Res Publica

Res Publica: the experience of community

The festival as a public debate: we have emphasised this character of Warsaw Autumn for years. We use the term “debate” to underline the relation between the festival and all its participants—most crucially, audiences.

The premise for debate is the fact that music, just as film, theatre, literature, or visual arts, addresses our reality. While it has an abstract dimension, a form filled with a changing material, new music eventually is played to the world. Even a composer’s disinterestedness with the surrounding reality is a public gesture.
In Poland and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, such disinterestedness is deeply rooted amongst composers as well as part of the audience. The postwar history of Poland has brought many examples of the outside world intervening into art. Those decades saw the rise of an often despaired conformism, an artistic and ethical helplessness of some artists versus oppressive political power. Authoritarian pressure on artists put most composers and listeners off the official public sphere, while intensifying the need to hide away in a “pure,” ideal, separate sphere: one of the niches where freedom, albeit with some limitations, was possible.

In countries with no such political interventions into art, new music created broader cultural and social values, contributing to the overall atmosphere, style and quality of life. It inspired artistic works but also structures and practices within society. Take the example of the art of Louis Andriessen (who is present with several works in the programme of this year’s Warsaw Autumn) and its contribution to Amsterdam's artistic scene in the 1970s and 1980s, or the output of composers such as Luigi Nono, Klaus Huber, Cornelius Cardew, Helmut Lachenmann, or Frederic Rzewski.

In Poland, the return to freedom after 1989 triggered an important change for music and its social context.

The stereotype of music as an art indifferent to any context, focused on pure sound and universal ontological themes, began to weaken in favour of acknowledging the visible shell of being: the world behind the window. The fissure between the public and artistic sphere started to scar. For many, it became obvious that music’s new phenomena, its very credibility, call not only for sensitivity to musical matter but also for a dialogue with the surrounding reality, and sometimes even borrowing ideas and sounds from that reality. In the actions of new generations of Polish and non-Polish composers, new musical groups, more often than in the past, aesthetics are as important as ethics, the relationship to the world. This is true of ensembles present at this year’s Warsaw Autumn such as Kwartludium, Spółdzielnia Muzyczna, Hashtag Ensemble, and Black Page Orchestra.

Composers create music, dialoguing both with each other and with history. However, there is also an implied interlocutor: the listener, with his/her specific characteristics. Art targeted at a narrow niche of cognoscenti will have a different implied listener than music witnessed by democratic, culturally self-governing communities. There is a difference between doing your artist’s “duty” towards different types of authority: aristocratic courts, political parties, ideologists, and democratic formations that create “pluralist” cognitive movements. In the latter case, artists share their judgments about reality with a wider circle of implied listeners. What results is a socialisation of individual cognitive experiences.

Perspective and scale are also changing. On the one hand, there is globalisation, and on the other, our own local district with a circle of friends that we meet at regular intervals, determining our perspective of the metropolis. Does this imply that music is becoming social? I refer to socialisation out of own will, not political directives. Contemporary musical compositions show that this process is ongoing—more intensely where the strictly political and ideological element is absent. Composers and various social groups can meet on the same side, rather than being hierarchised or opposed to each other. We should remember that art likes to run counter current. Today, it is able to expose its relation to the world, while tomorrow, it could address technology or structural games, or go where summoned by the surreal “great nostalgia,” a space where music has always felt at home. This topic will be covered by the next edition of Warsaw Autumn in 2019.

So what shall we debate about at this year’s Festival? Our communities and sensitivity to each other; Warsaw Autumn is the meeting ground for artists who refuse to be indifferent to the world. We would not be so sensitive to that topic if not for the 100th anniversary of Poland’s regained independence.

Communities vary in character: there is the state and nation as well as society, generation, common worldview, local and universal community. This year’s Warsaw Autumn emphasises these various sensibilities.

