• Woodworm Don’t Like Your Music

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 09.10.32I don’t think I have ever seen such a colourful series of titles for the BBC Radio 3 series Composer of the Week.  Today, and for the rest of this week, it’s the turn of Grażyna Bacewicz, presented by Donald Macleod with me muttering a few words from the wings.  The titles are nothing to do with me, but I hope that they bring in the listeners!

Programmes are broadcast at 12.00 (BST) and repeated at 18.30 (except Fri, when the repeat is at 19.00).

An Unseen Little Engine (Mon 25 May)
A Mood of Determined Resistance (Tues 26 May)
A False Dawn (Wed 27 May)
Opening the Modernist Floodgates (Thurs 28 May)
Woodworm Don’t Like Your Music (Fri 29 May)

Full repertoire details in my earlier post.

• BBC R3: Bacewicz is COTW (25-29.05)

n1877p01At last!  In two weeks’ time, Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-69) will be BBC Radio 3’s Composer of the Week.  Five programmes, each lasting an hour, will be broadcast 25-29 May, at 12 noon and again at 18.30.  Donald Macleod presents, as usual, and I’ll be chipping in with a few comments towards the end of each programme.  I’ve not been involved in the selection of the repertoire.


I’ve just been looking back at coverage of Polish composers on COTW.  Sadly, the BBC webpages (once you’ve learned how to navigate them) are reliable only for the past ten years.  Before that, specific years and dates then become very patchy and there is nothing concrete before 2001 except an alphabetical list of names since the series’ inception in 1943.

Chopin has been well represented over the years, but what of 20th-century Polish composers?  Is it not strange that neither Górecki nor Penderecki has been featured?  (I was asked to contribute to a Górecki week last year, but when I was unavailable for recording the proposal was postponed and I’ve heard nothing since; I hope it will resurface soon.)  If COTW can cover Henze (2005), Ligeti (2009) and Schnittke (2010), why not their near-contemporaries in Poland?  Panufnik was featured in his centenary year (2014), but Lutosławski was passed by in his (2013).  Szymanowski, on the other hand, has been almost over-exposed.  Here is my list, extracted from the COTW webpages (the 2006 slot may be a repeat):

• 2014: Andrzej Panufnik
• 2011: Karol Szymanowski
• 2010: Fryderyk Chopin
• 2008: Fryderyk Chopin
• 2006: Karol Szymanowski
• 2004: Karol Szymanowski

Before Donald Macleod became the voice of COTW, other presenters participated, including myself.  In the 1990s I presented a few weeks and Roxana Panufnik presented one on her father:

• 1998: Karol Szymanowski
• 1993: Andrzej Panufnik (as part of R3’s Polska! festival)
• 1993: Polish Romantics (“) – Karłowicz, Moniuszko, Noskowski, Paderewski, Wieniawski, Zarębski
• 1993: Witold Lutosławski

It seems to me that there is an unanswerable case for Górecki, Penderecki and Lutosławski to be included in future plans for COTW.  They are more than equal to quite a few composers who have been featured in the series over the past ten years.  There are other Polish names too, who might be grouped together if there was insufficient recorded material for them to be treated singly: Kazimierz Serocki, Tadeusz Baird, Wojciech Kilar and Zygmunt Krauze come to mind, or even composers of younger generations.  And there is now much more available on 19th-century Polish music, not to mention the Polish Renaissance and Baroque.  But back, for now, to Bacewicz.


Part of the challenge for a representative coverage of Bacewicz’s music is the lack of recordings of certain periods, although there was a surge of CDs around the centenary of her birth.  This is particularly obvious of the mid-1960s, where works such as Musica sinfonica (1965), Contradizione (1965), In una parte (1967) and the Viola Concerto (1968) have never been issued on CD.  There is, for example, only one recording of the key work Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion (1958).  That was made for the Chandos label in 2009, her centenary year.  Once again, when it comes to the recording of Polish music, it is a British company that has taken the lead.  Given the available recorded repertoire, the choice made by COTW presents a good, more-or-less chronological sample of Bacewicz’s music.  I hope it will garner new enthusiasts for her music, especially among performers and promoters.  Here’s the day-by-day list of works that have been selected (movement details tbc):

