The battle between blind hate and unconditional love and the promise of its eternal resolution through an act of supreme sacrifice shape the intense drama of Krzysztof Penderecki’s St Luke Passion. The Polish composer’s monumental work for narrator, three solo voices, three mixed choirs and orchestra – among the great landmarks of contemporary choral music – is set to open the Salzburg Festival’s Ouverture spirituelle series on Friday 20 July.
Kent Nagano will conduct the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, the Kraków Philharmonic Choir and the Warsaw Boys’ Choir in a performance supported by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute’s Polska Music programme. Warsaw-born actor Sławomir Holland leads a solo line-up that includes soprano Sarah Wegener, tenor Lucas Meachem and bass Matthew Rose.
St Luke Passion, originally commissioned to mark the 700th anniversary of Münster Cathedral in 1966, explores the profound emotions of Christ’s Passion. From the work’s terror-stricken opening cry of ‘Crux’ (‘O Cross’) to its haunting final meditation on the death of Christ, St Luke Passion draws listeners deep into the Gospel narrative while surrounding its story of brutality with space to contemplate consoling words from the Book of Psalms, Latin hymns and chants, and the Roman Catholic Good Friday liturgy. The work combines compositional elements from the past, Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony and Bach’s Passions among them, with great clusters of choral and instrumental sound, twelve-note rows and improvised outbursts to create a strikingly original soundscape of vast scale and compelling contrasts.
Penderecki and Jarzyna's Passion of St. Luke - Image Gallery
Krzysztof Penderecki created his score at a time of rising tension in world affairs. The reforms of the so-called Thaw in the Soviet Union and its satellite states, including Poland, had been replaced by Leonid Brezhnev’s return to authoritarianism; the United States, meanwhile, was escalating its involvement in the Vietnam War with a ground war against the communist Viet Kong. St Luke Passion sounded a timely warning against hate-fuelled violence and offered a message of salvation. Its premiere coincided with the 1000th anniversary of the introduction of Christianity to Poland, a milestone that clearly resonated with Penderecki. ‘It is enough to have some religious beliefs and to express them,’ he replied when asked about the work’s inspiration. ‘I have no objection to my music being regarded as a profession of faith.’
Polska Music’s latest Penderecki project reflects an enduring commitment to his art. Its sequence of high-profile world and national premieres, composer retrospectives and landmark concerts began five years ago during The Rest is Noise festival at London’s Southbank Centre. It has since embraced performances by such leading artists as the Polish and Belcea string quartets, conductors Vladimir Jurowski and Riccardo Muti, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and by Penderecki himself as conductor.
Traces of History in Penderecki’s Oeuvre: From Gagarin to the World Trade Centre
Polska Music supported a critically acclaimed performance of St Luke Passion at the Royal Festival Hall, given as part of the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Belief and Beyond Belief series in March 2017. The concert, attended by the composer, received a standing ovation and underlined the work’s status as one of the 20th century’s greatest artistic expressions of personal faith.
With help from Polska Music, St Luke Passion will receive its first performance at the Salzburg Festival and underline its enduring place in the sacred choral repertoire.
Penderecki's St Luke Passion Gets a Standing Ovation
st luke passion
For years now the Adam Mickiewicz Institute actively supports performances of Polish classical music by renowned international artists worldwide, aiming to increase its popularity across the globe under the brand Polska Music. As well as initiating international stage productions and concerts, commissioning new work, and nurturing contemporary composers, Polska Music also promotes recordings, books and events.
Polska Music has collaborated with a host of high-profile partners around the world, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Berliner Philharmoniker, Bregenz Festival, Chandos Records, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cité de la Musique – Philharmonie de Paris, Ensemble Musikfabrik, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Klangforum Wien, Lincoln Center Festival, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Philharmonia Orchestra, Elbphilharmonie, Münchener Kammerorchester, Rambert Dance Company, Time of Music Festival, Welsh National Opera, Quay Brothers, Royal Opera House, Salzburg Festival and Sound and Music.The Polska Music programme was launched in 2011.
For more information on the Polska Music programme: polskamusic.iam.pl