Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Penderecki Festival 16-23 November 2018 Warsaw





All photographs by Bruno Fidrych




Introduction


This festival has stirred so many memories. I first encountered the music of Penderecki in the avant-garde year of revolution 1968. During those years I was in Paris writing my own experimental 'indeterminate' avant garde texts influenced by the style of the Nouveau Roman literary movement (Marguerite Duras, Nathalie Sarraute, Alain Robbe-Grillet). I was deeply interested in the contemporary classical music of Messiaen, Nono, Berio, Dallapiccola, Penderecki, Pousseur, Stockhausen, Boulez, Kagel and Xenakis. I now tend to agree with Penderecki that the avant-garde movement in the arts oftentimes led these deeply imaginative artists into a creative cul-de-sac.

In 1968 I also attended as an observer many of the classes and premieres given by the German electronic composer Karlheinz Stockhausen at the Rheinische Musikschule in Cologne (Courses for New Music) together with the Australian composer David Anthony Ahern (1947–88) who was born in Sydney. He studied composition first with Nigel Butterley, then with Richard Meale. His first performed work was entitled After Mallarmé (Universal Edition 1966) for orchestra, but of the greatest notoriety was the piece entitled Ned Kelly Music (1967) for orchestra. The success of this piece elevated Ahern’s importance within the Australian avant garde. He later studied with Cornelius Cardew in London and later formed the AZ Music Ensemble at the Sydney. Conservatorium of Music.

I continued with my own literary work heavily influenced by the structure and scope of contemporary classical music, the Nouvelle Vague cinema, Nouveau Roman literature and French Symbolist poetry.

The notation of more 'modern' classical music posed increasingly severe problems with serial music, aleatoric music and then further into electronic music. Penderecki evolved what is known as 'Graphical notation' as a solution for his own work, an example of which appears below.


Sketches for the Credo by Krzysztof Penderecki

Final Concert
Friday, 23 November
8.00 pm Polish National Opera


As a 'foreigner' I really feel I must comment immediately on the extraordinary outpouring of national patriotic feeling I have just witnessed. (Impressions of other festival concerts will follow this  account). I simply cannot imagine such extraordinary intensity of emotion for any birthday of any composer in any other country in Europe. Astounding. 

It was a bitterly cold evening in Warsaw with a light dusting of snow on the borders of the city. I left home early to assure myself of parking, always an issue at the Polish National Opera. The extra time allowed me to meditate on my varied musical experiences over the past week at the Penderecki Festival. 

The vital importance of contemporary Polish music to the musically sensitive and educated in this country is patently obvious from the enthusiastic audience reception of these remarkable works by the greatest living Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. Broadcasting stations in Poland devote much air time to contemporary musical compositions, far more than the BBC for example. The fact that all the present celebrations are devoted to what is generally considered to be the 100th anniversary of Poland reclaiming independence, only adds to the intensity of the musical expression of the Polish collective unconscious.  Many speeches of suitably high-flown yet I felt genuine sentiments, a letter from the President, congratulations from other dignitaries (including not surprisingly Lech Wałęsa) were delivered and read aloud at the opening. 


Penderecki standing at the front of the amphitheater was given a rousing standing ovation by the entire audience for at least ten minutes. I thought it would never stop and have never before witnessed such enthusiasm for a composer at any concert of his work. Is it too fanciful to observe he has come to symbolize musical Poland in the way Paderewski did in the past?

Violin Concerto No. 2 “Metamorphosen”  (1995)
Anne-Sophie Mutter – violin
Sinfonia Varsovia
Maciej Tworek – conductor


Penderecki dedicated the first work on the programme, the Violin Concerto No: 2 'Metamorphosen', to the renowned German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. It was written some twenty years after the first Violin Concerto between 1992 and 1995 and commissioned by the Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk, Leipzig. Her devotion to the composer and his music gives a certain imprimatur to an output not immediately accessible or even understandable to the majority of music lovers, immured as they remain in the world of predictable and recognizable emotional harmonic progressions. When she first appears, the female apparition that is Anne-Sophie Mutter, dressed in turquoise by the British couturier Nicholas Oakwell, possesses remarkable stage charisma even before a single note is heard. 


This one movement expansive lyrical work, on one level, is clearly written as an exhaustive exploration of the sound world of the violin directed towards the interpretative artistic strengths and personality of this astonishing virtuoso performer. The work begins in the rhythm of the human heartbeat soon accompanied by the unearthly melodic beauty Mutter extracts from her Stradivarius instrument. A changing panorama of memory, imagination, the transformed or 'metamorphosed' recall of past musical events we have already heard are distinguished. Meditative, harmonically inclined traditional sections of subtle dynamic graduation give way or are 'metamorphosed' into sharp yet always refined emotional agitation and fragmentation. For Penderecki, percussion (apart from kettledrum and gentle tam-tam) plays an unusually small part in this composition. Sometimes we hear the sounds of childhood innocence on the glockenspiel. Mutter preserved a noticeably close communion with the orchestra, particularly the violin desks that she often turned towards engagingly. 