Monday 25 May
• Sonatina for piano, first movement (1933)
• Violin Sonata no.3 (1948)
Children’s Suite for piano, movements 1-5 (1933)
• Sinfonietta for strings (1936)
• Violin Concerto no.1 (1937)

Tuesday 26 May
• Three Songs (1938)
Three Grotesques for piano (1935)
• Violin Sonata no.1 ‘Sonata da camera’ (1945)
• Violin Concerto no.2, movements 2 and 3 (1945)
• Overture (1943)

Wednesday 27 May
• String Quartet no.3 (1947)
• Violin Sonata no.4 (1949)
• Concerto for String Orchestra (1948)

Thursday 28 May
• String Quartet no.4, first movement (1951)
• Partita for violin and piano (1955)
• Ten Concert Studies for piano, nos 1-3 (1956)
Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion (1958)

Friday 29 May
Pensieri notturni for orchestra (1961)
• Piano Quintet no.2, movements 1 and 2 (1965)
• Violin Concerto no.7 (1965)
• Divertimento for strings (1965)

• BBC R3 ‘Polska!’: Brochure & Previews

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 20.26.52For its main Polska! image, the BBC chose a still photograph by Eustachy Kossakowski of a 1967 happening by one of Poland’s most exploratory theatre directors, Tadeusz Kantor.  It was taken at Osieki on the north-west Polish coast during ‘A Sea Concert’.  Kossakowski took a number of photos of the event.  Here are a couple, including the one which furnished Polska! with its striking image:

A Sea Concert:1

Tadeusz-Kantor Eustachy Kossakowski Panoramic Sea Happening, Osieki, 1967

Ironically, although it was understandable for practical reasons on radio, Kantor did not feature in the drama coverage of Polska!.  The ‘conductor’ was the Polish artist Edward Krasiński, best known perhaps for his introduction a year later of a wide blue sellotape line that wove its way through his installations.

Here is the complete publicity brochure for the festival.

Polska! brochure cover

Polska! brochure:1

Polska! brochure:2

Polska! brochure:3

Polska! brochure:4

Polska! brochure:5

Early publicity was key.  But there is always one disaffected voice carping from the sidelines, warping both the intention and the actuality.  In this instance, it was Dermot Clinch in his ‘A Critical Guide: Staying In (Friday)’, The Independent on Sunday, 14 November 1993:

Polska! (7.30pm-12.30am R3).  Gone are the days of single programmes based simply on a single idea. It’s theme nights and seasons all the way.  Today, the start of Polish fortnight – and what more beguiling hook than the “75th anniversary of the reconstitution of Poland as an independent state”?  Including: Szymanowski’s String Quartet no.2 (7.45pm) and Lutoslawski’s Fourth Symphony (11.15pm).  And then the big names: Zarebski, Krupowicz, Palester…

The anticipatory response elsewhere was overwhelmingly positive.  Here are six preview pieces (I’ll post reviews later): one by myself, one from the radio critic of The Sunday Times, a short contribution from the senior music critic from The Guardian, plus an interview with me in London’s Dziennik Polski and two pieces from Warsaw’s Gazeta Wyborcza and Rzeczpozpolita.

• Adrian Thomas, ‘Cultural glories of the great survivors’, The Times, 19 November 1993
• Ewa Turska, ‘Sezon polski w BBC’, Rzeczpozpolita, 19 November 1993
• Dorota Szwarcman, ‘Sezon polski w BBC 3’, Gazeta Wyborcza, 19 November 1993
• Paul Donovan, ‘Radio Waves: Poles without politics’, The Sunday Times, 21 November 1993
• Tomasz Walkiewicz, ‘Jestem zauroczony tym krajem’ (interview with Adrian Thomas), Dziennik Polski, 22 November 1993
• Andrew Clements, ‘Diary: Polishing up Radio 3’, The Guardian, 23 November 1993

