To say goodbye to Krzysztof Penderecki


Roman Rewakowicz’s memoir about Krzysztof Penderecki

from the Ukrainian web portal “Zbrucz” 30.03.2020:

To say goodbye to Krzysztof Penderecki

Yesterday, March 29, 2020, Krzysztof Penderecki – one of the most important and well-known musical creators of the 20th and 21st centuries – passed away to eternity. After the deaths of Witold Lutoslawski in 1994, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki in 2010, Wojciech Kilar in 2013, and in these days of Krzysztof Penderecki, the era of musical titans who enriched the world’s musical heritage with their work and made Polish musical culture famous around the world is closing in Poland. Krzysztof Penderecki was the most bright and colorful among them, his works encompassing all musical types and genres.

I was fortunate to be friends with the great Maestro. I first met Krzysztof Penderecki in person on February 14, 1992, when I was still the conductor of the Ukrainian Men’s Choir “Zhuravli” (“Cranes”). At the time, he mentioned how close he was to the Eastern tradition and that in his youth he sometimes visited the Orthodox church with his father. To this day I still keep the notes of Penderecki’s piece “Benedicamus Domino” for men’s choir, which I received from him at the time with a commemorative inscription by the composer.

Years passed and again the opportunity for contact with the world-famous composer happened. It was then that the Lviv “Contrasts” were being created, in the organization of which I was also involved. I felt the need to give this festival an appropriate dimension – the presence at the festival of a composer and conductor of world importance was very important to us. The Maestro responded very positively, it only remained to find an opportunity for his visit. For the first time, after many years of absence from Lviv – he recalled visiting the city before World War II on family relations – Krzysztof Penderecki and his wife Elzbieta Penderecka came to Lviv in September 1995, after a concert featuring his music in nearby Przemyśl. The “patriarch” of Lviv composers Mykola Kolessa was still alive at the time – the meeting at the Lviv branch of the Composers’ Union of Ukraine remained in memory as extremely warm and cordial. At that time – still on the eve of the first “Contrasts” – we expressed our wish to invite our guest to the second festival in 1996. Everything begins with a thought – “in the beginning there was the word” – the idea had been thrown, it was now necessary to materialize it. This was the time of my strong commitment to “Contrasts” and the belief that this festival will be able to fulfill in Ukrainian music the role that “Warsaw Autumn” – the International Festival of Contemporary Music Warsaw Autumn played in Polish music to a great extent and is responsible for the success and place of Polish music in today’s world context.

The opportunity presented itself. I learned from officials at the Ministry of Culture and the Arts (today’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage) that the first Polish Culture Festival in Ukraine was planned for 1996. How more powerfully to showcase Polish culture in Ukraine if not with the participation of such an important musical personality as Krzysztof Penderecki. At the time, we agreed with the Ministry of Culture that the presentation of Penderecki’s music would take place in Lviv as part of two festivals – the First Festival of Polish Culture in Ukraine and the Second International Festival of Contemporary Music “Contrasts.” The concert took place on November 22, 1996, at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Lviv, with the participation of Polish soloists, as well as the choir and orchestra of the Krakow Philharmonic, in the program – Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Polish Requiem”, conducted by the composer himself. The event was huge! Years later, it is pleasant to read the memories of how young adepts of music came to Lviv from various cities in Ukraine especially for this concert. The cost of the Polish performers’ arrival in Lviv was paid by the Polish Ministry of Culture, our task was to organize the concert and coordinate with the Festival of Polish Culture.

After such a successful performance of Penderecki’s work, I dreamed of continuing this important activity. I decided to present in Kiev Penderecki’s then newest work “Credo” for soloists, boys’ choir, mixed choir and large symphony orchestra, completed by the composer in 1998. In November 1998, I was after my first concert with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, whose director at the time was Ivan Hamkalo – I conducted such a program: Krzysztof Penderecki’s Jacob’s Awakening, Witold Lutoslawski’s Piano Concerto with soloist Oksana Rapita and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1. It was agreed that the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, the National Choir of Ukraine “Dumka” and the Boys’ Choir of the Lysenko Music School would participate in the concert. From the Polish side, Polish soloists and Maestro Krzysztof Penderecki were to take part. Intrigues at the time did not allow this concert to be held in St. Nicholas Church – Organ Hall. The concert was moved to the Philharmonic Hall. Also, by the decision of the Ukrainian bureaucracy, we were forced to change the orchestra – the Symphony Orchestra of the National Philharmonic of Ukraine took part in the concert. The concert, which took place on March 31, 1999, again caused a furor in Ukrainian cultural circles. On the occasion of Krzysztof Penderecki’s visit to Kiev, the National Academy of Music of Ukraine honored the distinguished guest with an honorary doctorate – the promoter was Yevhen Stankovych.

