• 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?

• Dwurnik on the Pendereckis

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

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• 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.

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Here are a few other angles:

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• Ławka Góreckiego (Górecki’s Bench)

Now with added photos!  Two weeks ago, Anna Górecka and her husband took me to see the Górecki Bench outside his old primary school in Rydułtowy (now the Public Library).  The bench invites one to sit, so I duly did.  It was oddly touching, given that it is just a sculpture.  But I’d much rather have been sitting next to the man himself. Happy 81st, Henryk!

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I wrote about Henryk’s bench when it was unveiled three years ago.  Górecki’s figure is slightly less than life-size.

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The likeness is variable but, as Anna Górecka pointed out, it is best when viewed from his left side.

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It is a pity that the sculptor, like so many visual artists, thought that it would suffice just to throw a few random notes onto the pages of the score that Henryk is reading.  What an opportunity missed.  A few fragments of Elementi (1962) would have been just the thing.

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Still, the sculpture has become quite a draw and appreciated by the local community.  When it was removed a year ago for retouching, the police were inundated with calls from the public saying that it had been stolen.

Early in the day we had driven up and down a street named in Górecki’s honour.  It is more like a boulevard and at two kilometres surely the longest thoroughfare named after a Polish composer.  It is part of Rybnik’s ring road, completed in 2011, and runs south from Rondo Elektrowni to Rondo Solidarności.  He’d have appreciated that.

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• New CD Appreciation (Krauze/Bôłt)

Krauze-1The Polish independent CD label, Bôłt Records, is one of the most inventive both inside and outside Poland.  Not only has it reissued recordings of key experimental works from the 1960s and 1970s but it has also given recording opportunities to current composers and performers to revisit such pieces.  One of the composers on whom Bôłt has focused is Zygmunt Krauze, five years younger than Penderecki and Górecki and just as distinctive a figure.  This CD, for which I wrote a short appreciation of Krauze’s music, presents archive recordings of four works from 1975-80, a significant period in Polish musical and cultural life.

Here’s the link to my appreciation for this new Krauze CDor you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

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