Thursday, April 29, 2010

Krzysztof Penderecki Interview


Yale in New York: Penderecki Conducts Penderecki

Krzysztof Penderecki, composer/conductor

Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale

April 30, 2010

Carnegie Hall

Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki’s music might sound familiar to fans of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, in which it is prominently featured. But Penderecki—whose unsettling, dissonant compositions have also graced the soundtracks of such films as The Shining, The Exorcist and Inland Empire—has written a wide variety of music that belies his reputation as the go-to composer for “weird” sounds in scary movies.

Since leaping to the forefront of the musical avant-garde in 1960 with his shrieking orchestral piece Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, Penderecki has been writing strong, assured, vigorous music for the past five decades, with each successive work increasingly more difficult to pigeonhole as he has steadily worked in various genres from chamber music to opera and symphonies to concertos.

Penderecki will conduct his own music at Carnegie Hall on April 30, leading the Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale in four of his own works from different periods of his career: the opening Threnody is followed by his Capriccio for Violin and Orchestra from 1967 (with soloist Syoko Aki, a Yale faculty member) and his recent Horn Concerto from 2008 (with soloist William Purvis, also a Yale faculty member). His Symphony No. 4, from 1989, closes the program.

The composer spoke recently about his 70 years of composing music, along with his thoughts on hearing his music in movies.

Kevin Filipski: You taught music at Yale in the mid ‘70s, so how does it feel to return?

Krzysztof Penderecki: It was 30 years ago that I taught here, and I was back 4 years ago, conducting Yale’s Philharmonia Orchestra. From time to time, I do come back, but my schedule is so crazy. For example, yesterday I just came back from Shanghai, spending two weeks in China. And before that I was in Portugal. I am always traveling and traveling, and I don’t have enough time to compose. But at least I’m usually conducting my own music.

KF: Were you involved in putting together the program you’re conducting at Carnegie?

KP: They (the Yale in New York people) wanted certain pieces. They asked me to do Threnody, which is a very famous piece and very characteristic of my early music. The second piece, the Capriccio for Violin, is from 1967, then we’re doing a recent piece, the Horn Concerto, from 2008. I am calling this concerto Winterreise, but it has nothing to do with Schubert: it’s in the tradition of hunting concerti that were popular in 17th century Italy, and one motif of the concerto is a hunting motif for the horn and the three other horns in the orchestra. Then, after intermission, we’re finishing with my Symphony No. 4, which I composed 20 years ago. This was also the choice of Yale, and I am glad they chose it because I like this symphony.

KF: It’s no coincidence that these four works represent different periods of your career.

KP: I’ve been composing many years, and I started early. When I was seven, I wrote my first piece. I’ve been composing for 70 years and my music has been changing over these many decades, from my early music influenced by certain 19th century composers: I wanted to be a violinist as a child, so I wrote in the style of Paganini. Then a very important time in my development was the late ‘50s and early ‘60s where I became an avant-garde composer: the Threnody was from this period of my career, a time of discovery not only for me but for European music and later in America. It was a time of renewing musical language and the discovery of electronic music. At the time I was writing Threnody, I was working in an electronic studio in Poland. The Capriccio is a funny piece: during my avant-garde period, I wrote this instrumental virtuoso piece because the sentiment for virtuosity was missing in my music. I’ve since written many concertos for many instruments and soloists, including violin concertos for Isaac Stern and Anne-Sophie Mutter, a cello concerto for Mstislav Rostropovich, and a flute concerto Jean-Pierre Rampal. I’ve been lucky to have many great friends and performers.

KF: You’ve composed eight symphonies—how important is the symphony, which is not considered a contemporary musical form, to you?

KP: Symphonies and chamber music are most important to me. I’ve written eight symphonies so far, although the sixth is not quite finished so I am going back to it. They were written in different times of my development—I waited until I was 40 to write my first symphony because I thought that to write symphonies one had to be mature. After that, every 5-6 years I have written a new symphony, so it is a very important opus for me. I consider myself a symphonist, and there were not many composers using this form when I started writing them. For me, the big instrumental form is very important, and my symphonies reflect all the changes in my music over the past 40 years.

KF: Many people—including myself—were introduced to your music through movies like The Exorcist and The Shining. Why did you stop composing film scores, and how do you respond to your music being used in many movies, even today?

KP: I was writing music for movies in the very beginning of my career in the ‘50s and the ‘60s (such as The Saragossa Manuscript and Je t’aime, Je t’aime). I decided it was very dangerous for a so-called serious composer, because it’s very easy to make a lot of money doing it, but returning to composing serious music will be more difficult afterwards. But I have allowed good directors like Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch to use my music. Most important to me is Andrzej Wajda’s recent film Katyn, which used a lot of my music. It’s true that many people only know my name from the music that’s been heard in the movies. When Kubrick called me about The Shining, it was very strange: he first asked me to write music for his film, but I instead gave him suggestions about some of my pieces. I told him about The Awakening of Jacob, which he did use in The Shining. It was written as a sacred work, so it’s scary how well it works in the movie, during very eerie moments. My music is rather abstract and maybe even strange-sounding for some people, so maybe that’s why it’s been used in so many horror movies and thrillers.

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