A section one could perhaps consider a Scherzo of Midsummer Night's Dream memories became a brilliantly impressive virtuoso display by Mutter. Her pianissimo notes in exquisitely high tessitura  (yes, the violin singing as a true 'voice' to my mind) were overwhelming in their beauty, dynamic and tonal range. The great variety and fascination of timbre, colour and 'attack' were deeply rewarding particularly in the sudden surging of the rhapsodic elements. A long section for solo violin with the mute was a truly incandescent demonstration of the remarkable power of this breathtaking virtuoso. This demonstration of the possibilities of this warm, lyric 'all too human violinist' was followed by a brief but sudden glance into the dark abyss that awaits us all. The work concluded with a superb, scarcely discernible pianissimo. Such a performance revealed the truly inspired musical nature of Penderecki, a magnificent elevation of the soul of this composer into the realms of the musically accessible.

Pandemonium broke out in the theatre at the conclusion with cheering, shouts, standing ovation, wild clapping, gestures of delight and approbation towards the standing composer from Anne-Sophie Mutter. This declamation and adulation too lasted for a long time....never witnessed by me before at a classical concert.


Following the first intermission, Penderecki was given two awards. The first was the 'Diamond Microphone' by Polish National Radio - rarely given - two others were to honour Pope John Paul II and the great Polish poet, writer and translator Czesław Miłosz. In a curious incident the first award was quickly snatched from him to make time for the second! He quipped amusingly "The first time I have been presented and just as suddenly de-presented."  


When given the second by the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein he held it out of reach commenting " It is a rare thing to be given two notable awards withing ten minutes!"


Concerto Grosso for 3 cellos and orchestra (2001)
Frans Helmerson – cello Ivan Monighetti – cello Arto Noras – cello
Sinfonia Varsovia
Christoph Eschenbach – conductor


This work was commissioned by the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo dedicated to the conductor Charles Dutoit. To see three cellos on a stage as soloists is a rare sight indeed and very beautiful. As often with Penderecki the beginning of this orchestral work was dark in timbre on the cellos and violas. 

Many structural forms of the baroque and modern concertante genre seem to be explored in this long single movement. This is a rather pleasantly enharmonic, sometime harmonic work, rhythmically highly complex in cross rhythms but with a delightful, lyrical and occasionally passionate 'conversation' between the three cello soloists. These three instrumentalists were extraordinarily committed to this work with fire, intensity, meditativeness and tenderness when required. Certain 'military elements' betrayed themselves as often the case with the 'voice' of Penderecki compositions. 



However I felt the conductor Christoph Eschenbach, although certainly a great musician and competent enough with so complex a score, did not have a coherent view of the structure of the whole work and could have made far more of it in timing his gestures and the dramatic details. Conventional loving harmony appeared like the waves of the summer ocean swell. A beautiful moment of musical repose emerged from what sounded to me like stormy sonic chaos (but undoubtedly was not). The listener is permitted little rest during much music of Penderecki. The cello works I have heard in the festival are very fine indeed - the Concerto No:2, the Largo and this Concerto Grosso.



Dies illa

Johanna Rusanen – soprano
Anna Radziejewska – mezzo-soprano
Nikolay Didenko – bass
Warsaw Philharmonic Choir
Bartosz Michałowski – choir master
The NFM Choir Agnieszka Franków-Żelazny – choir master
Poznan Chamber Choir
Bartosz Michałowski – przygotowanie chóru
Sinfonia Varsovia
Leonard Slatkin – conductor


One must remember that this year is not only to be celebrated as Poland regaining its independence but as also the commemoration of the last year of the Great War. The apex of a generational wave of highly developed European civilization was wiped out in a conflagration with no equal and from which the Western world has never recovered. Fittingly, perhaps tellingly but certainly not festively, this work was chosen to conclude the festival. It was originally written to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War as part of the Thousand Voices for Peace in Bruxelles (2014). The work is scored for huge forces (including the huge percussion 'tubaphones' of Penderecki's own invention that look like warlike rocket launchers - one cannot, nor should one want to, escape the visual associations of war - one can see them on either side of the orchestra in the picture above).