Polska! Thomas

Polska! Turska

Polska! Szwarcman

Polska! Donovan

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 14.25.34

Polska! Clements

• BBC R3 ‘Polska!’: 19 November 1993

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 20.26.52Twenty years ago today I was in Warsaw preparing to present my first ever live concert, and I could hardly have chosen a more publicised event.  I was at Studio S1 at Polish Radio, broadcasting to BBC Radio 3 for the opening concert of Polska!, the most extensive celebration of any nation’s culture mounted by a single BBC channel.  For 18 days, from 19 November to 6 December 1993, Radio 3 broadcast over 120 separate programmes involving producers, writers, performers and broadcasters not only from the musical world but many others too: poetry, fiction, drama, art, cabaret, history, cuisine, politics.

In late 1992, I was working as Head of Music at Radio 3.  I was wondering how the station might celebrate the 60th birthdays, at the end of the following year, of Krzysztof Penderecki (23 November) and Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (6 December) as well as mark the 80th birthday of Witold Lutosławski at the start of the 1993.  (Little did we know that Lutosławski had already been diagnosed with cancer as Polska! began and that he would die in February 1994.)  I went to discuss the idea of a festival with the Controller of Radio 3, Nicholas Kenyon, and we quickly realised that we had the resources to organise something really special, involving not only all the BBC orchestras and the BBC Singers but the other departments which contributed to the rich variety of Radio 3’s programming.  If I remember correctly, it was Nicholas Kenyon who came up with the title and he was unreservedly enthusiastic and encouraging.  And so Polska! was born.


Over the next 18 days, I will be posting occasionally about Polska!, its live and recorded music repertoire, its non-musical programmes, the press coverage in the UK and in Poland, and including as many direct images of press reviews etc. as possible.

Although I had left the channel at the end of June 1993, I remained deeply involved in the planning and programming of Polska! and was slated to do some of the presentation, both in Poland and the UK.  Hence my ‘continuity’ presence in Warsaw on 19 November.  A flavour of the musical breadth of the festival may be gathered from that evening’s five-hour opener, ‘Poland Now’ (a second blockbuster came towards the end of the festival).

Homma 1993

The opening evening’s main feature was the live broadcast from Polish Radio 2.  The first half was devoted to chamber music (I was intent on including the then-neglected Zarębski Piano Quintet, which today has a deservedly higher profile), while the second consisted of contemporary vocal repertoire (including Paweł Szymański’s recent Miserere, a commission from Polish Radio).

Polska! Programme 19.11.93

In the interval, for ‘A Musician’s Lot’, I talked with Szymański and two other Polish composers – Rafał Augustyn and Zygmunt Krauze –  as well as to the pianist Paweł Kowalski, to Monika Strugała, one of the organisers of the choral festival Wratislavia Cantans, to Elżbieta Szczepańska, Head of Promotion at the music publisher PWM, and to Andrzej Rakowski, a professor at the Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw and the author of a recent report on music education in Poland.

In the 45′ profile of Polish political life – still a compelling issue four years after the ‘Round Table’ conference of 1989 had restored a level of democracy to the country – Piotr Kowalczuk was joined by Krzysztof Bobiński (Financial Times), the writer and lawyer Wiktor Osiatyński and Andrzej Wróblewski (Polityka), among others.

A second recent Polish Radio commission followed – Stanisław Krupowicz’s Fin-de-siècle, introduced by the composer and performed by WOSPR (Polish Radio Great SO), conducted by Takao Ukigaya.  For ‘A Composer’s Lot’, I was joined again by Augustyn, Krauze and Szymański, by three other composers, Krupowicz, Hanna Kulenty and Marta Ptaszyńska, and by Grzegorz Michalski from Polish Radio 2 and Elżbieta Szczepańska from PWM.

We were then able to draw on that year’s ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival when Lutosławski had conducted a complete programme of his own music with the Warsaw PO (it turned out to be his last appearance on the podium in Poland). He talked with me about the Fourth Symphony to introduce the broadcast.  Palester’s Adagio for Strings (1954) was performed by Sinfonia Varsovia under Jan Krenz.

The evening had begun with a specially recorded performance by Piers Lane of Chopin’s Etudes op.10 (virtually all of Chopin’s music was played during Polska! and Lane bookended the festival on 6 December with the Etudes op.25).  It ended with Szymanowski’s Myths and, like every subsequent evening of the festival, the last notes were left to one or more of Szymanowski’s mazurkas.

• Jeux vénitiens: R3’s 50th Modern Classic

I’ve just caught a fine performance of Lutosławski’s Jeux vénitiens (1960-61) on BBC iPlayer (Radio).  It was from last Saturday’s Hear and Now on Radio 3, so it’ll be available for another 96 hours.  For the past year, Hear and Now has been using part of its precious hour and a half each Saturday night to highlight a composer and a work which has brought something new to music in the second half of the 20th-century.  It has been an absorbing series, with many well-known names and pieces passed over in favour of something more radical, curious or forgotten.  You can download the spoken introductions to all 50 ‘modern classics’ here.

At one stage, the producers were thinking of including Górecki’s Symphony no.3 in the roster, but in the end the only Polish piece to make it onto the list was Lutosławski’s Jeux vénitiens.  No, there wasn’t even a space for Penderecki’s Threnody, one of the iconic works from the 1960s.  Ah well.  But Jeux vénitiens is a good example of Polish experimentalism at its height (it’s contemporaneous with the Penderecki).

On the podcast, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Paul Griffiths give succinct comments, mainly on the (then new) aleatory component in his musical language, though its twelve-note harmonic aspect is not neglected.  Curiously, the words ‘aleatory’ and ‘ad libitum’ are mentioned by neither Salonen nor Griffiths (maybe ‘random’ and ‘uncoordinated’ have displaced terms which now may be thought as too unfamiliar).  Equally, ‘twelve-note’ (harmony) is notable by its absence.  It’s a pity, perhaps, that other aspects specific to the piece are given short shrift, or not mentioned at all. There is no reference to how the music develops in any of the movements (brutal intercutting in the first, accelerated superimposition in the fourth), no mention of thematic connections between the first and third movements, no notice given to the way that Lutosławski links the third and fourth movements harmonically.

It is very nice to hear Lutosławski himself talking (he, however, does mention ‘ad libitum’ and ‘aleatoric’), from an interview made with an unheard Thea Musgrave in 1973.  By that time, he had already adopted his defensive posture against being associated closely with Cage (and other ‘more radical’ composers).  He makes his point with some force in this interview, which suggests that he was already somewhat impatient with such links being made on a routine basis by commentators.  His closing comments about the future direction of avant-garde music also make for interesting listening.

The timing of this broadcast is opportune.  Not only does Jeux vénitiens complete the ’50 Modern Classics’ series, but its position looks ahead to 2013 and the centenary of Lutosławski’s birth on 25 January.  I hope he’ll receive a good hearing on Radio 3 next year, as long as Britten, Verdi and Wagner don’t hog the limelight.

• BBC R3 NGAs 2012: A Third Polish Quartet

A third Polish string quartet has become a member of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artist scheme.  The appointment of the Apollon Musagète Quartett (2012-14) follows on from the successes of the Karol Szymanowski Quartet (2001-03) and the Royal Quartet (2004-06).  Both the Szymanowski and Royal quartets have since made distinguished careers, although of the three only the Royal Quartet still seems to be based in Poland.

All three quartets are active in the recording studio.  The Royal Quartet’s CD of the three Górecki quartets (2011) has been critically acclaimed, and its follow-up CD of the quartets by Lutosławski and Penderecki is due for release early next year.  Even more imminent is the Szymanowski Quartet’s recording with Jonathan Plowright of Zarębski’s Piano Quintet and Żeleński’s Piano Quartet.  All of these recordings are on Hyperion.

I’ve not been able to find out anything about the Apollon Musagète Quartett prior to its founding in Vienna in 2006, so I don’t know what the players’ Polish roots are.  Its Polish repertoire includes works by core composers – the two Szymanowski quartets, Bacewicz’s First Piano Quintet, Lutosławski’s Quartet, Górecki’s First, Penderecki’s Der unterbrochene Gedanke and Third Quartet – and also a few surprises: Żeleński’s Variations on an Original Theme, and arrangements of a cappella choral pieces by the Renaissance composer Wacław z Szamotuł and of two piano études by Chopin.  The Apollon Musagète Quartett is due to release a CD on the Oehms Classics label next year of quartets by Lutosławski, Górecki and Penderecki.

