Paweł Szymański, photo: Marek Suchecki / Ruch Muzyczny / Forum
Paweł Szymański, photo: Wojciech Druszcz/Reporter/East News

The Warsaw Philharmonic performs Sixty-Odd Pages by Szymanski, their composer of the season, on an orchestral programme with pieces by Tchaikovsky and Elgar

The Philharmonic is hosting Pawel Szymański, a masterful voice in contemporary classical music for over thirty years, on programmes through the spring of 2013. On the Philharmonic's Great Violin Concertos programme on the 7th and 8th of December 2012, his Sixty-Odd Pages for orchestra joins Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major and Edward Elgar's Symphony in A-flat Major. The Warsaw Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Christopher Seaman for the programme, with Boris Brovtsyn as soloist in the Tchaikovsky concerto.

Szymański, born in 1954 in Warsaw, bases his distinctive style on technical complexity and the sumptuous revision of traditional forms, a process he terms "surconventionalism". On completing studies in the late 1970s with the renowned composer Tadeusz Baird and Włodzimierz Kotoński, he participated in the Darmstadt Festival summer workshops in Germany for three seasons and worked at the Experimental Studio of the Polish Radio. Selections from the Festival of Paweł Szymański's Music in 2006 are available on a National Audiovisual Institute DVD, and EMI Classics released two discs of his chamber music, performed by the superb Silesian String Quartet and the acute pianist Maciej Grzybowski.

Recent performances of Szymański pieces in Warsaw have been highlights on National Ballet programs and at the Warsaw Autumn Festival. The composer's season at the Philharmonic included a piano-music recital in November, led by Maciej Grzybowski, who brought out fascinating resonances in Klavierstück IX by Karlheinz Stockhausen, then was joined by Maciej Piszek in a triptych of György Ligeti pieces for two pianos. The duo played Szymanski's outlandish Epitafium from 1974 with startling intensity, and concluded with a piece by Eugeniusz Knapik, joined by pianist Joanna Wicherek and by the soft, sustained tones of Julian Paprocki on clarinet.

The composer's choral piece PHYLAKTERION from 2011 was performed in September at the 55th edition of the Warsaw Autumn Festival of Contemporary Music. (Szymański debuted at the festival in 1979 with the choral work Gloria, awarded first prize by the Polish Composers' Association in their Young Composers' Competition.) Scored for 16 voices and percussion, the piece filled the second half of an astonishing programme by the Katowice City Singer's Ensemble Camerata Silesia, conducted by Anna Szostak. Forceful interplay among soloists and ensemble were colored by a battery of percussion devices, with evocative vocal nuances that included an echo caroming among the chorus members, and glints of humor as Camerata Silesia vocalists whirled plastic tubes. The score and performance became a compelling, visceral manifestation of its libretto, taken from an ancient Greek wall text, a prayer by Mary to Christ, unearthed in 1994 by Polish archeologists in a 12th-century crypt along the Nile River.

The Szymanski residency at the Warsaw Philharmonic includes the world premiere of his Sostenuto on the 25th of January 2013, on the programme conducted by the Philharmonic's artistic director, Antoni Wit, to open the Lutosławski  Year, which celebrates the centennial anniversary of Witold Lutosławski  with violin virtuoso Anne-Sophie Mutter. And in April, the National Opera in Warsaw gives the world premiere production of Szymanski's opera Qudsja Zaher, with a libretto by documentary filmmaker Maciej J. Drygas taken from an Afghan immigrant's death and afterlife, and stage design and direction by the imminent Lithuanian director Eimantus Nekrošius. 

Anne-Sophi Mutter is a musician for whom the works of Łutoslawski are particularly dear. The composer once said, on hearing the violinist's first rendition of his Chain 2 in Zurich's Tonhallein in 1986:

When I first heard her play my Chain 2, I found it to be without par, it was an unforgettable experience. I could not have dreamed of such a sound or of such a rendition of my violin music. In recalling her performance I always think of my future works for the violin. For this I am incredibly grateful to her...

Lutosławski Year commemorations spread beyond the borders of his native Poland, as does the composer's preeminent reputation and renown in conducting the world's brilliant orchestras, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The L.A. Phil has started the Łutoslawski Year with a weekend of concerts at the beginning of December 2012, led by Esa-Pekka Salonen, their Conductor Laureate. Their performance of his First Symphony will be released early next year by Sony Classics as part of a Salonen/L.A. Phil Lutosławski symphony set, made possible thanks to additional support from the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. The Second (Les espaces du sommeil), Third and Fourth symphonies have already been recorded and will feature in the set. 

The LA Times' Mark Swed praised the LA Phil concerts, remarking "Salonen's revelation was making the connections across a couple of centuries, bringing out the inner pulse of Beethoven's score and its rhythmic audacity". 

Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994) was one of Poland's outstanding composers, and a leading figure in the music of the 20th century. He was a great authority, a patriot, an educator of generations of musicians and listeners. He was also a model of modesty, a highly cultured individual, someone who demanded much of himself and others. He was honoured on the 10th anniversary of his death with the 2004 Lutosławski Year declared by the Polish Senate, and the commemorations of his centenial in 2013 promise will hold even more star-studded international events. 

For more information on the Lutosławski Year, see: lutoslawski.culture.pl

For more information on the Philharmonic programmes, see: www.filharmonia.

Author: Alan Lockwood, with contributions by Agnieszka Le Nart