• Katowice: Skrowaczewski takes a bow

The highpoint of my trip to Katowice last month was my second visit to the new (2014) home of the Polish Radio National SO (NOSPR).  In November that year, I heard the 91-year-old Stanisław Skrowaczewski conduct Shostakovich 5.  I never imagined that I would get to hear him again, but my luck was in again this year.  On 8 April, now 92, Skrowaczewski conducted NOSPR in a luminous account of Bruckner 8.  It was breathtakingly beautiful, intense and uplifting and seamlessly shaped.

As the audience rose in a spontaneous standing ovation, I remembered my camera and shot one of the ‘curtain calls’.

• Katowice: Artists’ Memorial Walkway

IMG_9040 copyOne of the oddest developments in Katowice in recent years has been the erection of a series of sculptural memorials to the city’s creative past.  Since 2005, fifteen figures have been so honoured, although you would be hard-pressed to find this ‘Gallery of Artists’ as it is rather off the beaten track.
Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 11.50.41It’s on Plac Grunwaldski (Grunwald Place), a ten minute walk from Górecki’s home to the north and a similar distance to the famous tilting concrete flying saucer ‘Spodek’ and to the new home for the Polish Radio National SO (designed by Tomasz Konior).  The NOSPR building is fronted by a splendid square named after Wojciech Kilar, while Gorecki has to make do with a desultory link-road nearby.  On the other hand, Górecki is the patron of Katowice’s other orchestra, the Silesian Philharmonic.

On the day after my talk at the Szymanowski Academy of Music, I visited Górecki’s widow Jadwiga with her grandson Jaś.  They had both come to hear me the day before, but this was a time for relaxation, laughter and tasty food (homemade soup, stuffed peppers and the largest chocolate mousse cake I’ve ever seen).  After lunch, Jaś took me to see the ‘Gallery of Artists’, a straight line of individual monuments of similar dimensions but designed and sculpted by different artists in many various ways.

First up, as we walked from the western end of the walkway, were the film actor Zbigniew Cybulski (Wajda’s Generation and Ashes and Diamonds, and many more), whose unusual gravestone is in the same cemetery as Górecki’s and Kilar’s; the conductor Karol Stryja; the artist Paweł Steller; and the writer, artist and actor Stanisław Ligoń.

Then came the raconteur and screen-writer Wilhelm Szewczyk; the artist Jerzy Duda-Gracz; the film actress Aleksandra Śląska, who among other roles played Konstancja Gładkowska in the socialist-realist biopic Chopin’s Youth (1952); and Stanisław Hadyna, who  created the folk song and dance troupe Śląsk, also in 1952.

There followed the actor Bogumił Kobiela, a glance back and forwards along the line, and the children’s author Wilhelm Szewczyk.

The image of the ethnomusicologist Adolf Dygacz came next (he furnished Gorecki with the theme of the finale of the Third Symphony), followed by Górecki‘s monument.  This is a curious one: he is recognisable, but has an uncharacteristic dismissive air in his expression.  His family doesn’t like it, and I’m not sure I do either.  I also find the overall design a bit ghoulish.

The last group starts with Górecki’s fellow composer, Wojciech Kilar, looking especially gaunt and unfortunately the recent recipient on the top of his head of a gift from on high; the last two – for the time being – are the painter Andrzej Urbanowicz and the actor and composer Jan Skrzek.

I was struck by the lugubrious nature of these commemorations.  A full statue is more affirmative, while the bench-statue, very popular in Poland, is even more so.  Gorecki has one in Rydułtowy, which I visited in November two years ago.  It’s good to feel that sense of companionship.