The piece opens with the Mors stupebit with choral statements interrupted by a dramatized lament of the Last Judgement sung by the finest of mezzo-sopranos Anna RadziejewskaThe second movement is polychorally reflective on the nature of sin and the impossibility of avoidance of punishment after death. In the Quid sum miser a guilty man (the bass Nikolay Didenko) laments his terrible fate. He begs an omnipotent God for salvation in the Rex tremendae  - the bass clarinet is set against the dark timpani of this fine orchestra, conducted by the gifted Leonard Slatkin. In the fifth movement the offer of redemption given us by Christ's Passion infuses the Recordare Iesu pie. The next two movements are replete with drama and despair (Iuste judex and Qui Mariam absolvisti) as sinners cry for salvation. Those condemned are consigned to the flames and lurid tortures whilst the blessed are assumed onto the sunny Alpine pastures of Paradise. A bass trumpet leads us into the Lacrimosa. The work closes on a perfect F octave enfolding the Amen.


Penderecki descended to the stage to be greeted by tumultuous applause and a standing ovation for many minutes at the conclusion to the festival. In conclusion I would say this festival has opened my ears and mind to the extraordinary range of Penderecki's musical compositions and his extraordinary sound world. A great pity an opera was not included to round out the complete appreciation of his genius. 




Friday, 23 November, 12 noon
Archikatedra Św. Jana, Warsaw
Missa brevis
Polish Chamber Choir Schola Cantorum Gedanensis

Jan Łukaszewski – conductor

Unfortunately I was unable to attend this Mass. However here are some fine photographs of the sacrament.







Beneath the Black Madonna of Częstochowa




Thursday, 22 November 
7:30 pm
Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Krzysztof Penderecki  
Sinfonietta No. 3  'Leaves from an Unwritten Diary' (2012)
Sinfonietta Cracovia
Jurek Dybał – conductor




A dark beginning with a rather overactive impassioned conductor! The music indicates and reflects a rather tempestuous 'unrecorded life'. However I found fragmentation here rather than love. The harmonic reflective section, gentle and even poetic, came as an emotional relief. A love diary perhaps? Pizzicato on the cello with a single vanishing note.

David Chesky
Letter to a Composer
Sinfonietta Cracovia 
Natalia Rubis - soprano
Yaniv Segal – conductor

David Chesky (middle)




I found this rather French in musical influence. The percussion was quite surprisingly lyrical. The soprano was outstanding in this work. Some repetitive phrases in the manner of Gorecki became rather wearing for me.

Krzysztof Penderecki
Adagio for strings from Symphony No. 3 (2013)
Sinfonietta Cracovia
Yaniv Segal –conductor



A great deal of harmonic yearning and also profound Mahlerian melancholy. The lead violin in this orchestra is an excellent musician. I found the work to be meditative and contemplative with beautiful harmonies - a type of musical love poem.

Concertino for trumpet and orchestra (2015)
Gábor Boldoczki – trumpet
Sinfonietta Cracovia
Jurek Dybał – conductor


An amusing moment when the wrong score was brought to the conductor's podium. A roll on a military drum begins this relatively recent work. The brilliant trumpet figures are repeated by the orchestra. However I found this music unaccountably earthbound and not philosophical or even spiritual in any sense. The rhythmic violins again gave a strong military bearing to this work. I wondered what the music was attempting to communicate and I had inescapable notions of a film drama as it progressed. The brilliant trumpet player  Gabor Boldoczki provided a highly effective obbligato. The pounding of the bass drum defied my musical associations and meaning.

Largo for cello and orchestra (2003)
Amit Peled cello
Sinfonietta Cracovia
Jurek Dybał –conductor



This rich sounding cello used by the brilliant Amit Peled was once owned by Pablo Casals. Another dark and melancholic beginning. I found this cellist intensely committed to the music of Penderecki. Here we had mercurial changes of mood accompanied by impressive rhythmic and harmonic invention. The appearance of the celeste in the sound picture gave a feeling of childhood innocence. There are some tremendous climaxes in this piece (cymbals, chimes, tubular bells and tam-tam). I felt the Largo instinctively to be  great work of contemporary composition.

Symphony No. 4 “Adagio” (1989)
Sinfonietta Cracovia
Rafael Payare – conductor





This composition had a brilliant opening on trumpet and brass. Again there were indications of military aggression. Brass was in the ascendant. Many descending chromatic scales. Here was an impressively massed orchestral sound that verged on the brutal. I was reminded of the soundtrack to the Hitchcock film Psycho in parts and then other sections reminiscent of Tristan - that English horn! If we are to draw a message, it is clear that military violence dominates the artistic, melancholic individual contemplating human life. There were long solo sections on the bassoon in a highly varied sound palette. I found the heavy timpani 'punctuation' fortissimo rather wearing. I was unable to fathom the musical meaning of the sound of the tom toms. I felt this music to be intensely physical with a huge Wagnerian conclusion. However the chimes/timpani pianissimo close was tremendously effective.





