Running musical marathons in Poland


Central Europe has given birth to many great composers. Bela Bartok of Hungary, the Czech Republic's Antonin Dvorak - not to mention, Austria's Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And this weekend, a 24 hour-long musical marathon of the works of the Polish composer, Henryk Mikolaj Górecki, is being held to celebrate his 70th birthday.

It is the Third Symphony known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, which skyrocketed Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki to international fame. Written in the late 1970s, two decades after the composer's debut, this highly evocative piece appealed to the musical tastes of audiences in the early 1990s. Why? British musicologist Adrian Thomas who wrote a book on Gorecki...

"Because of its calmness, its beauty, its sense of peace and spirituality which people maybe feel they need at the moment. It's a very, very difficult thing to pinpoint because this is so much an unusual event that there's no precedent. We can't see why it should have happened at this particular point. It is certainly something to do with marketing, but obviously the music itself is speaking to people."

The climax of Gorecki's 70th birthday celebrations is a marathon of his music in the Silesian capital of Katowice. Organized by the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra based in the city, it features the composer's entire output, from his early highly innovative works of the mid-Fifties to the powerful Ad Matrem for soprano, to Beatus Vir, written in tribute to the Pope and to his recent settings of Polish folk songs. All in all, almost 24 hours of music in the city's concert venues and churches. A fitting tribute to a man whose loved by all for his integrity and uncompromising views.

"'Art is not business as many artists, not only composers, seem to believe. Art is not a fashion either. True, an artist is subjected to pressure of various kind but it's entirely up to him whether he succumbs to outside influence or not..."

Gorecki has never yielded to changing trends. Early Polish music, religious songs and the rich Polish folk music heritage have been the main sources of inspiration for him for decades now. He is universally regarded as one of the most authentic voices in Polish music. And what is he like in private? Adrian Thomas again.

"He's a man of very strong opinions, very forceful personality. He coaches people on the piano by thumping out the piano part himself. And he's been doing this since he was a student. He's a very formidable pianist. So what comes across in the private meeting is a man of great passion, a man of very strong convictions, a man for whom certain certainties are paramount."

The marathon of Gorecki's music in Katowice also features some of his unpublished works. This is a source of hope for Susan Bamert of Boosey and Hawkes, the Gorecki publisher.

"The word is that he's made a decision to finish two works each month now, from sketches that he's had of many, many works. And we're thrilled with this idea because we're well aware that he's written quite a few pieces, but he hasn't shown them to his publisher yet. And just last week I met with David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet and, as you probably know, the Kronos Quartet has been waiting for his third string quartet for quite some time and they would just be over the moon if they could have a new quartet to take around the world."