 

• Katowice: Museum of History

A couple of hundred yards from the Szymanowski Academy of Music is the Museum of Katowice History, housed in an upmarket block of flats built in 1908, just a few years after the inauguration of the original building of the Academy.
IMG_9009 copy
IMG_9011 copy
The visitor is greeted by Tomasz Wenklar’s lifesize statue of Witkacy, the multi-faceted creative genius and friend of Szymanowski, casually if incongruously resting his hand on a electricity junction box by the main entrance.
IMG_9012 copy
Further along, is a statue (2011) by the late Piotr Szmytke.  The title – Moorem głowy nie przebijesz – refers to the Polish equivalent of not hitting your head against a brick wall and replaces the correct form of the word for wall (murem) with a certain British sculptor.
IMG_9022 copy
The jewels of the museum are two reconstructed apartments, one typical of a modest household, the other evidently more wealthy.  I was particularly taken in the main room of the latter by the conceit (apparently popular in a city even then with few parks) of placing an elaborate glassed screen, lit by natural light from the bay window, between which plants would be placed to give the illusion of a green outdoors.
IMG_9023 copy
Elsewhere, there were the obligatory keyboard, a fine ceramic-tiled corner stove, other heating devices, an extremely broad family bed, an impressive array of receptacles for ablutions etc. and an electric bell-board.
IMG_9025 copy
IMG_9030 copy
IMG_9031 copy
IMG_9033 copy
IMG_9035 copy…….

(30.04.16) William Hughes has alerted me to the interactive panorama of five rooms in this apartment.  It is on the museum website: www.mhk.katowice.pl/virtual/all_in_one/index.html.

• Katowice: New-Old Academy of Music

Earlier this month I paid a visit to the Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice, at the invitation of Marcin Trzęsiok and Eugeniusz Knapik, to give a lecture during their annual open days.  There was a book launch (a collection of essays, Edvard Grieg and his Times in two versions – one in English, one in Polish – edited by Wojciech Stępień), student papers, two guest lectures, a choral-instrumental concert and a concert of new pieces by student composers.  It was all very stimulating and I thoroughly enjoyed my three days with the staff and students, meeting up with old friends (such as Arkadiusz Kubica of the Silesian String Quartet) and making new ones.

Adding the New

Although I have seen the Academy buildings before (it was where the reception was held after Górecki’s funeral in 2010), I was once again taken aback by the magnificence of the old part and stunned by the brilliant added space designed by Tomasz Konior.  The new part – the Centre of Science and Musical Education – was completed in 2007.  It  houses a new concert hall (where the student compositions were performed), a new library (which furnished me with important research material) and spacious accommodation for visitors.   They are all linked by a glass atrium, a concourse where staff, students and visitors can mingle and enjoy refreshments from the cafe (it does good breakfasts!).  The following links give some idea of these new facilities, inside and outside, but before I mention the latest project, inaugurated a few days before my arrival, here are a few photos of my own to add to the gallery.

You get a great view of the north front of the building from the train as it draws into the main Katowice station:
IMG_9085 copyThe building’s origins in 1901 as the Building Trades School can be seen in the design of the shield above the central window (behind which is the Szabelski Auditorium):
IMG_8942 copyThe week before I arrived, the Music Academy awarded one of its rare and therefore coveted Honorary Doctorates to the former editor-in-chief of PWM, professor at the Kraków Music Academy and distinguished Polish musicologist, Mieczysław Tomaszewski.  At the age of 95, he is the seventh and oldest in the line of recipients, following Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (2003), Krystian Zimerman (2005), Andrzej Jasiński (2006), Stanisław Skrowaczewski (2012), Wojciech Kilar (2013) and Martha Argerich (2015).
IMG_8953 copyThe north-east corner of the Academy shows something of how the old and new buildings are combined:
IMG_8944 copyAnd from the south-east corner (with my guest apartment occupying the first four windows of the top floor and full depth of the eaves):
IMG_8948 copy
The brickwork on the new Centre, such as around the steps into the atrium, is alive with little details:
IMG_8952 copy
The eastern entrance to the atrium, uniting the new and the old:
IMG_8947 copy
Inside, the access corridor for performers alongside the new concert hall has some fun silhouettes:
IMG_8933 copy
IMG_8934 copyThere is also a western entrance to the atrium, and from a hundred metres away the western side of the site shows the new Centre linking the front building with another old edifice (whose venerable stairwell is adorned with portraits of the recipients of the Academy’s honorary doctorands).
IMG_9008 copy

Renewing the Old

The Auditorium in the old Music Academy building has just been rejuvenated thanks to a programme of financial resources injected by the EU, Norway and Poland and of an academic partnership with the Grieg Academy and the University of Bergen (hence the book launch and shared personnel in the the first concert during my visit).