Krzysztof Penderecki’s arrival in Kiev generated great media interest. The composer gave numerous interviews in which he emphasized his connection to Ukraine, saying: “My father was born in the village of Tenetnyki near Rohatyn.” Lo and behold, the day after such a statement, a nice girl comes to the rehearsal and says to the composer: “Professor, my name is Lyubov Penderetskaya, my parents were also born in the village of Tenetnyki near Rohatyn. But there everyone is called Penderecki…” I witnessed this conversation. And now I can’t hold back a smile, remembering the surprised face of the Maestro – his name so unique in Poland turned out to be widely spread in Ukraine. The story will continue…

Returning to Warsaw by plane, it turned out that on the same flight were businessmen Stanislaw Malyska and Janusz Bukala – heads of the “Karpaty” company, who flew with Krzysztof Penderecki to Kiev and, invited by him, visited the performance of “Credo” at the Philharmonic. Delighted with the event, they asked the Maestro what they could do for him – maybe there are some ideas. I timidly hinted: “Credo” in Lviv… And so another presentation of this great work in Ukraine resulted. What better context for it in Lviv than “Contrasts”… This is how this performance came about on October 12, 1999, as part of the 5th “Contrasts” Festival. This time the Roman Catholic Church authorities did not want to open the Cathedral for “Credo,” but the hall of the Lviv Opera Theater was opened as a guest by its then director Tadeusz Eder. Honorary patronage was given to the concert by President Aleksander Kwasniewski. The performance featured Polish soloists, the “Dudaryk” Boys’ Choir, the “Dumka” National Choir of Ukraine and the Penderecki Festival Orchestra, formed on the basis of the Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra. Maestro Penderecki conducted the event. The sponsor of the event was the Polish company “Karpaty”, responsible at the time for the construction of the largest section of the Yamal gas pipeline in Poland. At the concert there were many distinguished guests from Poland, including the wife of the President of Poland Mrs. Jolanta Kwasniewska. A great success, a great event that will be remembered for a lifetime. The momentum and extraordinariness! The presence of the composer’s wife Mrs. Elżbieta Penderecka added to the splendor – she, like few others, knows how to build importance, or to expose this importance.

 It will be interesting to add that “Credo” was sounded in Ukraine earlier than in Poland. And the premiere of the piece took place on July 11, 1998 at the Bach Festival in Oregon, USA. Preparing to perform in Lviv in October 1999, the “Dudaryk” Choir was invited to the first performance of this piece in Poland, which took place in Warsaw on September 17, 1999 at the Holy Cross Church – in Ukraine the piece was performed on March 31, 1999. And one more memory – after the performance of “Credo” in Lviv, I managed to persuade the directors of the “Galca” Coffee Factory, Borys Dubov and Yaroslav Volynets, to support the first festival “Days of Ukrainian Music in Warsaw”, which took place in December 1999. Krzysztof Penderecki agreed to take part in the honorary committee of this festival. The “Karpaty” company also supported us. This year we are preparing the sixth edition of this event, which has its roots in the Lviv performance of “Credo.” And this performance of “Credo” was the first action of the “Pro Musica Viva” Foundation, founded in 1998 and run by me.

There is another memory. On the eve of the performance of “Credo” in Lviv, a trip was planned to the village of Tenetnyki near Rohatyn. Lubov Penderecka, whose grandmother lived there at the time, was to be the guide. A small bus was provided by the Polish Consulate in Lviv, and among the participants of the trip were Elżbieta and Krzysztof Penderecki, Lviv-based Polish director Zbigniew Chrzanowski and myself. The Ivano-Frankivsk roads in October were not overly kind to the car, but we arrived nevertheless. About twenty Penderecki family members, for whom Tenetnyki was a family nest, were waiting for us at the hospitable cottage. It was extremely interesting to meet a distinguished guest with his three years older uncle in the line of Penderecki’s grandfather’s brother. The grandfather and the composer’s underage father had already left for Poland before World War I, where Penderecki’s father grew up, received an education and married Zofia (née Berger). As was then and not uncommon in families with many children, the difference between the oldest and youngest children could reach up to one generation – years from twenty, and this was also the case in the Penderecki family. I witnessed a meeting across generations – Krzysztof Penderecki met the son of his grandfather’s brother. This uncle of Penderecki’s had a son, Andrew (if I’m not mistaking the name), who in the 1990s worked in Lviv as a journalist and also took part in elections to the city or regional council.

