• 5th Festival of Premieres, Katowice

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

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

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

• On What Would Have Been His 78th Birthday

On what would have been Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s 78th birthday, his daughter Anna has sent me a photograph of his newly installed gravestone (nagrobek).  One of the words which I have long used to describe his music is ‘granitic’, so I am fascinated by the sculptural use of this material above what looks like a smooth, dark-slate grave cover.  It conveys the character of the man and his creative outlook brilliantly: rugged, imposing and unconventional, yet warm-hearted, touching and touchable.

• A Last Amen for Górecki

I had not intended to post so much on Górecki over the past few days, but events and memories have rather taken over.  Not least of these are my recollections of the funeral, which took place in Katowice on this date last year.  I hope that my account below will give some sense of the occasion.

I caught an early train from Warsaw along with Polish friends and colleagues.  The cloud hung grey and dismal over the central lowlands.  Katowice looked the same as it had two weeks earlier, when I’d come to see Górecki for what turned out to be the last time.  Katowice, too, was grey and dismal, but then it often looks that way.  There was time for a reviving cup of tea and a sandwich, time for my friend to collect a bouquet, and time to buy the new edition of Tygodnik Powszechny, which had published my appreciation of Górecki along with those of others.  We walked to the Arch-Cathedral of Christ the King, whose huge dome sits squatly atop the cruciform building.  The dome should have been higher, but the post-war communist authorities did not want a Christian building dominating the area.  It was just as well that we arrived early, because the Cathedral was packed long before the scheduled start at 13.00.

Górecki had been cremated the previous day, in a private ceremony.  I was told that the Roman Catholic church in Poland barely tolerates cremation and would not countenance a funeral service beforehand, which is customary here in the UK.  (I recollect that, in 1994, Lutosławski’s ashes were brought to the chapel in Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw for the funeral service.  He had been cremated in the (then) only crematorium in Poland, in Poznań in the centre of the country.)  Urns are always buried, as the scattering of ashes is illegal in Poland.  Most of the close relatives, including his daughter Anna and her family, arrived at 12.45, his widow Jadwiga and son Mikołaj on the dot of 13.00.  They were followed by the funeral directors bearing wreaths and Górecki’s funeral urn, which was placed, gently sloping, on its back, with a large central candle behind and the funeral plaque in front.

The ceremony was in two parts, designed to last about two hours.  Almost inevitably, it overran, by almost an hour. First there was a concert, then the service proper.  The musical institutions of Katowice and further afield had pulled out all the stops.  Górecki’s former pupil, Eugeniusz Knapik, who is the senior figure at the Academy of Music in the city, where both Górecki and he studied, had played a key role in bringing everything together.  Three of Katowice’s orchestras performed – the National SO of Polish Radio, the Silesian PO and the AUKSO CO – alongside soloists and choirs from Katowice and Kraków.

The concert began with Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater, a work with which Górecki had a deep affinity.  Unfortunately, the Cathedral has a ballooning acoustic with a reverberation time of almost 10″.  The a cappella fourth movement, however, sounded well.  There followed a performance of Górecki’s Beatus vir (1979), the last of the three monumental works that he composed in the 70s – it had been preceded by the Second Symphony ‘Copernican’ (1972) and Third Symphony ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ (1975).  It sounded as strong and imposing as it must have done at its first performance, which Górecki conducted in Kraków in front of the newly elected John-Paul II.

The mass, which began at 14.15, was presided over by Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, a close family friend.  There were addresses by other church figures, by the Minister of Culture and by the President of the Polish Composers’ Union.  In the congregation were composers of Górecki’s generation – Krzysztof Penderecki (Kraków) and Wojciech Kilar (Katowice) – and younger ones too, including Górecki’s pupils Knapik and Rafał Augustyn.  As far as I am aware, I was the only person from abroad, which I found rather sad, given how significant had been the relationship between the composer and major broadcasting, concert, publishing and recording institutions outside Poland.

There were a couple of musical surprises too.  A performance of Totus Tuus was to be expected, but Penderecki conducting Amen was less so.  And I was not the only one to be taken unawares, at the start of the communion service, by the performance of an excerpt from Strauss’s Metamorphosen.  According to his widow, this had been the one musical request for his funeral that Górecki had made.