Composers particularly relevant to this year’s edition through their music include Louis Andriessen, Bernhard Lang, Agata Zubel, Stefan Prins, Andrzej Krzanowski, and Andrzej Bieżan. Andriessen will be featured with two works: Il Duce and De Staat, his great treatise about the state (performed at the final concert). The music of Bernhard Lang, one of the most eminent modern personalities of music, will include Loops for Davis at the inaugural concert and Loops for Paweł Szymański featured at a night concert on 22 September. Agata Zubel’s opera Bildbeschreibung will be performed by the brilliant Klangforum Wien, while her Violin Concerto will be presented by Katarzyna Duda and the European Workshop for Contemporary Music orchestra. at ensemble will perform at Warsaw Autumn for the 15th time, thanks to Warsaw Autumn’s cooperation with the German Music Council. The works of Stefan Prins, collected in the great cycle Piano Hero, can be heard at a night concert on 21 September.

We are delighted to present, after many years of effort, the premiere of the full version of Andrzej Krzanowski’s Programme V. This was made possible by the cooperation of several institutions, including the New Music Orchestra (OMN). The Symphony no. 1 by this composer, who died prematurely in 1990, his graduation work, caused a sensation at Warsaw Autumn a few years ago. I am con dent Krzanowski will impress us with an even grander work: his intermedia metaopera that reflects the state of generational consciousness of the late 1970s, the phase of degeneration of the postwar political system: a musical work that is a true portrait of its time.

Andrzej Bieżan has for years deserved to be featured at Warsaw Autumn. Another prematurely lost composer (in 1983), he was a universal artist, one of the pioneers in Poland of “civic art,” expressed through compositions, improvisations, performances, and concepts. Bieżan worked not in the political but the aesthetic opposition. In our main festival current, we shall revive his electroacoustic work Isn’t it? (within the Forging the Scythes exhibition at the Museum of Warsaw), while two of his installations will be shown for the first time ever: Piano For All at the Kordegarda Gallery and, as a music–theatrical happening with audience participation, the Barricade on the square in front of the Nowy Theatre. The output of Andrzej Bieżan will also be presented at several fringe events of the Festival.

The context of Poland’s centenary of regained independence encouraged Rafał Augustyn and Cezary Duchnowski to recall the words of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, and Józef Piłsudski in the electroacoustic work Upbeat, which will be presented during Warsaw Autumn’s inaugural concert. However, these will not be the only significant words at that concert or the entire Festival.

Our programme includes numerous references to twentieth-century history. World War II is evoked by Wojtek Blecharz’s RECHNITZ. OPERA after the novel of Elfriede Jelinek and Louis Andriessen’s electroacoustic Il Duce. There are special Polish “months,” to recall the title of Kazimierz Brandys’s book from 1980, offer the context to several music works: October 1956 as a time of breakthrough and opening of a space in which the Warsaw Autumn Festival and Polish modernism could thrive, evoked by Wojciech Fangor’s painting Forging of the Scythes at the Museum of Warsaw installation. March 1968 with its generational manifesto, different in each European country but always focusing on freedom—this spirit notably enlivens the music of Louis Andriessen. In Poland, 1968 also brought the violation by the authorities of the Polish–Jewish community sphere. Our current artistic relations will be developed during several Polish–Israeli musical meetings within this year’s Warsaw Autumn Hits the Club. December 1970 and December 1981 are pivotal dates framing the world evoked by Andrzej Krzanowskis Programme V and Andrzej Bieżan’s Piano For All installation. Our programme also recalls the reaction to martial law in Poland, in the aforementioned Forging the Scythes installation at the Museum of Warsaw, featuring electroacoustic works from the early 1980s, as well as Andrzej Bieżan’s Barricade. These historical references offer a framework for this year’s Warsaw Autumn’s rich programme. They create a context that is universal to our reality, being pan-European or downright global, encompassing our entire reciprocal understanding and communicating through music.

Some of the new music written today explores aspects such as visuality, signs, and a clear message. This is made possible by intermedia, the easiness with which composers technologically master areas previously restricted to film, theatre, and the visual arts. This direction strengthens the intensity and relevance of the debate Warsaw Autumn wishes to trigger.