It would be good to learn of plans by any of these quartets to take up the music of Polish composers of their own generation.  There have already been some interesting collaborations outside the standard chamber-music repertoire.  Perhaps the most intriguing venture by the Apollon Musagète Quartett has been with Tori Amos, touring with her and contributing to the Night of Hunters CD (2011).

Cue not-too-wobbly video of ‘Shattering Sea’ from a tour date at the Manchester Apollo.


• Remembering Andrzej Chłopecki

It came as a shock to hear on Sunday that Andrzej Chłopecki, the Polish writer on contemporary music, had died that day, aged 62.  He was a singular man with multiple attributes.  He was keenly perceptive, wise, staunch, quirky, witty, impish, and never afraid to speak out whenever he came across the shallow or the hollow.  He got into very hot water with the Establishment when he dared to criticise Penderecki’s Piano Concerto after its Polish premiere at the end of the 2002 ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival.  I admired him hugely for being a real critic.  Above all, he was the most warm-hearted of colleagues and friends.

Others in Poland knew him much better than I did (he published almost exclusively in Polish, although his penetrating CD notes were translated into other languages for non-Polish labels).  And they can verify his enormous contribution to Polish musical life over the past 40 years and more.  He was for many years a key member of the Repertoire Committee of the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ and at the time of his death was the Artistic Director of the biennial ‘Musica Polonica Nova’ festival in Wrocław.

He was a brilliant broadcaster, acute in his thinking and challenging in his debates.  My abiding personal memory is of when we jointly presented the live opening concert of BBC Radio 3’s Polska! festival on 19 November 1993, from the Witold Lutosławski Studio at Polish Radio in Warsaw.  He, however, was in a balcony on the opposite side of the hall, with a clear view of the artists’ entrance (which I could not see) below my balcony seat.  We were supposed to have a shared script and timing.  But Andrzej decided that he had more to say, with the result that I, with no experience of live concert presentation, ended up scrabbling to describe the interior of the hall (in English, across the EBU network) while he continued to improvise on the merits of the programme to Polish listeners, barely one eye on the players waiting below me.  I had no idea how long this was going to last.  Later on, there was a party at someone’s flat (it may even have been his) and, as the photo indicates, there were no hard feelings, though perhaps my expression indicates something along the lines of “You cheeky …!” and his of “Never mind, that’s what you get with me!”.  The cheeky fingers above Andrzej’s head belong to the composer Paweł Szymański.

Andrzej came from the generation whose composers succeeded Górecki, Kilar and Penderecki and brought new blood into Polish music in the late 1970s and 1980s.  Among them was not only Szymański, but also Rafał Augustyn, Eugeniusz Knapik, Stanisław Krupowicz, Andrzej Krzanowski and Aleksander Lasoń.  They came of age during the anti-communist protests of the 1970s and the rise and fall of Solidarity at the turn of the decade.  They were activists through music, and Andrzej paid for this by losing his job at Polish Radio between 1981 and 1991.  Their position has been vindicated by history.

I trawled through my photograph albums today and found a second photo, taken two years later in 1995, at a party held to mark the 25th anniversary (…) of my first visit to Warsaw and the ‘Warsaw Autumn’.  Quite why I’m holding a shotgun – and pointing it at him – is a mystery, but the ever-convivial Andrzej is obligingly filling my glass.  Behind me is Krupowicz, to his right Szymański, and behind/between them my longest-standing Polish friend, Michał Kubicki.  We had a good evening, and no-one got shot.

Andrzej would have wanted those who knew him to have a good wake in his memory.  Like all his friends and colleagues, I’m devastated that he has gone.  A crumb of comfort – which may turn out to be not that small – is that a week before he died he completed a book about Lutosławski which will be published in time to mark his centenary next year.  Thank you Andrzej for everything.

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