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Jan Krenz

Jan Krenz, photo: Anna Kaczmarz/Reporter/East News
Jan Krenz, photo: Anna Kaczmarz/Reporter/East News

Jan Krenz is a conductor and composer, born in Włocławek on 14th July, 1926.

During the occupation, he studied under the direction of Zbigniew Drzewiecki (piano) and Kazimierz Sikorski (composition). In the years 1945-47 he studied conducting in Kazimierz Wilkomirski’s class and composition with Kazimierz Sikorski at the State University of Music in Łódź, from which he graduated with honours.

He made his debut as a conductor in 1946 in Łódź. In 1947-49 he was the conductor of the Poznań Philharmonic. In 1949 he joined the Great Symphony Orchestra of the Polish Radio in Katowice, where he worked until 1951 with Grzegorz Fitelberg. After Fitelberg's death in 1953. Krenz became chief conductor and director of the orchestra. He remained in this position until 1968. In the years 1968-73 he was the artistic director of the Grand Theatre in Warsaw. At the same time he conducted the Danmarks Radio Orchestra in Copenhagen, collaborated with the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo and was guest conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden, the Leningrad Philharmonic, the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, and others. In 1979-82, he served as Generalmusikdirektor of the City of Bonn conducting the Beethovenhalle orchestra. In 1983-85, he worked with the Dutch Radio in Hilversum. He regularly participated in the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music and was awarded the Orpheus Award twice – in 1969 and 1974 – for the performance of Polish music. Krenz also took part in festivals in Edinburgh, Bergen, Prague, Montreux, Osaka and Vienna. In September 2005, he was appointed Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Kraków Philharmonic and stayed there until July 2008.

Jan Krenz has won numerous awards, including a Gold Cross of Merit (1952), a 2nd degree State Award (1955), the City of Katowice Music Award (1957), the Polish Composers’ Union Prize (1968 and 1996), a 1st degree State Award (1972), a Diamond Baton Award on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Polish Radio (1995), a Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, a Gold Medal for Merit to Culture Gloria Artis (2005) and numerous international awards for his recordings. In 2011 he received an honorary Polish Music Coryphaeus Award from the Institute of Music and Dance.

Jan Krenz is one of the most prominent Polish conductors, but he first debuted as a composer. In 1943 his String Quartet No. 1 was performed at an underground concert in occupied Warsaw. Later on, his brilliant career as a conductor did not allow for intense creative work; there were often long breaks between compositions, until Jan Krenz did the same as... Gustav Mahler: he divided the year in two and dedicated seven months to conducting and the remaining five to composing. As a result, new compositions have appeared on a regular basis since 1982. At the same time, Jan Krenz never stopped conducting, and while he sees himself equally as a conductor and a composer, he is certainly more famous as the former.

Krenz is a highly versatile conductor. This is what he said about himself:

I have sometimes been called a conductor of contemporary music. After all, I have often performed at the Warsaw Autumn, I conducted so many premieres of contemporary works, I am a contemporary composer. Other times, I have been considered an expert on Viennese classics, because I have conducted many classical performances. But a real conductor should have the widest possible repertoire. Karajan was one such conductor. He conducted so many contemporary music concerts! The earlier generation, the generation of Furtwängler, Mitropoulos or Ansermet, had a much narrower repertoire. I am interested in different eras, styles and music sheets. There is nevertheless one period – Monteverdi, later Handel and Bach, i.e. baroque – that I decided to ignore. This is music for real experts. You need to stay in that epoch, it has many secrets. From the Viennese classics, from ‘Papa’ Haydn – as he was once called – through the nineteenth century and the classics of the twentieth century to the present day – this is the repertoire of the contemporary conductor. And it is a wide repertoire. This does not prevent me from focusing on certain composers from time to time, most recently on the works of Mozart and Beethoven. But I am also intrigued by the late Romantics, who took music to extremes. This was first of all Mahler, but also Scriabin, even Rachmaninoff, who I am particularly fond of. I am continually interested in the classics of the twentieth century with Bartók at the front.

Unfortunately, concert halls deal with a rather limited repertoire, without pieces from earlier times, nor contemporary music which is unknown to most of the audience.

At present, about 90 percent of the performed music is from the Classic and Romantic periods. This is an anomaly, it is strange. Such a narrow repertoire closes the listeners’ ears, the fondness for Brahms and Tchaikovsky does not allow them to hear the melody in Lutosławski or Messiaen. I always explain that there is a melody there, it is just different. I hear: ‘No, Szymanowski did not have any melody.’ God, his music is so wonderfully melodic. Different, that’s true – vehement, capricious, uneven, with broad intervals, rich. But we cannot base melody only on seconds and thirds; we must open our audience’s ears!

(quotes from an interview printed in Studio 1993 No. 7)

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Most important compositions:

  • Triptych for voice and piano (1946)
  • Symphony No. 1 (1947-49)
  • Classical Serenade for small orchestra (1950)
  • Two Ditties (sad and cheerful) for a cappella choir (1950)
  • Quartet for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon (1950)
  • Symphonic Dance for orchestra (1951)
  • Rural Serenade for small orchestra (1951)
  • Rhapsody for string orchestra, xylophone, tam-tam, kettledrums and celesta (1952)
  • Concertino for piano and small orchestra (1952)
  • Musica per clarinetto solo (1958)
  • Capriccio for 24 instruments (1961-62)
  • Messa breve per coro e campane (1982)
  • Masks, a symphonic triptych for orchestra (1982-85)
  • Musica da camera (Quartetto no. 3) per quartetto d’archi (1983)
  • Sonatina per due violini soli (1986)
  • Epitaphion for orchestra (1989-90)
  • Symphony No. 2 (quasi una fantasia) (1989-92)
  • Sinfonietta per fiati (1994-95)
  • Impromptu pour violoncelle (1997)
  • Tristan in memoriam. Postludium per quartetto d’archi (1997)
  • Aria and Perpetuum mobile for orchestra (2004)
  • Overture for symphony orchestra (2005)
  • Requiem for baritone solo, mixed choir and orchestra (2007)

Author: Małgorzata Kosińska, Polish Music Information Centre, Polish Composers’ Union, February 2002; updated: October 2011, transl. Bozhana Nikolova, March 2015's picture

Jan Krenz


The Festival of Polish Composers, held annually under the auspices of Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki, first took place in 1996. Read more about: The Festival of Polish Composers

Jan Krenz
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