Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Panufnik at 100

Andrzej Panufnik
"It is the true Phoenix, the only one, and it belongs to the world, if the world will have it. This is what Panufnik's great Ninth Symphony celebrates, in a unique manner. It is his crowning achievement, so far. It is hoped that it will be followed by others, just as new." - Harold Truscott from "The Achievement of Andrzej Panufnik," Tempo, December 1984.
I first heard about Andrzej Panufnik in 1989 from my composition teacher Walter Mays, who had heard a radio broadcast. We both liked Polish music, and I had already been inspired by a Polish violin teacher Andrzej Grabiec, to study the music of Krzysztof Penderecki. A recent release on Nonesuch made me fall in love with the Sinfonia Sacra. Soon ordering scores, taping LPs to cassettes, and researching everything I could find on the composer took up my free time. One spring day a few years later, I called the maestro inquiring about study in London with some private lessons, and if I could get some answers about the mesmerizing third symphony (Sinfonia Sacra). “Write me”, he advised about the questions, and we can “talk about study in the future”, after seeing some scores of mine. This of course, was before email, and google, so to come up with a number, and call internationally from Kansas was really a feat. I didn’t get around to sending those questions or scores, and sadly, Andrzej passed that fall.
Panufnik was a composer, pianist, conductor and pedagogue born on September 24th, 1914. He became established as one of the leading Polish composers, and as a conductor he was instrumental in the re-establishment of the Warsaw Philharmonic orchestra after World War II. After his increasing frustration with the extra-musical demands made on him by the country's regime, Andrzej defected to the United Kingdom in 1954. But in England, just like Poland, the musical scene wasn't right; in the East, it seemed he was too radical and in the West, not radical enough. Among his positions, he was conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for two years, but then dedicated his life to composition only. It was in 1963 that Panufnik started gaining more fame (since his defection,) by winning the Monte Carlo Composition Competition with his third symphony, Sinfonia Sacra.
Roxanna and John in 2007
Panufnik eventually married a photographer Camilla, and had two children: Jem, a gifted young man who is an artist/dj; and a daughter Roxanna, a composer. I got to know them through the internet, and via interviews in the US.
Audio examples (including 37 pieces for over 3 hours of listening!) are here on Spotify: http://open.spotify.com/user/violinscigars/playlist/5wTX6QW6Q67DLAcMgCka0l that includes both Roxanna’s and Andrzej’s music.

I sent some questions to Roxanna and Camilla about Andrzej. Here are their responses:
1. This year is filled with celebrations - how is it to hear these new interpretations of Andrzej's music?
Roxanna: It’s so exciting to hear different interpretations of his works - it keeps him very much alive and kicking!
Camilla: I have been to dozens of Panufnik concerts this year, and have been most struck by the immense enthusiasm of the performing musicians, not only regular performers but new performers who find the emotional and poetic aspects of Andrzej Panufnik's music extremely exciting, while at the same time they are fascinated by the originality and power of his compositional skills.   There have been many fabulous performances, wonderfully received by audiences.  Andrzej - sometimes said his music belonged to the 21st Century, rather than when he composed it, and now I see and I feel - that he was right.
2. The CPO recordings are astounding. While there have been excellent recordings in the past, this is a series of young musicians with the same orchestra. Does that make a difference?
Roxanna: Can’t answer this one, but mum can!
Camilla: Most important in making this amazingly exciting set of 8 CDs was the young and brilliant Polish conductor, Lukasz Borowicz, the artistic director of the Warsaw-based Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra. He conducted the first 3 CDs with his excellent Warsaw Orchestra, and the further five CDs, requiring a larger orchestra, in Berlin with the brilliant Konzerthausorchester.
3. 100 years - the world has changed so much. Yet Andrzej's music speaks to new audiences and is fresh. Is there a piece that speaks to you personally? (Almost all of his works touch me, but Katyn Epitaph hits me most! Both the tragedy and music.)
Roxanna: Nothing beats Sinfonia Sacra for me - especially hearing it performed live. It’s so timeless in its beauty and passion - so fresh, even 50 years after it was written!
Camilla: It's difficult for me to name just one work. I love all of them. Some of course have special associations for me. Andrzej was composing his wonderful Sinfonia Sacra at the time our love affair was blossoming. The mysterious, exquisite 1948 Lullaby is a fascinating earlier work of immense originality, which led to him being acknowledged as the "Father of the Polish School" of experimental music in the 2nd half of the 20th Century. The Violin Concerto is also very close to my heart. I agree with you that Katyn Epitaph is deeply moving and it expresses his deep feelings about the 15,000 victims. And the last section of Symphony No 10 reduces me to tears, it's so beautiful. No, I have to say I love them ALL and each one stirs a different memory.
Father and daughter composers
4. How is it to have Roxanna's (your) and Andrzej's music together on programs (and now!) recordings? Roxanna: It feels very natural - i would have fought it 20 - even 15 - years ago whilst i strove to prove myself as an independent voice form his but now i relish those musical traits we have in common!
Camilla: Andrzej would have been so proud of Roxanna and her immense success in the world of composition, no easy task in this day and age.  People love her music and want to perform it over and over again.  I am thrilled at our daughter's recognition in the musical world and I rejoice to hear the music of the two classical Panufniks side by side.  There is a definite link, spiritual as much as definable...
5. Panufnik Young Composers and inspirations from his music - affecting young composers...are there any goals or challenges ahead?
Roxanna: Mum needs to answer this one!
Camilla: The LSO-Panufnik Project for Young Composers give 6 talented young composers each year the chance to learn from proximity to Britain's greatest Orchestra. They have coaching sessions on advanced composition for some of the more complex instruments such the whole range of percussion, or the harp, and they can test with any member of the orchestra their experimental ideas, they can attend rehearsals and concerts, they are coached by an experienced composer, they get to understand the pride and adoration of music of great orchestral players, and there are all sorts of other areas of help and perks. We have a brilliant young French conductor who conducts our quite fiery workshops with both kindness and challenges. Each year we commission two of our composers to compose for public concerts with the LSO ; also each year we have further ideas how we can develop the scheme, which is supported by the very enthusiastic Helen Hamlyn Trust.  We have great results, many of the alumni are getting excellent commissions, the orchestralove the scheme and by mutual consent decided to start recording some of the short compositions which have succeeded most at our workshops. The first year we had 17 people applying. This year we had 131 applicants.  Sir Andrzej Panufnik of course is an example to them all!
6. Congratulations, and many happy thoughts for this wonderful milestone for an incredible musicians and man.
Roxanna: Thank you! X
Camilla: Thank you John.  You have been enthusiastic about Panufnik music long before so many great performers discovered it!  I appreciate that more than words can say!
[Clare's early fan site of Andrzej's: https://web.archive.org/web/19990204005110/http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/1014/print.html]

Panufnik & Lutoslawski reunited in 1990
Panufnik was a good friend of Witold Lutoslawski...they were famous for performing duets during World War II in underground cafes around Warsaw. Their rep included the infamous Paganini Variations: