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Jarosław Płonka

Jarosław Płonka
Jarosław Płonka playing the cello, photo: courtesty of the artist

The composer Jarosław Płonka was born in 1984. One noteworthy success was his winning First Prize of the Tadeusz Ochlewski Music Competition, organised by the music publisher PWM Edition. The jury honoured his Construction in Metal. The other highlight of his career was the award-winning performance of his "lightly touched / heavily pressed" piece by the renowned musicFabrik ensemble from Cologne.

The Beginnings

In a talk with, Płonka reveals:

I became interested in music rather late, when I was already 12 years old. In spite of the fact that my father is a very musical person and learned to play instruments, my parents didn’t decide to send me to a music course. As a child I was interested only in science – chemistry and biology. [...] Today I think that I must have heard Penderecki’s Threnody on the radio, Channel 2. There was also the View from a Window and The Orpheus’ Head by Elżbieta Sikora. I am convinced that my whole adventure with music finds its source in a fascination with Polish compositions of the 20th century. On top of that, I was always impressed with those who knew how to play an instrument. The very moment when musicians appear on the stage always incited a sense of great respect in me.

He studied musicology at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków then transferred to the Department of Composition of Kraków’s Music Academy, where he studied under Krystyna Moszumańska-Nazar. When Płonka began playing cello, he was interested in composing and wanted to perform pieces he wrote. When he realised he wouldn’t master the cello, he devoted himself to writing music. The interest in music as well as the process of composing are marks of Płonka’s individual style.

The young composer goes on to explain:

I don’t treat composing like a learned craft, nor is it a source of income, although I admit that the royalties for performances of my pieces make existence much easier. Writing music is my passion, and I create because I want to and when I feel like it, for my own satisfaction and the realisation of artistic vision – and not because I have to. I am impressed with composers that are uncompromising and who contribute to the expansion of the musical field with their work, those who explore and discover.[...] Yet I think that each artist is somehow responsible for the communal good of art and the values that it transmits.

The Ideas

Contrasts and opposites constitute a driving force behind Płonka’s music, as they lead to constant transformations – slow albeit decisive ones. He works on his own method of dialectics, and he refers to it in the title of one piece, Thesis-Antithesis, created between 2009 and 2010.

Differing pitches rub against each other in the piece, as the higher registers of wind instruments are juxtaposed with lower, rumbling sound. In the end the musicians – filled with tension – intertwine all the registers together, making a synthesis of various frequencies, and thus creating a new musical organism. We are only able to hear it for a moment: We perceive its fluidity in a clear way and are able to grasp the instant in which the sounds slowly come apart – all begins anew, and the synthesis awaits its antithesis.

The piece can be read as a reflection on the nature of sound: In the end its pitch is a stricly physical phenomenon, which influences surrounding reality in a very concrete way and which can be measured scientifically. It is impossible to describe the height of the pitch with words, and to express the impact it has on our sensitivity at the same time.

When asked about the impulse for writing a piece, the composer stated:

I am not able to start working on a piece from nothing. The impulse for writing something new can come from one short sound overheard someplace, which makes me want to construct the whole out of it. It can just the title of a poem or a song, or their fragment, a photograph, a video or an installation. Something is capable of inciting a sequence of associations in me, which I then later transpose onto sound. I never begin a piece until I have “digested” these inspirations. I collect them first, and then, for a very long time, I think about what to do with them, before I sit down in front of the staff paper. [...] And I never illustrate the world in a literal manner. My idea of music is based on its free interpretation, and a listening on several levels or layers at a time – a contemplation of sound.

Among Płonka’s pieces inspired by art is Konstrukcja w metalu / Construction in Metal for solo trumpet. In 2006, Płonka was presented with First Prize at the Tadeusz Ochlewski Competition for this piece. The young composer drew on works from Katarzyna Kobro, the avant-garde artist of the 1920s. After the October Revolution, Kobro was connected with the Soviet avant-garde and she collaborated with Malevich, Rodchenko and Tatlin. Because of the growing Soviet terror, at the end of 1921, together with her partner, the painter Władysław Strzemiński, she fled to Poland. "With her works of the inter-war period", Płonka wrote about Kobro, "she revolutionised thinking about sculpture. The form of composition doesn’t posses strict inspirations outside of music, it is just the image of my associations with the works by this artist."


When asked about his musical inspirations, the composer lists the top artists of the early 20th century – Witold Lutosławski ("In Poland he is probably admired by everyone with no exception, and there is even no point in saying what for, as it is so obvious"), George Crumb ("for a literally infantile imagination and an experimental stance, the scope of his fantasy within sound, as well as the mystery and magic of his compositions") and Charles Ives ("his music is just crazy, brave and absolutely uncompromising"). Later he lists composers connected spectralism - Saariaho, Brewaeys, Le Roux, Hurrel – but in no way does he limit himself to composing contemporary music.

