Polish Music Journal

Vol. 6, No. 2, Winter 2003. ISSN 1521 - 6039



Reviews of the Górecki Autumn Festival

Fragments Selected by Maja Trochimczyk


Jesień Góreckiego w Los Angeles [Górecki Autumn in Los Angeles]
by Danuta Derlińska-Pawlak (Przegląd Polski, Nowy Dziennik, 30 October 1997)

Among the several meetings with the composer the most important was the symposium devoted to the phenomenon of his music. . . During the symposium a question arose that should not be ignored here. It is an extremely sensitive issue for Henryk Górecki, often causing him to feel a profound dislike towards listening to the recordings of his compositions. It is caused, according to Górecki, by the lack of abilities, or- as you wish, even lack of honesty of performers, who for some or other reasons do not follow the notation of the score, which in consequence results in an erroneous interpretation. Reading music should not provide any difficulty for a professional musician, in addition the scores for many works are very simple, for instance Beatus vir, Op. 38, or O Domina nostra, Op. 55. Usually when a work is received negatively, the performers or conductors are not criticized, but all the blame is addressed at the composer. Górecki mentioned here the second recording of his Concerto for Harpsichord (or Piano) and Orchestra, 0p. 40 (1980-), where the solo part was performed by his daughter. The composer was not present during the recording sessions for this work. Furthermore, all the assurances that the soloist knew the author of the concerto very well and that she was certain she knew how to perform it, were to no avail. The piano part should have been very prominent in this work because it is a Concerto for Piano. Unfortunately, in the interpretation selected by the conductor as the best version to be published, the piano was not audible at all. The conductor was not persuaded by the pianist's arguments and claimed that this was the way he liked the work. As a consequence, the composer did not allow the recording to be released at all. There are other problems with recordings done without the permission of the composer; these recordings are the source of the most worry for Górecki, but he is helpless and unable to prevent them from happening. [Originally in Polish]


Górecki Autumn at USC
by Mark Alburger (20th Century Music, December 1997)

On Friday, October 3, Górecki conducted his most popular symphony for the first time outside of Poland, at USC's Bovard Auditorium in Los Angeles. The work reflects its creator: dignified, compact, yet expansive. Górecki's expressive Stokowskian hand gestures urged low string onward in sustained and solemnly beautiful textures. Then are traces of Bartók and Shostakovich—or even Samuel Barber—in the wonderful, lush, and leisurely canonic writing and even something of "The Huntsman's Funeral" music of Mahler's Symphony No. 1 here. Górecki noble arch form is a ritual of purification, played here in the subdued light of music stands in a darkened chamber. Piano and blurred woodwinds sustained the rising lines of soprano Elizabeth Hynes, whose voice possesses a weightier Germanic heft than that of Dawn Upshaw, the vocalist in the well-known recording. Blend between the soloist and the USC Symphony was impeccable in relating the great mystery and profundity of the utterances. The impassioned return of the opening canon brought outstretched arms from Górecki, as if one crucified. There is a medieval sense of time in the first movement—clocking in at about 35 minutes—which features a meditative and contemplative conclusion, punctuated by surprisingly dissonant piano clusters.

Piano and strings double in the calm central movement, as if in imitation of some extraordinarily sophisticated muzak. The economy and hierarchy in the instrumental writing was very clear in the final section. The strings serve as the bedrock foundation for the oft-chanting voice, itself clarified, muddified, reinforced, and/or extended by winds and piano. The first subject deals with a rising-and-falling four-note figure outlining a minor third, the second is even simpler in a whole-step meander below a simple chorale-like melody. Here, as elsewhere, Górecki shows an impeccable sense of pacing, space, and balance, ending with an interminable tonic. Spellbinding.


A Lot of Night Music — Ship of Foolishness
by Alan Rich (Los Angeles Weekly, 10-16 October 1997)

Henryk Górecki's Third Symphony has been a presence among us for two decades. Composed in 1976, it first achieved fame as part of the soundtrack music of a Gérard Depardieu film called Police. Currently there are nine recordings listed; of there is another large-scale work by a living author so copiously honored, I don't know it. The performance that really got the work onto the charts, rescued its composer from the fine-print listings - an assured a turnaway crowd at USC's Bovard Auditorium last weekend when Górecki came to conduct it - was the 1993 Nonesuch performance led by David Zinman, with the angelic voice of Dawn Upshaw threaded through the music's pale cloud banks in an even lighter shade of pale. Here was music that seemed to speak to DJs — notably KCRW's "eclectic" twins Douridas and Schnabel — and classniks alike, a strange and moving blend of child-like purity and sophistication, Hildegard von Bingen updated.

