The Boston Globe from Boston, Massachusetts on October 29, 2013 · G7
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The Boston Globe from Boston, Massachusetts · G7

Boston, Massachusetts
Issue Date:
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
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timbral potential of traditional instruments, dragging the unearthly sounds of electronic music into the realm of live performance with some unorthodox reverse engineering. The chorus in "Dimensions of Time and Space" (1959-61) chants chains of percussive consonants and keening vowels, the phonemes organized in serial fashion. In "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima," the 1960 piece that was the composer's first international, breakout success, the 52 string players whack their instruments, bow behind the bridge, and combine into massive, roaring tone-clusters. "This was a time of discovery," he remembers. "I wanted to write every piece so it was really different." Penderecki became the leader of a new Polish school of avant-garde music. As he and his fellow composers pursued ever-more radical conceptions, "we closed the door behind us," he says, shutting out the past. But, after "Polymorphia" and "Fluorescences," its full-orchestra cousin, Penderecki sensed that the quest for novelty was becoming increasingly Sisyphean. "There is some limit to finding, always, new things," he realized. "It's rather impossible." Form came first: Penderecki started to put his unorthodox instrumental techniques in service of older templates, especially sacred ones: the "St. Luke Passion" (1966, a massive work that ratified the celebrity that started with the "Threnody"), a "Dies Irae" setting, a "Magnificat." Tonal anchors and references became more pronounced: in "Kosmogonia," a space-themed oratorio composed for the 25th anniversary of the United Nations, characteristic fogs of dissonance are suddenly burned away by a blazing, E-major Co-pernican sun. With his 1978 opera on Milton's "Paradise Lost," and the unabashed 19th-century atmosphere of his 1980 Second Symphony a work punctuated with quotations of "Silent Night" it seemed he had retreated from modernism completely. But that, too, was only a stop on the way. Beginning with his large-scale "Polish Requiem" which itself began as a "Lacri-mosa," commissioned by Lech JIM GRAHAMAPFILE 1996 (LEFT); TOSHIFUMI KITAMURAAFPGETTY IMAGESFILE 2004 Krzysztof Penderecki, (left) leading the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1996 and (right) receiving a gold medal from Japanese Prince Hitachi in 2004. Walesa and the Solidarity party as a memorial to victims of the 1970 Polish uprisings Pend-erecki's avant-garde and traditional leanings began to more subtly mingle. "After so many years, I don't really think writing has to be absolutely new," he insists. "No. It has to be good work." The Concerto Grosso shows the synthesis in action. The piece was born from long associations with practitioners of the cello, a favorite instrument: "I decided to write the concerto where I would use more than one cellist, for three of my friends." (One of the friends was intended to be Mstislav Rostrop-ovich, but Rostropovich, Penderecki recalls, declined to appear with two other cellists.) It is a big, dark piece. The tonality and gestures are those of standard, even stock musical drama: grim, dotted-rhythm marches, melodramatic diminished-seventh chords. But the tropes then seem to expand into a more wide-angle sonic exploration, somehow spinning outward and inward at the same time. Penderecki's older, wilder music has slipped into the background of the mainstream. It became a featured player in horror and science-fiction films; it is a touchstone for younger, electronically primed composers. (Last year brought an album and a series of concerts in tandem with English composer and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood: "Polymorphia," paired with Greenwood's "48 Responses to Polymorphia.") Penderecki never turned his back on his most avant-garde works, even as he grew skeptical of the Utopian milieu in which they were written. The skepticism extends to the present. In the 1990s, he published a collection of lectures, "The Labyrinth of Time," a book saturated with a profound pessimism about the cul tural present, but also a confident hope in the cultural future. It is, it is suggested, a paradox: apocalyptic optimism. Penderecki doesn't disagree. "You know, I lived through a very difficult time, in the war, and this apocalypse is coming back always," he says. "I think if I had spent my youth in another country, without the war I think my music would be completely different, for sure. But this apocalypse for me, inside, it is coming again and again." "So I am also always looking for some universal subject." It is the counterweight to pessimism, rechanneling that emotion, that energy, into musical renewal. The restless traveler scans horizons both old and new, forever in search of the good work. Apocalypse is also revelation. Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at matthewguerrieri OCTOBER 29, 'Traveling, talking to people, and rehearsing, I'm always finding new ideas. If I stay in one place, maybe I won't have so many ideas.' KRZYSZTOF PENDERECKI, composer conductor 2013 THE BOSTON GLOBE G 7

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