Wednesday, 21 November, 
7:30 pm 
Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphony No. 1 (1973)

Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice
Alexander Liebreich – conductor



As this work was composed in exactly my period exploring the avant-garde, I was particularly interested to hear it. Astonishingly now, the work was commissioned by Perkins Engines, a renowned gas engine manufacturer, as part of a series of an Annual Industrial Concerts and first performed in Peterborough. It has an astonishing beginning declared on the clappers which took me immediately into that experimental sound world. The dynamic of the orchestration builds into what might be described as 'whirling cacophony' with a great variety of percussion. Penderecki's fondness for the brass was immediately apparent. I recognized so many compositional and sound elements I would classify as avant-garde. Penderecki at this time seemed fascinated by the sheer nature of sound. 


Penderecki stated that 

'I was then attempting to make a reckoning of my two decades' worth of musical experience – a time of radical, avant-garde seeking. It was the summa of what I could say as an avant-garde artist. The Symphony collated what I was able to say as an avant-garde composer. Its four symmetrical movements - Arche I, Dynamis I, Dynamis II and Arche II - reflected on my desire to rebuild the world from scratch. True to the avant-garde logic, this grand destruction involved a longing for a new cosmogony, too' (Krzysztof Penderecki: 'Labirynt czasu', Warszawa 1997, p. 50).'

The work is in four 'movements'
  • I. Archi 1
  • II. Dynamis 1
  • III. Dynamis 2
  • IV. Archi 2

Many composers of this period were desperate to break away from the melodic-harmonic tradition. However there are many different ways of listening to this work - that is the genius of it. The clappers conclude the work by giving a form of sonic symmetry accompanied by huge tympani and bass drum.


Capriccio for violin and orchestra (1967)

Patrycja Piekutowska – violin
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice
Jerzy Maksymiuk – conductor



This powerful and even rather shocking piece has an extraordinary range of instruments in addition to the conventional classical orchestra - four saxophones, a contrabass clarinet, musical saw, electric bass guitar, harmonium and piano. 




The music is rhapsodic and 'capricious' but not in the slightest lyrical. There appear to be many references to war placed in a bizarre soundscape. The work is immensely challenging for the solo violinist. The writing strikes me emotionally, placing the violin as an individual powerless to resist the inhuman violent exterior forces of many types despite valiantly battling with them.


Emanations for two string orchestras (1958)

Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice
Maciej Tworek – conductor

The piece is scored for two string orchestras tuned a minor second apart. This interesting work prefigures a great deal of the music that was to spring from Penderecki's extraordinary philosophical and religious mind, preoccupied as it is with the nature of sound. This is shown by rather uncommon performance directions such as col legno battuta and sul ponticello or bowing on the bridge. I found it rather a subdued piece of 'painting in sound'. I could not help reflecting on the nature of this extraordinary retrospective music festival, dedicated to a living composer who was present throughout.




Violin Concerto No. 1 (1976-77)

Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice
Yu-Chien Tseng - violin
Lawrence Foster – conductor


Penderecki seemed to me in symphonic works and concertos to often begin on cellos and bass which I felt to be dark, ominous and threatening. May I have the temerity to state that so much in the Polish arts (painting, cinema, theater, music and literature) is so often expressively deeply tragic, pregnant with ominous anticipation and set in the fading melancholic light of dusk that emanates from sudden and unexpected reversals of destiny. Such events seem that grow in the soil of Polish history like beautiful poisonous mushrooms.



Written for the Russian violinist Isaac Stern. the concerto is, as Penderecki commented '...a key to the understanding not only of my violin works, but of my later music written after the mid-1970s in general.' It marks the emergence of his neo-Romantic style and a fond (?) arewell to the avant-garde.

In  many ways this work is a sinfonia concertante given the importance of the orchestral writing.  Here we have a portrait of the solitary soul facing the harshest of realities - possibly death. Penderecki's father was on his deathbed when he composed the work. Overall a haunted, melancholic piece. Many descending scales and a heavy brass section. Melancholic yearning not optimistic joy.  The work remains a tremendous technical and emotional challenge for any young violinist. Again blocks of sound predominate rather like the Roman Empire music I have spoken about before but perhaps this is simply the inexorable march of events and fate. I am not entirely comfortable with bellicose grandiosity. Is this an aspect of the Polish soul, the reason la gloire of Napoleon was found so appealing? Disconsolate resignation at the conclusion.