Consequently, this Warsaw Autumn festival will include numerous intermedia means of expression, applied to various musical genres: from the solo compositions of Stefan Prins through large-scale chamber form in Wojtek Blecharz’s opera, compositions performed by the Black Page Orchestra, and a new personal genre: Trond Reinholdtsen’s “opra,” to the large casts of Agata Zubel’s opera or Paweł Mykietyn’s and Piotr Peszat’s orchestral music theatres.

Another hallmark of this year’s Warsaw Autumn is the focus on Austrian music, ensembles, and literature. This includes composers Bernhard Lang, Matthias Kranebitter, Peter Ablinger, and Bernhard Gander; the Black Page Orchestra and Klangforum Wien; and the aforementioned Elfriede Jelinek, whose novel is used by Wojtek Blecharz in his opera.

This year’s Warsaw Autumn is the sixth edition without Andrzej Chłopecki and the first without Krzysztof Droba. Their personalities strongly influenced our Festival and the contemporary music community, not only in Poland. In the programme, you will find signs of our memory about them, both by composers and organisers.

Warsaw Autumn is a collective endeavour. We thank our main financial partners: the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the Capital City of Warsaw. We express our gratitude towards the Society of Authors ZAIKS, Union of Performing Artists STOART, and PZU Foundation. We cooperate with other institutions: the Warsaw Philharmonic, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Polish Radio Programme 2, PWM Edition, Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Institute of Music and Dance, Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contempory Art, Museum of Warsaw, Sculpture Museum at the Królikarnia Palace, National Centre For Culture, Austrian Cultural Forum, German Music Council, Goethe Institute in Warsaw, Theatre Institute, TR Warszawa, Nowy Teatr, Komuna Warszawa, Fundacja Sztuk Krytycznych, and many other Polish and international institutions—our thanks to all.

I hope that the 2018 Warsaw Autumn, by listening to its surroundings, will not bore you with its—perhaps overly mundane—topic. Our programme also includes many outstanding works with less specific inspirations and messages. They will notably feature at the concert of the legendary ensemble recherche with the premiere of a work by Zbigniew Bargielski, as well as the concert of the EWCM orchestra and symphonic works of the inaugural and final concert. I am con dent that high art, refinement, as well as lighter, more ludic moments at some of our concerts can be combined with a sensitivity to music itself as well as its voice on the various aspects of reality.

Warsaw Autumn also includes Little Warsaw Autumn, Warsaw Autumn Hits the Club, meetings with composers, composer workshops, features by the Festival’s internet radio, and many fringe events. Altogether, we shall present 21 concerts, 10 meetings and workshops, 4 installations, 4 vernissages and one finissage, 3 film projections, 13 fringe events, featuring the works of 82 composers including 48 world premieres, 18 of which are Warsaw Autumn commissions. On the Festival’s last day, I invite you to a talk about the Festival with the undersigned and other members of the Programme Committee. And in order not to get lost in the Festival’s labyrinth, I recommend our programme book and festival guide, as well as our website and social media.

On behalf of the entire Programme Committee, I am delighted to welcome you at the 61st Warsaw Autumn Festival, which has always contributed to an independent, self-governing community of new music, in which there is room for anyone avid for listening and debating.

Jerzy Kornowicz
Director of the Festival

About Warsaw Autumn

Warsaw Autumn (Warszawska Jesień) is a festival with a long tradition and a true witness to music history. It is the only contemporary music festival in Poland on an international scale and with an international status. For many years, it was the only event of this kind in Central and Eastern Europe. Nonetheless, it remains a living organism: it thrives as much as Polish cultural funding and the general condition of music allow. The Festival is organised by the Polish Composers’ Union. The Repertoire Committee, an independent body appointed by the Union’s Board, determines the program of each edition of the festival. Warsaw Autumn is, therefore, an international and nonprofit festival of a nongovernmental association.
Warsaw Autumn was created in 1956, during the thaw that followed years of Stalinist dictatorship. Even though the government quickly abandoned the democratisation course, the Festival continued without interruption (with two exceptions) during the entire Communist era: its finances were secured by the state (up to this day, it is primarily finances from public funds). In the 1990s, Poland’s new economic and social situation threatened the financial stability of Warsaw Autumn. With a new model and procedures of culture financing developed since, the subsequent editions of the Festival may now be planned in a much more predictable way.