Sometimes I borrow ideas from pop - mainly electronic music - and although they are very distant inspirations, they are there somewhere in my compositions. As a teenager I used to listen to a lot of deep and vocal house, as well as Detroit techno. I was fascinated with club music from the late 1990s. I even collected vinyl, but I could only dream of a set of turntables. After all these years, I really appreciate the conservatism of my parents, who didn’t allow me to participate in this club life to the full, because I probably would have perished there.

CROON is a piece for the cello and piano, written in 2009. All the sounds that we hear in this piece have their finale, they resonate and can be taken in their entirety. It is not minimalism that we are dealing with here, the composer just allows us to listen into each gesture made by the instrumentalists and each consonance created by the cello and the piano. "Music needs a good listening into" seems to be what the musicians in CROON are telling us, and they calmly weave their multi-themed tale, taking on both meanings of the titulary name of the piece. And as one does tune in and listen, the unusual inspirations of Płonka seem to surface. Isn’t the syncope rhythm of the piano reminiscent of old-school house and the repeated motives thumping in night clubs of the 1990s?

Composer Collider

The breakthrough in Płonka’s career came with his participation in the Composers Collider workshops, which were organised by musikFabrik. This legendary German ensemble of contemporary music are not only great performers, but also devote themselves to educational activities. In June 2012, the first edition of these workshops was held, thanks to the initiative of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, with seven young Polish composer taking part: Katarzyna Dziewiątkowska-Mleczko, Karol Nepelski, Michał Ossowski, Jarosław Płonka, Mateusz Ryczek, Jacek Sotomski and Emil Bernard Wojtacki. Each musician participated in two rehearsals and numerous individual consultations with the Cologne-based ensemble.

Composers Collider is so far the best thing that ever happened in my career. I became aware of how much I still had to learn. There are times when you think that nothing will surprise you – but suddenly, while rehearsing with musikFabrik it turned out I was living in some kind of a museum. The possibilities of interpretation proliferate endlessly and then it turns out the the boundaries that learn about in instrumentation are always expanding. Of course, it’s not about suddenly trying to use all the new techniques at once. I like to take one or two and explore them, and delve on the subject till I get bored. The second thing that I want to mention are the preparations of composers for these rehearsals, attaining a certain level of a professional approach, which makes working with perfomers much easier. [...] The musicians were very kind, understanding and helpful, but they also demand concrete indications from the composer.

The workshops in Cologne are characterised by the emphasis that musikFabrik place on education, and it is not the resulting pieces that count, as they are merely another title in the legacy of the young composer. What counts is the process of cooperating with the ensemble, and what the young artist is capable of learning from the experience instrumentalists, as well as the fresh ideas that the composer is capable of transmitting to other musicians.

In other world, the key value for musikFabrik is work, which doesn’t always have to be succesful, as trial and error form part of the creative processes. Just as in the work by Płonka, who sometimes used the dialectic method of thesis and anti-thesis. The synthesis of his cooperation with musikFabrik is the piece lightly touched / heavily pressed.

List of compositions:

Canzona for violin and piano, 2002
Dwie Arabeski (Two Arabesques) for chamber orchestra, 2003
Aforyzmy (Aphorisms) for solo cello, 2003
Esej (Essay) for string orchestra, 2003
Etiudy (Etudes) for 4 kotły pedałowe, 2004
Trio dęte (Wind Trio), 2004
Concertino for flute and chamber orchestra, 2005
Play for 2 bases, 2005/2006
Kwartludium (Quartlude) for a symphonic orchestra, 2006
Konstrukcja w metalu - Katarzyna Kobro in memoriam (Construction in Metal - Katarzyna Kobro in memoriam) for solo trumpet, 2006,. PWM 2006
Toccata for 2 pianos, 2006
Epizody (Episodes)  for instrumental ensemble, 2006/2007
Kwartet (Quartet) for string quartet, 2006
Fabric for string trio, 2006
Inne głosy (Other Voices) for solo tuba (and a tam-tam), 2007
Toccata for symphonic orchestra, 2007
Esja, electroacoustic composition, 2008
Enzo, for any number of performers, a graphic score, 2008
Kamień Herberta (Herbert’s Stone) for oboe, harp and string quartet, 2008
Travel is dangerous for orchestra, 2008/2009
CROON for cello and piano, 2009
Teza-Antyteza (Thesis-Antithesis) for an instrumental ensemble, 2009/2010
Radio Music, electronic music, 2010
Palimpsest for instrumental ensemble, 2010
All You Do Is Mathematics for string orchestra, 2010
The Limits of My Language for symphonic orchestra, 2010/2011
YSL Cutting Fabric for string orchestra, 2011
Bez tytułu (Untitled) for violin and piano, 2011
AUSLAND for violin trio, 2011
/lightly touch for solo violin, 2001
only skin  for solo amplified cello (unfinished) 2012
lightly touched / heavily pressed for cello and musical ensemble, 2012/2013

Author: Filip Lech, translated by Paulina Schlosser's picture
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