At the end of the concert Penderecki was treated to some unexpected musical fun. An enharmonic, rather Pendereckian setting of the Polish birthday song 'Sto lat, sto lat, niech zyje zyje nam.(Good luck, good cheer, may you live a hundred years!)Every Pole in the audience and the renowned NOSPR orchestra sang with gusto....a charming moment.



Tuesday, 20 November,
7:30 pm Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Hymn to St Adalbert (1997)



Gniezno was the first capital city of Poland and cradle of Polish Catholicism and the Polish State. This sleepy town lies to the east of Poznań. The name is derived from an old Polish word meaning ‘nest’. The original settlement had been named by Lech, the legendary father of the country, who was thought to have settled on a hill where he saw the nest of a rare white eagle during the course of a hunt. The savagely beautiful legend of its death, the pure white of the feathers steeped in the slow spread of its red blood, became the national colours of this spiritually driven and tragic nation, the crowned white bird adopted as its symbol.

Pope John Paul II, on his subversive pilgrimage to Gniezno in 1979, recalled the birth of the Polish Catholic Church there in 966 when King Mieszko I was baptized in the Latin rite. He spoke to those labouring under communism of the myriad tongues of the Pentecostal experience which rendered the division of Europe at Yalta contrived and divisive. ‘This Polish Pope, this Slav Pope, should at this precise moment manifest the unity of Christian Europe.’ The cast for the historic morality play that followed had been assembled. Pope John Paul II was the man at the tipping point, the man but for whom recent European history would have been considerably different.



In the tenth century the missionary Bishop Wojciech (Adalbert), exiled from Prague, sailed to Gdańsk to convert the pagan Prussians. They beheaded him in 997 for his pains. The Piast Prince Bolesław Chrobry, soon to become the first crowned King of Poland, was much in need of a saint and purchased his body for its weight in gold and brought it to Gniezno. Wojciech was swiftly canonized as the patron saint of Poland and transformed into the object of a cult. The town developed into the centre for the coronation of Polish kings. Scenes from Wojciech’s life are vividly depicted on the panels of two monumental bronze doors in the cathedral, one of the great Romanesque artworks of Europe. His relics lie before the high altar in a Baroque silver sarcophagus supported by six silver eagles.

This work was composed for the millennium of the City of Gdańsk and first performed in Oliwa Cathedral in autumn 1997. The Penderecki orchestration is unusual and original with the brass (two horns and two trumpets im Saal on the balcony), double basses, percussion and choir. The text of the Hymn to St. Adalbert is in praise of the patron saint of the city. The harmony is nearly modal, minor-key harmony. However I felt we missed the sacredness of this work in a secular concert hall without the cathedral's acoustic resonance. 


Hymn to St Daniil



This work was composed the same year for the 850th anniversary of Moscow and was similarly orchestrated. The solo choirs begins rather enharmonically with a touch of Gregorian modes and Eastern Orthodox religious models of sacred music. The compositions were written between The Seven Gates of Jerusalem and the Credo. Both works use a minor sixth, an interval Penderecki was particularly drawn to at the time. Chimes sound like Orthodox cathedral bells, fortissimo instrumental entries with a tam-tam announcing rather Wagnerian full close harmonies leading to a triumphal full close on resolved chords. 



Opera and Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Choir
Violetta Bielecka – choir master
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra 
Dawid Runtz – conductor

Credo

I have been told that this work, a neo-Romantic masterpiece to my mind, was written in 1997-98 for the Oregon Bach Festival. It was to be part of a Grand Mass on traditional harmonic and tonal principles that may have lasted 6 hours. However only the Credo was composed.



I. Credo in unum Deum presented the grand massive forces assembled here in rather a triumphalist 'Empire' style of writing. A massive 'anti-progressive' statement. None the worse for that....


II. Qui propter nos homines - Et incarnatus est The musical scales reflect the 'incarnation'. Regular rhythms and religious joy predominate here. Lyrical orchestral interludes conclude on the woodwinds.


III. Cruxcifixus - Crucem tuam adoramus Domine Isolated, dramatic and sheer loneliness pervade the score. Deeply tragic harmonies prevail on the basses with fragmented phrases and notes in the brass as the death of Christ fitfully approaches. The heavy tread of a tortured soul. Christ expires to the sound of a solo clarinet as his souls ascends.


IV. Et resurrexit Again rather portentous but possibly highly appropriate 'Roman Empire' music with trumpet fanfares, not unlike what might accompany a film or images in the mind's eye.
V.  Et in spiritum sanctum - Confiteor - Et vitam venturi saeculi Huge opening forces open this movement. This builds into a monumental, magnificent cathedral of sound. Resolution of suspended harmonies. percussion on the tam-tam and sundry instruments and then suddenly a virtuoso tom tom segment appeared which seemed tremendously sonically inventive, the metaphorical associative significance of which quite escaped me. Tremendous Alleluia in a conclusion of musical genius and massive weight.


