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Andrzej Panufnik acknowledges applause following the world premiere of his Symphony no. 10 in February 1990

Andrzej Panufnik acknowledges applause following the world premiere of his Symphony no. 10 in February 1990

This year we celebrate the centennial of composer and conductor Sir Andrzej Panufnik, one of Poland’s leading musicians of the twentieth century.

In February 1990, Panufnik debuted as guest conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, leading two of his works: his Concerto for Violin and Strings (with co-concertmaster Samuel Magad as soloist) and the world premiere of his Tenth Symphony, commissioned for the CSO’s centennial. On the second half of the program, Sir Georg Solti led Beethoven’s Second Symphony.

In the composer’s own words: “The commission was at once a great honor and a tremendous challenge. My first thought was to write a show-piece with virtuoso pyrotechnics to take fullest advantage of the celebrated technical possibilities of the Orchestra. However, I eventually decided that the best homage to these brilliant players would be a symphony, which, through various combinations of groups and instruments, would demonstrate their supreme sound quality, show off their collective musicianship and humanity, and their ability to convey their intense and profound feeling. . . .

“The symphony is written in one continuous movement consisting of fourteen sections. The first two have the character of an invocation. The following sections, meditative in character, build up gradually to a climax, which is suddenly cut short, leaving the vibration of the piano-strings from which emerges the prayer-like music of the last two sections.” The program page and notes are here.

In the Chicago Sun-Times, Robert Marsh wrote: “The Symphony no. 10 produces mixed impressions and would be best evaluated in a second, and more subtle, performance. This one appeared to be quite episodic, but parts of the score are quite striking, and the quiet close is very beautiful. Panufnik is deeply influenced by Stravinsky, whose spirit haunts the score, but it is Stravinsky rethought by a keen and adventurous mind” (the complete review is here).

And in the Chicago Tribune, John von Rhein surmised that since the work bore no descriptive title, the composer “apparently wishes the listener to consider it as absolute music. Yet hearing the final section—its quietly flowing strings and harp evoking a vast stillness after the jagged rhythmic exertions of the middle pages—one cannot help but think of the recent relaxation of official controls on creative artists in Poland that is allowing Panufnik to return to his homeland for the first time since his departure in 1954. The music seems to carry a fervent (if implicit) message of reconciliation . . .” (the complete review is here).

In September 1990, Panufnik did indeed return to Poland for the first time in thirty-six years, and he conducted the European premiere of his Tenth Symphony. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in early 1991.

This week, Principal Trumpet Christopher Martin is soloist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first performances of Panufnik’s Concerto in modo antico. Riccardo Muti conducts.

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To honor Sir Georg Solti’s seventy-fifth birthday, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus gave a gala concert of the highest order on October 9, 1987.

Governor James R. Thompson opened the concert with welcoming remarks, and after the intermission, Mayor Harold Washington presented Sir Georg with the City of Chicago’s Medal of Merit. The concert program was as follows:

CORIGLIANO Campane di Ravello (world premiere)
Kenneth Jean, conductor

J. STRAUSS Overture to Die Fledermaus
Plácido Domingo, conductor

MOZART Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat Major, K. 365
Sir Georg Solti, conductor and piano
Murray Perahia, piano

STRAUSS Don Juan, Op. 20
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

Plácido Domingo and Kiri Te Kanawa perform a scene from Verdi’s Otello (Jim Steere photo)

VERDI Excerpts from Act 1 of Otello
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano
Plácido Domingo, tenor
Kurt R. Hansen, tenor
Joseph Wolverton, tenor
Richard Cohn, baritone
David Huneryager, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

The commemorative program contained letters and testimonials from numerous public officials, conductors, musicians, and industry professionals, including: Ronald Reagan, James R. Thompson, Harold Washington, Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Carlo Maria Giulini, Rafael Kubelík, John Corigliano, Christoph von Dohnányi, Rudolf Serkin, Henry Fogel, Michael Tilson Thomas, Christa Ludwig, Birgit Nilsson, Witold Lutosławski, Sir Charles Mackerras, Mstislav Rostropovich, Klaus Tennstedt, David Del Tredici, Leonard Bernstein, Leonard Slatkin, Werner Klemperer, José van Dam, Elliott Carter, Karel Husa, Isaac Stern, Morton Gould, Hans Werner Henze, Itzhak Perlman, Anja Silja, Erich Leinsdorf, Josef Suk, Plácido Domingo, Michael Tippett, Kiri Te Kanawa, Murray Perahia, Leontyne Price, András Schiff, Kenneth Jean, Andrzej Panufnik, Dame Janet Baker, Pierre Boulez, Yvonne Minton, Herbert Blomstedt, Mira Zakai, Margaret Hillis, Gunther Herbig, Ray Minshull, Ann Murray, Philip Langridge, Raymond Leppard, Vladimir Ashkenazy, George Rochberg, Gwynne Howell, Ardis Krainik, Michael Morgan, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Henry Mancini, and Barbara Hendricks.

Solti and Perahia as soloists in Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos (Jim Steere photo)

The concert was covered widely in the press, in the Chicago Tribune (here, here, and here) and Sun-Times (here and here), as well as Time, Newsweek, the Post-Tribune, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among many others.

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