Paradoxically, the communist era was a golden age for Warsaw Autumn. The Festival was an obvious crack on the Iron Curtain, an island of creative freedom in a sea of compulsory Socialist realism. Here, the most varied forms of artistic invention were possible. That created a sense of general freedom of expression, and the Fesrtival was seen as a form of political protest. Audience attendance reached 120 per cent; Warsaw Autumn made the headlines, and there were several hundred international guests, both from the East (for Soviet citizens, it was the only opportunity to experience new currents in music) and the West. The government tolerated this situation, presenting itself as a liberal patron of the arts. Another important goal for the authorities when allowing the Festival was to demonstrate the superiority of socialist music over the bourgeois art of capitalist countries. Of course, there was censorship, and a permanent threat of the authorisation being annulled, especially under pressure from the Soviet government, who considered avant-garde music and the entire atmosphere of Warsaw Autumn as ideological diversion. In order to pursue our artistic endeavours, it was often necessary to use a ruse.

“This edition of the Festival,” Krzysztof Baculewski wrote about the 16th Warsaw Autumn in 1972 in a timeline published for the Festival’s 50th edition, “again verges on the political. The Ministry of Culture and the Arts orders for the work of Edison Denisov to be deleted from the programme, as the composer is not well seen in the Soviet Union. As we know, such orders could not be discussed, so ‘in exchange,’ we got the Piano Concerto of the Soviet Composers’ Union secretary general for life and member of the Supreme Soviet, Tikhon Khrennikov, with the composer as soloist. This concert is partly boycotted by the Warsaw public; the younger audience, especially youngsters and students, do attend to have a laugh. As a sign of protest, the Warsaw Autumn Repertoire Committee withdraws its members’ names from the programme book. And Denisov’s work would be played soon anyway—but this time, he appears under the maiden name of his wife, Gala Varvarin…”

Regardless of the independent image that continued to attract audiences, music in the 1960s and 1970s abounded in new and exciting events, rousing the interest of the general public. After years of isolation from the new musical currents and phenomena in Western Europe following World War II and Stalinist isolationist politics, Poles were now decided to make up for lost time, learning the works of Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Varèse, and even Bartók or Stravinsky through the festival. Warsaw Autumn was also an opportunity to follow the latest avant-garde experiments of those years: Boulez, Nono, Dallapiccola, Maderna, and Cage. Composers, performers, critics, and musicologists from the West were eager to come to Warsaw, too: out of curiosity about the countries on the other side of the curtain and simply because Warsaw Autumn gained worldwide recognition as one of the most important places for new music.

Warsaw Autumn’s modernist image was established almost from the very beginning: conservative music remained marginal in the programmes. The Festival retains an open formula, and aims at presenting a variety of phenomena and tendencies typical for the latest music: from Webern-inspired radicalism derived (Lachenmann, Ferneyhough, Hollinger), through currents that refer to the music of historical or traditional cultures, up to audio-art and sound installations. Warsaw Autumn is often termed—appropriately—as pluralistic and positively eclectic. This is necessary in order to familiarise Polish audiences with the latest developments in the world of music. For Polish musicologists and journalists, Warsaw Autumn’s programme books are the primary source about modern music. The Sound Chronicle, a full set of recordings that is published after each festival, performs a similar function (until 1999, these chronicles included Polish music only; since the Aimard plays Ligeti record in 2000, the series was extended to international music).