Outstandingly fine singing and orchestral playing under Maximiano Valdés. A great contemporary masterpiece and statement of religious faith in our deeply troubled times.

Iwona Hossa – soprano I 
Karolina Sikora – soprano II
Anna Lubańska –mezzo-soprano
Adam Zdunikowski – tenor
Wojtek Gierlach – bass

Warsaw Boys’ Choir
Krzysztof Kusiel-Moroz – choir master Choir of the Karol Szymanowski Philharmonic in Cracow
Teresa Majka-Pacanek –choir master Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Choir
Violetta Bielecka – choir master Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra

Polish Radio Orchestra
Maximiano Valdés – conductor

19.30 Monday, 19 November
7:30 pm Warsaw Philharmonic – Concert Hall

Sinfonietta No. 2
Massimo Mercelli – flute 
Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra
Mirosław Jacek Błaszczyk – conductor


This is a refined and gentle work with beautiful Debussyian arabesques on the flute. There is a fine contrast of timbre between the flute and light orchestral strings. I found it rather oriental and exotic particularly the Notturno. Dark minor keys gave a feeling of stillness in the night. A perfectly structured work to my mind.



Double Concerto for flute, clarinet and orchestra
Patrick Gallois – flute
Michel Lethiec – clarinet  
Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra 
Tadeusz Strugała – conductor



The work opened with a delightful dialogue between flute and clarinet, not without its humorous moments, rather untypical of Penderecki, at least in his music. This work is classed as a version of the previous work but this was not readily apparent to me. The work seemed rather an harmonic adventure without melodies. The conclusion was reminiscent of a landscape panorama at dawn or dusk and deeply reflective with this subtle orchestra. The work was not bombastic in the least and received a standing ovation.






Double Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra
Elina Vähälä – violin
Maja Bogdanović – cello 
Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra
John Axelrod – conductor



Again an eloquent duet began this work. many of Penderecki's orchestral pieces begin with a statement of great sensitivity on a single instrument. In his music a deep vein of melancholy and tragedy seems to be hovering over the horizon. A reflection of Polish history perhaps in the collective unconscious of the composer as the musical voice of the nation. Great concentration on jagged rhythms and dynamic mass and orchestration of a military flavour, inescapable I suppose given the history of this much abused nation. Violins, in fact all the strings, are often in massive unison playing. Many seductive moods were created that I really did not want disrupted by their short duration. The viola was particularly eloquent in this piece. The timpani often take a prominent 'speaking role'.  Again a much deserved standing ovation.


Symphony No. 5 “Korean” 
Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra
Eduard Topchjan – conductor



Once more a dark opening to the work on the violas followed by a broad tragic statement. The divided nature and tragic, bloody history of Korea (North from South after the Korean War 1950-1953) was emotionally expressed with great intensity. I have often reflected on this agony when considering the outstanding South Korean interpreters of the piano music of Fryderyk Chopin. Descending chromatic scales were often in evidence here. Four trumpets had been placed on the balcony, perhaps as an effective theatrical gesture. The Warsaw Philharmonia is not after all St. Marks during the Venice of Gabrieli! The preponderance of brass sections in this work added a military flavor once again. Various Wagnerian echoes and Tristan reminiscences evoked emotional turbulence. Clearly the Korean War was much on Penderecki's mind as I counted 10 Double Basses which gave a visceral and physical tremor to the air with their deep resonances and which actually physically vibrated my diaphragm. Temple gongs evoked a degree of the orient we all admire. 





I sometimes think with Penderecki I am listening to a highly sophisticated musical background to a film of invasion and deprivation, the laying waste of a country which happened in the case of Korea and which persists into the sabre-rattling present. Parallels with the Soviet and Nazi invasions of Poland cannot possibly be ignored. Wagnerian English Horn motifs, woodwinds and did I actually hear a brief quotation of God Save the Queen ? How perceptive of Penderecki! Almost 100,000 British and Commonwealth troops fought in Korea 65 years ago in a conflict as bloody as any seen before or since. Yet many veterans still consider it as the war Britain and the Commonwealth have forgotten. The dynamic conclusion was massive and monumental in this work. I have never heard an orchestral tutti to equal the opulent, unbuttoned splendor and sheer power of it. The mighty forces unleashed certainly pleased the Warsaw audience!



18 November, noon
The Royal Castle

I was not able to attend this concert but here are some of the brilliant photographs by Bruno Fidrych of the superb venue. The detailed rebuilding of the Royal Castle, after being methodically destroyed by the Nazis with architectural advice, was an achievement of the greatest possible magnitude and a triumph of Polish national spirit. It is a spectacular and opulent venue appearing much as it would have done when first constructed.