The old auditorium was once the temporary home for the Silesian parliament in 1922-29:
Scan 1
By the time that Górecki and his future wife Jadwiga came to study at the Academy, in the second half of the 1950s, and right through to recently, the murals had been whitewashed and the pipes of an organ obscured the eastern wall.  Here it was that all the concerts took place, including Zimerman’s final undergraduate recital three years after winning the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1975.
Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 20.00.24

Now, after thorough restoration, the Gothic glory of Emil Noellner’s murals can be seen again.  Well, almost.  Here is that same wall on restoration, without the organ pipes and curtains.
ostatnie_szlify_w_auli_20160205_1091758848
It shows, from the edges inwards, the castle at Oleśnica near Wrocław (then Breslau) on the left and the wooden church once at Mikulczycach (right), subsequently moved and then destroyed by fire.  Inside them are the figures of an architect (left) and builder (right).  In the centre is St Hedwig of Silesia.

The only compromise within the whole scheme was the wish to install a new, less sprawling organ.  And I have to say that its design and scale makes the new instrument look totally at home:
IMG_9003 copy

The trouble is that Saint Hedwig, the architect and the builder have disappeared.  But I did spot the architect’s foot poking out from behind the organ case on the left-hand side.
IMG_8999 copy

It’s a pity to lose the centrepiece of this mural.  Maybe the Academy can find a place elsewhere in the building to put up a replica of the missing section.  The acoustics, both for choir (with and without organ) and for instrumental ensemble, were excellent and the renovated Szabelski Auditorium, named after the most important Katowice composer since independence and the teacher of Górecki, is an atmospheric addition to the facilities.  If the murals don’t grab your attention, the stained-glass images in the three large windows overlooking the front of the building, of six Polish composers up to and including Szymanowski, will remind you of the national musical heritage.  All that’s needed now is space for six more recent Polish composers.  Any suggestions?

• Lutosławski’s ‘didlumdi, didlumdaj’

On my visit to the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice last week – and what a terrific institution it is, both in terms of staff and students and of its buildings, old and new – I took advantage of its library to check out a volume that furnished Witold Lutosławski with melodies for his Dance Preludes.  From transcriptions that I found in a folder of folk materials in his house in 2002, I knew that he had relied for the melodies of the first two preludes on the work of Łucjan Kamieński.  It was but a small step to guess that they came from Kamieński’s Pieśni Ludu Pomorskiego, I: Pieśni z Kaszub południowych (Pomeranian Folk Songs, I: Songs from Southern Kaszuby, 1936).

Sure enough, the melodies – one in the first prelude from Borsk, two connected tunes in the second prelude from Rybaki – were there, alongside the other eleven tunes that he’d selected but not used.  Lutosławski had transposed most of the melodies and sometimes modified them rhythmically.  I was hoping that the material for the other three preludes would be in the bulk of the volume that he had not apparently transcribed.  Frustratingly, they were not there, so the search for their sources goes on.

I was tickled by the text of the refrain of the melody for the first prelude, which was also the first tune in Kamieński’s volume.  Now I can no longer listen to Lutosławski’s version without mentally muttering the immortal words: ‘didlumdi, didlumdaj, didlum, didlumdaj!’.

Borsk 1

• Bôłt & 58th ‘Warsaw Autumn’ CDs

More Polish CD goodies came through the post this morning.  First there was a selection of five new releases from the innovative Bôłt Records.  I’m particularly intrigued by three CDs exploring Schubert’s Winterreise.  Details of these and other releases may be found on Bôłt’s English-language website.