Today, one of the main goal of Warsaw Autumn’s creators—to familiarise the Polish audience with the classic works of the twentieth century (i that were seen as such already at the dawn of the Festival)—has of course been fulfilled. Yet there remain gaps regarding the classics of the second half of the twentieth century. For example, Stockhausen’s Gruppen was performed for the first time in Poland only at the 2000 Warsaw Autumn festival, and Boulez’s Répons as late as 2005. The festival’s two other objectives, however, are timeless: to present new music from Poland and abroad.

From all the above, an important aspect of Warsaw Autumn emerges: the new and newest trends are presented in the context of modern classics. The Festival’s identity is that of an event that shows modernity in its relation to tradition. Moreover, the Festival is a debate, a forum for different tendencies and opinions. Finally, the phenomenon of Warsaw Autumn is that it performs its mission continuously, year after year. It is not a one-off event, a news campaign, or a themed concert. The essence of Warsaw Autumn is that it has stayed—for nearly sixty years—the same. And yet it is continuously renewed, following the evolution of art, cultural situation, and overall reality.

Contemporary music in Poland has long functioned on somewhat odd terms; it has been considered hermetic, abstract, and specialist. Hence the challenge undertaken by the organisers, in the new socioeconomic reality of Poland, to overcome that stereotype. Indeed, Warsaw Autumn’s audience continues to grow, sometimes overflowing the concert venues. Importantly, the average age is low. The public is increasingly interested in more refined, complex music. In the last decade or so, a young musical elite has emerged that is not afraid of “difficult” music, and wants to stand out from the mass consumers of pop culture. These people are looking for something new and different; for the exotic in the broad sense of the word. But they also look for music that enriches the listener. In today’s world, dominated by the internet, contemporary music has moved away from the ridiculous or the indifferent of yesterday. A large number of new festivals, initiatives, and projects are created around new music. The question today is no more whether contemporary music makes sense but what it really is—whether modern music can only make sense in the historical context of the Western tradition of serious art music.

All obstacles and difficulties notwithstanding, Warsaw Autumn remains a creative event with first-class achievements and an international reputation. It is Warsaw’s cultural flagship. Warsaw Autumn has cooperated with leading Polish cultural institutions including the National Philharmonic, Grand Theatre–Polish National Opera, Polish Radio, Polish Television, Adam Mickiewicz Institute, National Audiovisual Institute, and National Institute of Music and Dance, as well as, significantly, the embassies, cultural institutes and foundations of the many countries whose music is represented at the festival. When Warsaw Autumn has a national or regional theme, the cooperation is very close, such as in 1998 with a Scandinavian programme supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers, Pierre Boulez’s 80th anniversary with French cultural institutions on the 80th anniversary of the composer’s birth, the Polish–German Year in 2005, and the North Rhine–Westphalia Cultural Season in Poland in 2011.

The atmosphere of the Festival has certainly changed in recent years, compared to the early 1990s and earlier. Our concerts have expanded to different venues across Warsaw in search of new audiences: apart from traditional venues such as the Warsaw Philharmonic, Music Academy, theatres, and churches, Warsaw Autumn now also take place in less “classic” places: sports halls, old factories, modern buildings, and clubs. New colour is being added to the Festival by young people, who prevail in the audience. They are not professional musicians or artists: they just participate in culture. As to the music itself, it increasingly often features an electroacoustic layer. Concerts require complex systems of sound distribution. Composers treat space as an important factor of form. They introduce video projections and new technologies. A good example is the audiovisual orchestra concert presented during the 48th Warsaw Autumn Festival. The incredible scenery of the Highest Voltage Hall’s “futuristic” facilities, wonderfully illuminated by Polish Television, became an additional element of the show.

But don’t be misled by the spectacular character of these big projects. This is the way contemporary composers think and write. This is a feature of the present. Keeping up with this trend, Warsaw Autumn consistently maintains its credibility as a place where independent and disinterested art, free from commercial aspects, is cultivated. Every guest at Warsaw Autumn concerts can be confident to be hearing the best and latest from the world of new music.

Tadeusz Wielecki
Festival Director from 1999 until 2016