It's a hypnotic performance, even if Upshaw's ethereal singing differs from the earlier, earthier performances recorded under the composer's supervision. The Third Symphony arrived in the marketplace as the right artwork for the right time: music so beguiling in the simplicity of its language that it becomes a surrogate for the listener's own heartbeat, a canny blend of minimalist "trance" music and the newborn passion for medieval chanting recorded for maximum echo, a comforting hand to assure a nervous world that less can still be more.

Górecki remarked last week, during his five-day residency at USC sponsored by the School of Music and the newly endowed Polish Music Reference Center, that the Zinman/Upshaw version was — at 53 minutes — a bit on the zippy side; his own performance, with Elizabeth Hynes' clear if somewhat toneless singing and the mostly student, remarkably responsive USC Symphony, clocked in at 1:05. The performance was the centerpiece of a five-day "Górecki Autumn" festival that included a number of smaller chamber works, none of them in the least similar to the musical language of the Third. (The first two symphonies, in fact, are terse, rather spiky works in the dissonant contrapuntal manner also favored by Górecki's countrymen Lutoslawski and Penderecki.) To Górecki's credit, he has shown no inclination to create a "Son of Third." I think they call that "wisdom."


Falling into Place: Year in Review, 1997
by Mark Swed (Los Angeles Times, 21 December 1997)

Every year has its high and low points, but the better years also have a spirit that goes beyond individual accomplishments or failures. It is that spirit that gives that year its sense. And so what follows is not necessarily the 10 "best" of 1997 as much as 10 phenomena collectively meant to offer a whiff of a passing year's fleeting spirit.

1: Górecki's Grooves. "Górecki Autumn" at USC came, seemingly, out of the blue, not unlike the way the Polish composer's Third Symphony did when it hit the classical charts a couple of years ago. A fussy and unpredictable character, Górecki had only once before conducted his symphony, and that was in Poland. But there he was, in front of the USC orchestra and an overflow audience that paid a mere $5 a ticket, digging deep into profound music and getting the student players to give what had to be the most committed, probing, intense performance of their young lives. A lot of grandchildren will be hearing about this some day.


Culture and Controversy: A Top 12 of 1997 in the Arts
by Jon Regardie and Jack Skelley (Los Angeles Times, 29 December 1997)

Though difficult to realize at times (and in The Times), there was more to culture in Los Angeles in 1997 than the Getty Center. And, once again much of if took place Downtown . . .

5. The Great Górecki: The classical coup of the year went to USC School of Music, who persuaded Polish composer/hermit Henryk Górecki to make his American conducting debut with his popular Symphony No. 3 during October's five-day "Górecki Autumn." The somber minimalist work came off as deeply passionate. It sold out instantly but not just because the tickets were only $5.


Other Press Coverage of Górecki's Autumn



Elaine Dutka: "How USC Nabbed the Great Górecki" (Los Angeles Times, 21 September 1997, reprinted here)

Maria Anna Harley and James Harley: "Henryk Mikołaj Górecki" Musical Biography" (News of Polonia 3, no. 5 (22 September 1997)

Jack Skelley: "Górecki to Grace USC" (Los Angeles Downtown News 26, no. 39 (29 September 1997)

Mark Swed: "Górecki Festival Begins with Searing Early, Late Works" (Los Angeles Times, 2 October 1997)

Greg Sandow: "Celebrating the Surprises That Are Górecki's Gift" (Los Angeles Times, 1 October 1997, reprinted here)

Mark Swed: "Górecki's Third Is All His Own" (Los Angeles Times, 6 October 1997, reprinted here)

Paul Gannon: "Polish Composer Directs USC Symphony" (The Daily Trojan, 6 October 1997)

Melissa Payton: "Górecki's Visit to USC Ends on a High Note" (USC Chronicle, 20 October 1997, reprinted here)

Wanda Wilk: "Behind the Scenes" (News of Polonia, reprinted here)

James Harley: "Celebrating Górecki in California" (Musicworks, Spring 1998)

Richard Ginell: Los Angeles: USC Symphony: Górecki Symphony No. 3" (American Record Guide, reprinted here)


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Copyright 1997 by the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Weekly. Used by permission.
Copyright 1998 byAmerican Record Guide, Musicworks, 20th Century Music. Used by permission.
Editors: Maja Trochimczyk and Linda Schubert.
Editorial Assistance: Krysta Close.
Publisher: Polish Music Center, Winter 2003.
Design: Maja Trochimczyk & Marcin Depinski.
Comments and inquiries by e-mail: polmusic@email.usc.edu