IMG_8446 copySecondly, I opened the boxed set of the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ sound chronicle for 2015 (six CDs).  This annual post-Christmas gift is not available commercially but is distributed to institutions and interested parties by the Polish Music Information Centre, and it is always a treat to savour.  As in recent years, the bulk of the recordings is of non-Polish music, and several of the main festival events – indoor and outdoor installations, music theatre – would not have suited the CD format.  Here’s the complete list of recordings (Polish composers in bold, ** = world premiere, * = Polish premiere):

CD1
• Alvin Lucier: Slices for cello and orchestra (2007)* 20’49”
Lidia Zielińska: Sinfonia concertante for small sound devices, small percussion and large orchestra (2014-15)**  26’13”
• Helmut Lachenmann: Air for percussion and large orchestra (1968-69, rev. 1994)  17’42”
• Justė Janulytė: Textile for orchestra (2006-08)*  10’55”

CD2
• Philippe Manoury: Zones de turbulences for two pianos and orchestra (2013)* 13’47”
• Simon Steen-Andersen: Double Up for sampler and small orchestra (2010)*  17’23”
• Ken Ueno: …blood blossoms… for amplified sextet (2002)*  11’45”
Marta Śniady: aer for clarinet/bass clarinet and chamber ensemble (2014)  19’25”
• Stefan Prins: Fremdkörper #3 (mit Michael Jackson) for cgamber ensemble and sampler (2010)*  13’10”

CD3
Jerzy Kornowicz: Wielkie Przejście (The Big Crossing) for piano and other concertante instruments and orchestra (2013)*  19’56”
• Carola Bauckholt: Emil will nicht schlafen… for voice and orchestra (2010)*  9’31”
• José María Sánchez-Verdú: Mural for large orchestra (2009-10)*  15’36”
• Phill Niblock: Baobab for orchestra (2011)*  22’05”

CD4
Paweł Hendrich: Pteropetros for accordion, wind quintet and string quartet (2015)**  15’08”
• Raphaël Cendo: In Vivo for string quartet (2008-11)*  19’45”
Michał Pawełek: Ephreia for string quartet, wind quintet and electronics (2008, new version 2015)**  20’45”
• Alex Mincek: …it conceals within itself… for string trio and piano (2007)*  10’25”

CD5
• Johannes Schöllhorn: Niemandsland for ensemble (2009)*  19’56”
• Vito Žuraj: Re-slide for solo trombone and ensemble (2012, rev. 2015)**  14’39”
Szymon Stanisław Strzelec: L’Atelier de sensorité for amplified prepared cello and chamber orchestra (2015)**  9’55”
• Ragnild Berstad: Cardinem for large ensemble (2014)*  12’11”
• Giacinto Scelsi: Anahit for violin and 18 instruments (1965)  11’31”

CD6 ‘Young Composers’ Carte Blanche’ (prizewinners of the 6th Zygmunt Mycielski Composition Competition)
Dominik Lasota: Concerto for Eight Instruments (2015)**  11’11”
Fabian Rynkowicz: Chaos for ensemble (2015)**  7’39”
• Aruto Matsumoto: Reunion for ensemble (2015)**  9’06”
Marcin Piotr Łopacki: Musica concertante op.74 for ensemble (2015)**  10’07”
Aleksandra Chmielewska: Trans-4-mation for ensemble (2015)**  6’16”
Żaneta Rydzewska: MorE for ensemble (2015)**  11’19”

• Zakopane crib

I’ve just unboxed, as I do at this time each year, a seasonal reminder that I bought in Zakopane in December 1998.  I was there to celebrate Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s 65th birthday with his family and friends.  Everything was deep in snow. The following morning I went with Susan Bamert from Boosey & Hawkes to explore the market at the foot of the ski slope at Gubałówka.  Tempted though I was by fragrant cheeses, my eye was caught by a carved wooden crib of not inconsiderable size and weight.  I could not resist and somehow managed to get it home in one piece.  It has adorned the house every Christmas since.  I love its open and subtle craft, the use of bark, straw and willow, and its lack of commercial veneer.

IMG_8178 copy

Here are a few other angles:

IMG_8190 copy

IMG_8191 copy

IMG_8196 copy

%d bloggers like this: