• 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.

 

• In His Element

1450790520I’ve been meaning for a few weeks to mention a new recording of Górecki’s most challenging composition.  In fact, it is only the second time that Genesis I: Elementi for three string instruments (1962) has appeared on CD.  It was first issued on Olympia OCD 375 (1994) in a performance by members of the Silesian Quartet (Kwartet Śląski) recorded the previous year.  Given the closeness of Górecki to the Silesian Quartet – they all lived and worked in Katowice – it is certain that he worked with them on the piece and may even have been present at the recording.  The players will remember.  Although it is not now generally available, it sometimes appears as a ‘used’ CD.

Last month a second recording appeared, on Challenge Classics CC72713 (CD and mp3 download), in a performance by the Goeyvaerts String Trio recorded last year.

gorecki-2-c-adrian-thomas3It was a particular thrill when the cellist Pieter Stas asked if I would let them include in the booklet a photo of Górecki that I had taken in the summer of 1987.  I was staying with the Górecki family in Chochołów, not far from Zakopane in southern Poland, and we had taken a long walk across country amidst the hay stacks.  We eventually reached a farm where Górecki and his wife Jadwiga had spent their honeymoon in 1959.  Twenty eight years later, they were thrilled to find that the farmer was still there. This is a little record of that reunion.  But to more important matters.

The Goeyvaerts recording differs in key respects to that of the Silesians.  For one thing, it is a Hybrid Surround recording, so Górecki’s stipulation of spatial separation between the three players has been brilliantly realised (the score specifies a triangular layout with 10-12 metres between violin and cello and 6-8 metres from the viola to the other two instruments).  Secondly, the new recording is closer in timing to Górecki’s 12’42”.  Where the Silesian Quartet came in at a nifty 10’37”, the Goeyvaerts Trio, at 13’22”, is 2’45” longer.

I have listened to the earlier recording so many times that it is now firmly imprinted.  It is raw, urgent and immediate and I still think that it captures Górecki’s fierceness and the white-hot passion in which he composed it in February-March 1962.  I wouldn’t be without it.  The Goeyvaerts Trio brings a new dimension, both physically in terms of the movement of sound and in the grinding insistence that the slower tempo brings.  The ear is compelled to examine the textures more closely, rather than being swept along, and different details emerge, especially in the quieter moments where lyrical delicacy not ferocious brutality holds sway.  Without losing cohesion, the Goeyvaerts players bring out Górecki’s mantra (which he repeated to me on a number of occasions) that this is a work for three string instruments, not for string trio.  So bravo to Kristien Roels, Kris Matthynssens and Pieter Stas for bringing to new ears this vital but rarely performed work from a 28-year-old Górecki.

• Górecki Goodies

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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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• 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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• PWM 70 Supplement

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The last (and only other) time that I was published in Tygodnik Powszechny (Catholic Weekly) was in the commemorative issue marking the death of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki five years ago.  I’ve just been alerted to a new supplement dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Polish Music Publishers PWM.  Its anniversary concert next Wednesday includes the world premiere of Górecki’s Sanctus Adalbertus (1997) and Tygodnik Powszechny have evidently been given the relevant part of my programme note.  It is the final item in the supplement, which includes articles by Małgorzata Gąsiorowska (the Bacewicz expert and author of a new book on PWM), Beata Bolesławska-Lewandowska (the author of books on Górecki and Panufnik) and the music critic and cultural historian Jakub Puchalski.

Tygodnik Powszechny PWM 70 supplement October 2015

• Górecki World Premiere, Kraków

Death of Adalbertus, Gniezno CathedralA week today – on Wednesday 4 November 2015 – the last of Gorecki’s major posthumous works will receive its first performance, in Kraków.  It is Sanctus Adalbertus, an hour-long ‘oratorio’ composed eighteen years ago to mark the assassination of St Adalbert in 997 (illustration above from the doors of Gniezno cathedral).  Its projected premiere in 1997 fell through and he used part of the score for the final movement of Salve, sidus Polonorum (2000).  This first performance follows the world premieres last year in London and Warsaw of Symphony no.4 (2006) and Kyrie (2005). The second performance will take place a week later, in Gorecki’s home city Katowice, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of his death.

Kraków is awash with posters for the concert, which also marks 70 years of PWM, the music publishers to whom anyone interested in Polish music owes a huge debt of gratitude.  Sadly, I can’t be there for this double celebration, but I was asked to write the programme note, which may be accessed here.

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