The ceremonies came to a close at 15.45.  This must have come as a blessed relief for the representatives of organisations from Katowice and the Polish mountains who had stood with their banners at the far end of the Cathedral for the preceding three hours (see the photo above).  They now moved down to the aisle, leading the procession out of the main doors.  Górecki’s oldest grandchild, still in his mid-teens, carried the urn, flanked by his father and his uncle.  Then began the walk to the cemetery.  It took some 15′ for everyone to leave the Cathedral, and by this time dusk was falling fast.  We proceeded slowly up the side street, just a few hundred metres, and into the cemetery, but such was the crush of people that I had to look on from some distance.

En route, a miner’s band played solemn music and the urn was carried in relay, concluding with a trio of mourners from the mountain town of Zakopane (also carrying the plaque and a heart-shaped carved box containing soil from the mountains).  Most of Górecki’s happiest moments had been spent in this region since the late 1950s.  He honeymooned there and for many years in the 1970s and 80s rented a log cabin in the little village of Chochołów, before finally buying his own house in the 1990s in the village of Ząb, on a high ridge facing the magnificent jagged peaks of the Tatra Mountains.  He revelled in the views and the culture of the place.

At the graveside, further prayers and blessings were said, the urn placed in the ground and the mountain soil poured over.

There was then a patient wait to greet the family, a process further lengthened by the many mourners who carefully placed their wreaths and bouquets, creating a waist-high bank of flowers around the grave.  I became aware, beyond the low murmuring about me, of distant music.  It seemed familiar.  50 or so metres away, indistinguishable in the shadows, was a folk kapela, a string ensemble from the mountains.  They were playing a melody from the Tatras, keening and unbelievably poignant.  Earlier, they had walked from the Cathedral in daylight.  Now, they were paying a final tribute to their adopted son as night closed in.

Postscript

At the reception afterwards in the Academy of Music, his widow Jadwiga told me about her husband’s last moments. She has now repeated the story in public in an interview, ‘Dom na dwa fortepiany’ (Home for Two Pianos), in the Polish Catholic weekly Gość Niedzielny (Sunday Guest, 13 November 2011, 58-59):

Father Krzysztof Tabath, the hospital chaplain for Katowice-Ochojec, … came to the hospital half an hour later than usual.  At my request, he movingly described those last moments: “Eventually, I reached Mr Gorecki.  I began with “Our Father”, then “Hail Mary”, and then “Soul of Christ, sanctify me” “.  And there, the whole time, above the bed, were flashing the monitors to which my husband was connected.  During the saying of the prayer the display panel gradually dimmed, then went out altogether, and he died. During the prayer, he had crossed over into the other world.  I cannot imagine a better death.  It was simply wonderful.  I am happy that it was like that.

When Jadwiga told me the story, she added the resonant detail that Henryk had died as the priest uttered the final ‘Amen’.

• Polish Orchestra Named After Górecki

The city of Katowice in southern Poland today honoured its most famous and distinguished musical son.  The Silesian PO (Filharmonia Śląska) has been named in memory of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, who died on 12 November 2010.

His widow Jadwiga, who was present at the announcement, said that the initiative to confer the title left her “breathless with delight and emotion”.  Also present were their daughter Anna, her husband and their three children.

Górecki’s association with the Silesian PO went back to before he became a student at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice in 1955.  He would often travel from his home town two hours away to hear concerts both by the Silesian PO and by the other full-size symphony orchestra in Katowice, the Great SO of Polish Radio.

The Silesian PO first honoured Górecki, while he was still a student, by devoting an entire concert to his recent compositions.  On 27 February 1958, it premiered Toccata for two pianos (1955), Variations for violin and piano (1956), Quartettino (1956), Songs of Joy and Rhythm (1956), Sonata for two violins (1957) and Concerto for Five Instruments and String Quartet (1957).  It subsequently premiered Epitafium (1958) at the 2nd ‘Warsaw Autumn’ Festival on 3 October 1958, Genesis II: Canti strumentali (1962) at the 6th ‘Warsaw Autumn’ on 16 September 1962 and Choros I (1964) at the 8th ‘Warsaw Autumn’ on 22 September 1964.

In choosing Górecki as its patron, the Silesian PO is following an honourable new tradition in Polish music.  The Zielona Góra PO renamed itself after the composer Tadeusz Baird in 1982, the year after his death, and the Wrocław PO renamed itself after Witold Lutosławski in 1994, with the blessing of his widow, who died just three months after her husband.

The commemorations to mark the first anniversary of Górecki’s death have already included a concert last night in which his Three Pieces in Old Style (1963) was played.  Tomorrow night, the ‘Górecki Philharmonic’, conducted by Mirosław Błaszczyk, will give a concert in the Arch-Cathedral in Katowice (where the funeral service was held last year).  Opening the programme will be the premiere of Nocturne (2011) by Górecki’s son Mikołaj, and this will be followed by a performance of Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

• A Conversation with Henryk Górecki

Exactly one year ago I flew to Poland for what turned out to be my last meetings with Henryk Mikołaj Górecki.  When I had learned a few days earlier that he had been awarded Poland’s highest honour, the Order of the White Eagle, and that the presentation had taken place at his hospital bedside, I sensed that the end was near.  His fellow composer Witold Lutosławski (1913-94) had been honoured in the same way just before his death, although he was too ill to receive it in person.

Staying once again with members of Górecki’s family, I was taken on three occasions to see Henryk in his hospital on the outskirts of Katowice.  It is never easy to see a close friend in such circumstances, when their vivacity, robustness and combativeness have seemingly vanished.  He was able to communicate only through those still-penetrating eyes.  I showed him pictures of the moorland where I live and reminisced about the often hilarious holiday that I had with him and the family at Chochołów in the Tatra Mountains in August 1987 and about our many walks and talks together.  I recounted my recent visit to the St Magnus Festival in Orkney, where the Royal Quartet from Poland had given an unforgettable account of his Third String Quartet ‘… songs are sung’ and where I’d been mesmerised by the pianism and imagination of the jazz interpretations by Leszek Możdżer.  Even though all he could do was to look me straight in the eye, as he always did, I knew that he’d been listening and had understood.  There were to be no more moments like this.  I wish now that I had had the forethought to bring along some poetry or other texts to read to him, just as depicted in the film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

I may yet write about the day of his death (12 November 2010) and his funeral five days later, but for now I’m going to fast-forward to 10 September 2011.  I’ve been rather tardy in writing about a touching and somewhat whimsical tribute that was paid to him on that day in Poland.

Photo by Karol Kusz

Between the ages of two and twenty two, before he went to study composition in Katowice, Górecki lived some 50km to the south west, in a small town called Rydułtowy. There he went to school and subsequently taught primary school children a range of subjects, including Polish history, maths, biology, natural history and art.  Earlier this year, the town recognised its most famous son by renaming the Public Library in his honour.  On 10 September, ceremonies were held to mark the occasion, including the customary speeches and musical performances.  Górecki’s widow, Jadwiga, unveiled a plaque inside the library and also unveiled a sculpture outside.  But this sculpture – or is it a statue, or perhaps an installation? – is not a run-of-the-mill representation of the composer, nor an abstract concept inspired by his music.  It’s more in the line of Maggi Hambling’s A Conversation with Oscar Wilde (1998), which has been placed in London at the bottom of the pedestrian Adelaide St, behind the church of St Martin’s in the Fields and close to Charing Cross station.

Whereas Hambling (left) gives passers-by the opportunity to sit on Wilde’s all-too-solid ‘coffin’ and have a face-to-face exchange of witty one-liners (or sit in the opposite direction and ignore him), Henryk Fojcik’s sculpture (above) encourages side-by-side contemplation.  Górecki sits on the right-hand side of a posher-than-normal park bench, a lamp-post placed centrally behind (plenty of openings here on a rainy day for Gene Kelly impersonators).  He’s reading what looks like a newspaper, although I never knew him as an avid reader of newsprint.

In the picture below, in which his widow Jadwiga was persuaded to sit next to him on the bench, it seems that Górecki is looking instead at a piece of music, even though it’s oversize and much bigger than his largest score, Scontri.  He wasn’t one for looking at his existing compositions, either.  He preferred to work on new pieces.  It’s a good likeness, however: the head and face are pretty faithful and characteristic (much more so than the relief image on the plaque inside the library) and his body posture is very well captured.  And there is something wonderfully relaxed, quietly alive and of good humour about Fojcik’s sculpture.  It invites participation and companionship.

For myself, I think a chance has been missed by having his eyes downcast.  How more engaging it would be if his head had been facing towards the other person on the bench, fixing him or her with his searching eyes as if to say: “What are you doing now? … Well, get up and do it!”.

Further information may be found online at

• < http://www.biblioteka.rydultowy.pl/archiwum.php?id=263> – a report by the Rydułtowy Public Library of the event on 10 September 2011, with 27 photographs.

• < http://www.telewizjatvt.pl/raport/2011-09-13/5103> – a short news video by the local television station of the events on 10 September 2011.

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