Suite for cello solo
Danjulo Ishizaka – cello



La Follia for violin solo
Marta Kowalczyk – violin





Quartet for clarinet and string trio
Michel Lethiec – clarinet
Agata Szymczewska – violin
Volodia Mykitka– viola
Danjulo Ishizaka – cello




Trio for piano, violin and cello 
Penderecki Trio: Jarosław Nadrzycki – violin Karol Marianowski –cello Konrad Skolarski – piano



String Quartet No. 2 
String Quartet No. 3 “Leaves from an Unwritten Diary” 
String Quartet No. 4 
Shanghai Quartet: Weigang Li – violin Yi-Wen Jiang – violin Honggang Li – viola Nicholas Tzavaras –cello



Saturday, 17 November, 7:30 pm
Warsaw Philharmonic – Concert Hall


Symphony No. 6 “Chinesische Lieder” (Chinese Songs)
Stephan Genz – baritone

Zen Hu – erhu
Sinfonia Varsovia 
Wojciech Rajski – conductor


I had not heard this remarkable work before. Penderecki's 7th and 8th symphonies were already completed before he finished this work. Subtitled “Chinese Songs”, Symphony No. 6 is made up of eight songs based on Chinese texts connected by solo intermezzos played on the erhu, an eloquent Chinese stringed instrument. 

An erhu from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Eloquently rather melancholic, I found the work tender and refined emotionally. It possesses a dark soul enlivened with the bright green of spring growth. An harmonic composition with a great deal of exotic, complex and subtle percussion. The baritone singing the songs in German contrasted with the plaintive yearning intermezzos of the erhu was remarkably moving - as if the East meets the West. The orchestration of the poems expressed natural phenomenon, the movement of water, the silence of night pregnant with shadows, pastoral flutes and some chromatic harmonies reminiscent of Richard Wagner. Penderecki has stated this to be his farewell to the symphonic genre.





I have spent decades searching for and discovering new sounds. I have also closely studied the forms, styles and harmonies of past eras. I continue to adhere to both principles … my current creative output is a synthesis. – Krzysztof Penderecki
Symphony No. 2 “Christmas Symphony”
Sinfonia Varsovia 

Sergey Smbatyan – conductor




Considering the title 'Christmas', the darkest of openings on cellos and trombones I found disconcerting. Some of the tuttis were almost uncomfortably grandiose although dynamically effective. In some of his 'marching orchestration' I am often reminded of some great past Empire heading towards a conflagration. The Wagnerian feel of some harmonies seemed inescapable but none the worse for that!  





The percussion section is enormous even with the use of large tam-tams. William Blake wrote a long poem entitled The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790) which I felt aptly described the huge dynamic contrasts in this work. Perhaps the work depicts both the birth and passion of Christ in one panoramic movement. A fine performance showing excellent understanding and control of these large complex forces by both the excellent orchestra (Sinfonia Varsovia) and their conductor Sergey Smbatyan.

Piano Concerto “Resurrection”
Mūza Rubackytė – piano 
Sinfonia Varsovia



Another dark opening this time on cellos and basses. I was reflecting that here rhythmic lines might well be replacing melodic lines. I heard fragmented references to Tristan und Isolde and the plaintive and solitary English Horn solo from Act III. I felt the extremely percussive piano rather empty of graduated emotional content, the rhythmic associations of the large percussion section not particularly subtle. From my position in the hall (Balcony I) the piano was unfortunately completely overwhelmed by the fine orchestra. Was this intended I wondered ? A dynamically inflated work, (trumpets placed on the balcony), which was commissioned to commemorate the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York. The introduction of  cathedral bells as a form of musique concrète I found rather warm and human as a symbolic reference of faith in their possible 'Resurrection'.  I did find the triumphal, rather military harmonies of the conclusion rather banal. However in the face of this massively grotesque atrocity, the extreme emotional response to it by the composer should not, I am sure, be underestimated and is reflected in this concerto.




Saturday, 17 November, noon
Royal Theatre, Łazienki Park


I was not able to attend this concert but here are some of the photographs of the superb venue - one of only two Royal Theaters in Europe preserved in their original state. 

