continuum, something very deep and almost tragic in its assumption, without dramatic calls, without any ‘theatre for theatre’s sake’.  A very strange and unsettling piece.

• 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.


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.


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”.


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.


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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