Poland’s contemporary classic

Whenever the issue of classical musical springs up, one’s mind invariably travels to the past. There is a certain element of sadness attached to this thought. There are a number of contemporary composers, however, whose powerful voices take away this sadness. Greece, for one, had (at least) two such artists, namely Iannis Xenakis and Yiannis Christou. The former died less than a decade ago, while the latter met an untimely death in a car accident in 1970. Today, one of the artists standing at the forefront of living classical music is Poland’s Krzysztof Penderecki. Local audiences will get a chance to enjoy some of the composer’s works tomorrow, at a concert taking place at the Athens Concert Hall as part of this year’s Greek Festival. Under the baton of the composer himself, Sinfonia Varsovia is scheduled to interpret three Penderecki works: Agnus Dei (transcription for strings); Concerto for viola and orchestra (transcribed for cello and orchestra, 1983) featuring cellist Danjulo Ishizaka and Symphony No 2 (1979-1980). Born in southern Poland in 1933, Penderecki studied music at Krakow University as well as at the city’s Academy of Music. His name first emerged at the end of the 1950s, when he presented a number of major works, among them his «Psalms to David» and «Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima,» the latter featuring 52 string instruments. Influenced by the avant-garde movement led by Pierre Boulez and John Cage as well as great composers such as Anton Webern and Igor Stravinsky, at the beginning of his career Penderecki put forward relatively aggressive, experimental music ensembles, which almost conflicted with one another, as well as a personal expression that emanated a unique power. Also part of the composer’s early period is his now famous «St Luke Passion» (1963-1966), along with the oratorio «Dies Irae» (written in 1967 in memory of Auschwitz victims) and the short orchestral work «The Awakening of Jacob» (1974). Composed in a clearly experimental manner, «St Luke Passion» was the composer’s first entirely religious work – and it came about in a communist society. Overall, it is a work which brings together a number of Penderecki’s talents as a composer: Besides a series of experimental temptations he faced when composing this particular piece, in his mind at the time was one single composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. Teaching at Yale in the early 1970s, Penderecki began to progressively change, turning to more traditional forms – similarly to Stravinsky in his latter period. According to the composer, Luigi Nono and Karlheinz Stockhausen’s innovative works had been highly liberating for artists living under communism. Later on, however, he came to realize that the avant-garde’s Prometheus tone proved to be more catastrophic than it was creative. In 1980, Penderecki was commissioned by Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement to compose a piece dedicated to those killed in anti-government riots in 1970. This resulted in «Lacrimosa,» a composition which Penderecki later added to his exceptional Polish requiem. Penderecki’s name and work became further known through his association with the world of cinema, given that a number of his works were used in films such as Stanley Kubrick’s «The Shining,» William Friedkin’s «The Exorcist,» David Lynch’s «Wild at Heart» and more recently, Andrzej Wajda’s «Katyn.» Athens Concert Hall, 1 Kokkali & Vas. Sofias, tel 210.728.2333. For tickets, contact the Greek Festival box office at 39 Panepistimiou and