Agnus Dei for 8 cellos
Michał Balas, Maja Bogdanović, Danjulo Ishizaka, Karolina Jaroszewska, Rafał Kwiatkowski, Maciej Kułakowski, Karol Marianowski, Krzysztof Michalski



Sonata for violin and piano
Marta Kowalczyk – violin Łukasz Chrzęszczyk – piano


Sonata No. 2 for violin and pianoforte
Ju-Young Baek – violin Łukasz Chrzęszczyk – piano




Chaconne for 6 cellos

Claudio Bohórquez, Danjulo Ishizaka,Karolina Jaroszewska, Rafał Kwiatkowski, Bartosz Koziak, Karol Marianowski


Inaugural Concert 16 November


Friday, 16 November, 7:30 pm

Warsaw Philharmonic – Concert Hall

Polonaise (2016) Krzysztof  Penderecki 

Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra 

David Runtz conductor

This commissioned work was a pleasant but perhaps all too brief ‘patriotic’ opening to this festival.




Cello Concerto No. 2 (1982) 
Amit Peled (cello) 
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra 
Michał Klauza – conductor

Penderecki avoids completely conventional concerto form here and presents his ideas in one movement rather than three. Rather there is an alternation between slow and fast sections. The brilliant cellist Amit Peled often adopted the lyrical lead, intensifying the tone of melancholy in a very committed fashion. the Warsaw Philharmonic maintained a strong sense of coordinated rhythmic momentum throughout the work. The musical contrasts in this work, the dark, rather gloomy nervous fluctuations by the superb cellist and the strong sense of integrated musical structure make it one of the most satisfying works of Penderecki.



A sea of dreams did breathe on me…Songs of reflection and nostalgia (2010) 

Wioletta Chodowicz – soprano 
Małgorzata Pańko-Edery – mezzo-soprano 
Mariusz Godlewski – baritone
Warsaw Philharmonic Choir Bartosz Michałowski – choir master 
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra 
Jacek Kaspszyk – conductor






The Penderecki settings of these beautiful poems by major Polish poets creates a major contemporary masterpiece to my mind. The composer read thousands of poems before choosing this selection to set to music. The work was commissioned in 2010 by the National Fryderyk Chopin Institute to celebrate the bi-centenary of the birth of Chopin. The piece pivots around the destruction of Chopin’s piano by Tsarist forces.

Children among poppies │ words: Kazimierz Wierzyński

I found the opening subtle, almost Javanese oriental percussion orchestration with bells and gongs reminiscent of a gamelan orchestra.

Under one unexplored tree | words: Bolesław Leśmian
Request for happy islands  | words: Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński 
Autumn red-hued forests words: Tadeusz MicińskiVacuum. 
Lonely tree | Emptiness. | words: Stanisław Korab Brzozowski
The Angel of the Lord Angelus words: Kazimierz Przerwa Tetmajer

This Angelus was suitably grandiose in conception and execution

Sky at night words: Leopold Staff

The following night pieces I found dark in mood and invention however with superb textures and colours. Still and meditative. The poetry is eloquent and evocative of night. Some possessed an almost savage orchestration (To krzyczynoc)

Silence words: Leopold Staff
What does the night say? words: Alexander Wat
A sea of ​​dreams did breathe on me words: Tadeusz Miciński
O, silent night, blue night words: Tadeusz Miciński
 Chopin’s Piano I, (Requiem) words: Cyprian Kamil Norwid


It is well known that during the anti-Tsarist Uprising of 1863, Chopin’s piano was thrown out of the window of his sister’s apartment by the soldiers of the Tsar and smashed on the street below. The poem by Norwid commemorates this appalling act. The piano may have been one by the Polish manufacturer Bucholtz. A replica has recently been created used in the recent Chopin competition on period instruments. The music reminds us of he destruction in a suitably tragic manner and gloom descends. A tragic expression of history and the artist as a victim of a prevalent militaristic culture.

I see a country in the distance words: Kazimierz Przerwa Tetmajer
Chopin’s Piano II words: Cyprian Kamil Norwid
Tragedy persists……the fine choir have an almost theatrical visual function as they rise and fall in position

The autumn wind roared| words: Tadeusz Miciński
If I forget you, fighting Warsaw  words: Alexander Wat 
Mr. Cogito thinks about going back to his hometown words: Zbigniew Herbert
Chopin’s Piano III words: Cyprian Kamil Norwid
Almost too heavy and dark to associate with Chopin as a youth but possibly later as he approached death. In this music for me a climate of nostalgia and regretfullness

For Polish pine found in one of the gardens in Chatenay words: Stefan Witwicki

Beautiful orchestration of renewal here. The dark night of the Polish soul….

The Angel of the Lord Angelus words: Kazimierz Przerwa Tetmajer



Religion as redemption and an instrument to rise above the 'all too human' songs of reflection and nostalgia. Cemeteries and graves came into my mind here with the tolling of bells. sadness, pain and the overwhelming presence of the military bringing death and destruction. Jacek Kaspszyk, the conductor of the Warsaw Philharmonic, was quite revelatory in this superb contemporary work by this great Polish composer.