 Krzysztof Penderecki himself did not return to this event in the public space. Nor do I recall encountering anywhere a mention of a possible trace of his Ukrainian ancestry. He emphasized the German origin of his mother’s father or the Armenian origin of his grandmother on his father’s side. It might be interesting to quote a passage from a two-volume work on the composer by the eminent Polish musicologist Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski: “To his own father he owes Penderecki in matters of faith – an openness that led him towards ecumenism. One can think that this ecumenism was born out of family realities. During one of his doctoral speeches, Penderecki put his own provenance in a succinct formulation: I am a hybrid, my family comes from the borderlands, my grandmother on my father’s side was Armenian, while my grandfather was German. This Armenian grandmother, Stefania Szylkiewicz, married a Pole in Austrian service, Michal Penderecki. They lived in Zahatin (probably misnamed Rohatyn – R.R.) near Stanislawow, just across the former Polish-Ukrainian border. Well, this “borderland” grandfather of Krzysztof Penderecki, Michal, along with his widely branched family, went not to church, but to an Orthodox church, only that it was not an Orthodox church, but a Ukrainian-Polish, or Greek Catholic one. Some year, while still in Austrian times, he was transferred by service to Debica. His son Tadeusz, born in 1906, wins the hand of a near peer, the lovely Sophia Berger, only six months younger than himself. He enters his wife’s entrenched family in Debica. His own closer and more distant family has remained outside the Polish-Soviet border since 1918. During one of Krzysztof Penderecki’s recent visits to Ukraine, after a concert in Zhytomyr, seventeen members of his father and grandfather Michael’s family came to meet their famous relative. (Mieczyslaw Tomawszewski “Penderecki. Revolt and Liberation,” Volume I, p. 93, Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, 2008). It is certainly worth correcting here the geographical location of the village from which the Penderecki family originated. Perhaps, had it not been for a mistake in the name of the locality – Zahatin, Tomaszewski would not have written that it was already in Soviet Ukraine after the First War – Rohatyn is located west of the Zbruch River….

These details will certainly still be investigated. A personality of great stature has passed away from us. An inspirer of many directions and an extraordinarily creative composer. Penderecki’s interest in the East, especially in the tradition of Eastern Christianity, can be found in some of his works – in the “Matins” of 1970-71, in the unusually beautiful and capturing Eastern spirit of the “Song of the Cherubim” for mixed choir a cappella of 1986, or in the “Hymn to St. Danil, Prince of Moscow” of 1997.

Since Krzysztof Penderecki’s first concert trip to Ukraine in 1996, there have been a number of concerts with his participation. Also noteworthy is the composer’s long-standing cooperation with the National Choir of Ukraine “Dumka”, whose excellent singing particularly appealed to the famous Maestro.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that some of Krzysztof Penderecki’s last musical paths also led to Ukraine. On September 29, 2018, “Credo” was again performed at the Kyiv Philharmonic as part of the “Music of Independence” project organized by the “Pro Musica Viva” Foundation in cooperation with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute from Warsaw, dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Poland’s and Ukraine’s regaining of independence, with the participation of Polish soloists, the “Bell Bell” Boys’ Choir, the “Dumka” National Choir of Ukraine and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine – with Maestro Krzysztof Penderecki behind the conducting desk. It was also the inauguration of the XXIX International Festival “Kyiv Music Fest”. Krzysztof Penderecki’s last visit to Ukraine was quite recently – in December 2019, when his “Seven Gates of Jerusalem” was performed in Odessa with the participation of Polish soloists, the “Dumka” Choir and the Odessa National Philharmonic Orchestra – conducted by Hobart Earle.

His music has sounded and will continue to sound in the first concert halls of the world with the participation of the most famous performers. The breadth of cultural inspiration and breadth of musical creativity – unique. As we bid farewell to Krzysztof Penderecki today, we are left with his music, the quantity and breadth of which amazes, delights and will inspire future generations of musicians.

Roman Rewakowicz
P.S. These memories of mine were very interestingly supplemented by Bogdan Gancarz in the article
“Krzysztof Penderecki’s Eastern Roots.”

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