Interview with Krzysztof Penderecki

by Daniel Belichenko

Krzysztof Penderecki is the legendary and principal figure of contemporary classical music, who received the best Living Composer award at the Midem Classic in Cannes, visited Kharkiv for the first time in June 2010.

Maestro, what are your impressions from visiting Kharkiv? Did you have any surprises?

Krzysztof Penderecki

Krzysztof Penderecki

Positive surprises. I could not even think that cultural events organized by the Consulate, could include such a grandiose concert. I’ve stayed only for two and a half days in Kharkiv and first of all I’d like to note that Conservatoire’s concert became another creative success for me. I liked the youth that performed my music and a superb choir.

Your tours to Armenia, Serbia and Russia often resulted in new music compositions. Will Ukraine be lucky enough therein?

I hope so [laughs]. I’m interested in Church music. I often turn to such compositions, during my work in Poland. I wrote Utrenja at the end of 60s, and it is based on the specifics of Church music. My impressions from Kharkiv are not yet complete, that’s why I cannot answer your question immediately.

What genres have recently attracted you?

I write operas, oratorios, symphonies, concertos, instrumental music, a capellas, and work with chamber music a lot. As I grow older, I become more interested in chamber music. Two or even three chamber music compositions are written every year. Fortunately, all largescale compositions were written especially for them. Saxophone was the in my youth. I began with large canvases and decided to finish with small ones.

Where does the music come from?

From the head [laughs]. I don’t know exactly where it comes from, but I’ve been writing it all of my life, without interruption. It is very very important for me not to replicate. I write in a definite system for about a year or two, and then I go further or… sideways or backwards. It is walking through the maze, wandering. There are no strait ways in the arts, only searching. And often a person stands in front of the wall and it is necessary to come back to the beginning of the way. You shouldn’t be afraid to return. For example, at times, it is absolutely necessary to return to forgotten forms. It happens to me quite often.
During different periods I was interested in various things. I wrote only operas for some time. There was a period when I was carried away by electronic music, then dodecaphony. I compose not very fast, but constantly. I get up at 6 o’clock in the morning, sometimes even earlier and write. My whole life is dedicated to the creation of music. One large composition appears every year. And one or two appear for choir or chamber orchestra.

You’ve invented a new instrument – tubaphones, which
was used in your 7th Symphony. Is it a single experiment or a tendency that needs continuation?

This instrument is rather necessary. I was in Canada one day and I saw aboriginal people on TV. They played on a long bamboo pipe. Pipes were cut from both sides, so that from one side aboriginals played ping pong rackets on them. This inspired me and in Kraków we made just the same instrument from 7-meters long plastic pipes that are used in house building. It is a very convenient and cheep material. It is the only percussive instrument nowadays, on which it is possible to perform perfectly in subcontra octave.

Do we need new instruments in our time?

Certainly. For example, composers always searched for a possibility to get acquainted with new instruments in the 19th century, and they were made last instrument that came to the Symphony Orchestra 120 years ago. The period of my passion for the electronic music did not result in my invention of any new electronic instrument, but it does not mean that this won’t happen. A composer doesn’t invent instruments. He should only have an idea and the people to be able to embody it.

You played in a brass band in 1940. Which instrument did you play?

I tried to play on different instruments. I performed even on a trumpet. There was an orchestra in my home town Dębica, almost symphony [laughs], of rather bad professional level, however the enthusiasm was enormous! My father played the violin. The orchestra only lacked a trumpet and I was told to master it. I liked to play bassoon. Generally, I’m a violinist.

Contemporary avant-garde music deadlocked. And what is the thread of Ariadne in your beloved labyrinth today?

The second avant-garde wave of the 20th century was, of course, a big step forward and a trauma at the same time for the composers of our generation. They keep saying regarding avantgarde: wait and see, somebody will be the avant-garde musician for the whole life. Never less true! The natural evolution of the art is just momentary, when something new appears, but novelty only for the moment. Avant-garde is the process of natural enrichment of our art. Something that we can define today as avant-garde, tomorrow, unfortunately, will be a tradition, or else routine.

Krzysztof Penderecki and Daniel Belik