• 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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(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):
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The brickwork on the new Centre, such as around the steps into the atrium, is alive with little details:
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The eastern entrance to the atrium, uniting the new and the old:
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Inside, the access corridor for performers alongside the new concert hall has some fun silhouettes:
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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).
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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:
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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.
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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.
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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:
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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.
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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!’.

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• Górecki in wooden covers

I find it hard to believe that it is five years to the day that my irreplaceable friend, composer and life-force, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, died in Katowice.  But rather than dwell on this loss, I have dug up a memory from his 60th birthday, 6 December 1993.  The Great Symphony Orchestra of Polish Radio (WOSPR, now known as NOSPR, ‘National’) put on a celebratory concert of Górecki’s Second Symphony ‘Copernican’ and the Second Symphony by his beloved Karol Szymanowski (although he loved other Szymanowski works better).  Last year, not before time, NOSPR was rehoused in a wonderful purpose-built home the other side of the city, not ten minutes’ walk from Górecki’s house. (Deservedly, the new NOSPR building won ‘event of the year’ at last night’s annual musical ‘Koryfeusz’ awards in Warsaw, along with the composer Pawel Mykietyn for ‘personality of the year’, while the conductor Stanisław Skrowacewzki was honoured for his lifetime achievement.  To bring it full circle, Skrowaczewski conducted in the new hall last November.)

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At the reception after the concert in 1993, there was a surprise announcement from the then MD of the Polish Music Publishers, PWM.  PWM had imaginatively commissioned students of the School of Fine Arts in Zakopane, in the Tatra Mountains, to sculpt 25 wooden covers for commemorative copies of Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. I was one of the lucky recipients of this unusual gift and my no.4 is a treasured memento.  Five years later, for his 65th birthday, Górecki invited me, along with Susan Bamert from Boosey & Hawkes, to celebrate the occasion in snowy Zakopane, in a wooden chałupa (a traditional cottage), with much wining, dining, singing and dancing – and no symphonies.  But I haven’t dug those photos out yet.

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• 6th Festival of Premieres, Katowice

Last November, the 21st to be exact, I visited the new and magnificent home in Katowice of NOSPR, the Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra.  The occasion was a performance of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony under the baton of the 91-year-old Stanisław Skrowaczewski.

1510969_530640500404789_5062398667736756849_nIt was a searing account, made all the more special because that very morning I had come across a programme from 1949 when Skrowaczewski had conducted the same work with the other Katowice orchestra, the Silesian Philharmonic.  65 years on, and still going strong.

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I hope that in 2080 someone will come across the programme of NOSPR’s 6th Festiwal Prawykonań (Festival of Premieres, 17-19 April 2015) and make a similar connection with a performer or composer being featured in this edition.  The big change is that all the concerts will take place in the orchestra’s new home, barely ten minutes’ walk from Henryk Mikołaj Gorecki’s home.  The siedziba, as it’s called in Polish, not only includes the main symphony hall but the equally fine acoustics of the chamber hall.

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Back in 2013, I listed the repertoire of the 5th Festival.  This year, such is the diversity and extent of Polish composition that 75% of the names are different.  This biennial event is a great initiative, arguably the most important showcase for new Polish concert music.  It demonstrates the cultural significance of publicly-funded bodies like radio orchestras (Radio France take note).  I do not know the schedule of live or deferred broadcasts planned by Polish Radio Dwójka (PR2).

6-festiwal-prawykonanThe ensembles featured include Camerata Silesia, conducted by Anna Szostak, Orchestra Muzyki Nowej (New Music Orchestra), conducted by Szymon Bywalec, NOSPR conducted by Alexander Humala, Szymon Bywalec and José Maria Florêncio, Kwartludium, Kwartet Śląski (Silesian Quartet) and the AUKSO Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Marek Moś.

Here’s this year’s repertoire, in alphabetical order by composer:

** World premiere   * Polish premiere
• Rafał Augustyn: String Quartet no.3 ‘Monadologia’**
• Zbigniew Bagiński: String Quartet no.5**
• Zbigniew BargielskiHierofania 2 for orchestra**
• Marcin BłażewiczVisions for soprano, violin and piano**
• Marcin Bortnowskiku dźwiękom nocy for string quartet and accordion**
• Stanisław BromboszczAir for instrumental ensemble and electronic media**
• Roman Czura: Piano Concerto ‘Kraftfelder’**
• Jacek DomagałaElegia for voice and ensemble**
• Zofia DowgiałłoKompozycja z ruchomym tłem for orchestra**
• Cezary DuchnowskiSymfonia zbiorów for instrumental groups and electronics**
• Grzegorz DuchnowskiW malinowym chruśniaku for soprano and piano**
• Jan DuszyńskiSfex for accordion and cello**
• Mikołaj GóreckiElegia for cello and string orchestra**
• Marek GruckaRetaeh for piano, strings and percussion**
• Maciej Jabłoński: Symphony no.6 ‘Oneirophrenia’ for orchestra, electronics and multimedia**
• Zaid Jabri (Syrian composer living in Kraków): Beati Pacifici for soprano and piano*
• Justyna Kowalska-Łasoń która wszystko tworzy, wszystko ochrania for mixed choir of soloists, chamber orchestra and live electronics**
• Hanna Kulenty: Trumpet Concerto no.3**
• Sławomir Kupczak: white over red for mixed choir**
• Andrzej Kwiecińskierschallen for double bass and orchestra**
• Krzysztof MeyerMuzyka świata i półcienia for orchestra*
• Piotr Mossgo where never before for choir and instrumental ensemble*
PRASQUAL (aka Tomasz Prasqual): Muqarnyas for accordion and two orchestras in six spatial groups**
• Zbigniew SłowikThe Motor Poem (Quo vadis homine) for orchestra**
• Joanna Szymała: Clarinet Quintet**
• Sławomir Wojciechowski…play them back for ansambl and electronics**
• Emil Bernard WojtackiZefiro torna for soprano and orchestra**
• Artur ZagajewskiMechanofaktura**

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