• 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: 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?

• 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**

• New Górecki sculpture in Katowice

A ceremony took place today in Górecki’s home city to unveil a new memorial to the Polish composer, who died just under three years ago.  In the presence of his widow Jadwiga, his daughter Anna and her family, the new relief sculpture was seen in public for the first time.  The sculpture is located in Plac Grunwaldzki, north of the city centre and less than five minutes’ walk from where Górecki lived for many decades.  Górecki’s sculpture is the latest in a line of such annual commemorations in Katowice, designed to honour citizens who have made distinguished contributions to the artistic and cultural life of the city.  The sculptor is Zygmunt Brachmański, born three years after Górecki and in the same small town, Rydułtowy, where Górecki grew up.  Here’s a photo of both Brachmański (centre) and Górecki (right), looking at Brachmański’s bust of Szymanowski, on the occasion of the opening of the new building of the Szymanowski Music Academy in Katowice in 2008.  The photo is © Aleksandra Konieczna.

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Back to today’s unveiling of Brachmański’s memorial to Górecki.  All the photos below are © Arkadiusz Gola.

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Jadwiga Górecka unveiling the memorial to her husband.

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Górecki oldest grandson, after laying a bouquet at the foot of the memorial.

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A close-up from the left side of the bas-relief – it’s a pretty good likeness!

For Arkadiusz Gola’s full online sequence of photos, you can follow this link to Katowice’s regional daily newspaper, Dziennik Zachodni.  Here’s a translation of an excerpt from the accompanying report:

This year there was a choice of eleven candidates.  Those nominated were Grzegorz Fitelberg – conductor and composer [one of Poland’s most significant musical figures of the last century], Andrzej Seweryn Kowalski – artist and teacher, Tadeusz Michejda – architect, Theophilus Ociepka – painter and representative of Polish naive art, Stanisław Ptak – stage and film actor and operetta singer, Bolesław Szabelski – composer, organ virtuoso  and teacher [he was Górecki’s teacher too], Andrzej Szewczyk – artist, Stefan Marian Stoiński – ethnographer, conductor, composer and teacher, Witold Szalonek – outstanding composer and teacher [he also lived close by], Andrzej Urbanowicz – artist and cultural animateur, and Górecki.

• 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**

• Lunch on the grass

While posting yesterday on the planned new concert hall in Katowice, I remembered a couple of walks I took with Górecki’s daughter and her family while I was visiting him in 2010.  One was to Nikiszowiec, which I’ll post about sometime soon.  The other was on Sunday morning, 1 November, in the birch forest and parkland on the southern outskirts of the city.

A clear, crisp morning, with a couple of unusual sights: a red squirrel at close quarters

and …

something strangely reminiscent of a certain French painting.  Although it has all the facial hallmarks of socialist-realist imagery of the early 1950s, I think that it must be from a later period, possibly the 1970s.  I can’t work out whether it’s tongue-in-cheek or oh-too-serious … or both.

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