Now 80 but showing no signs of slowing down, Penderecki is
performing with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra this week in
Israeli cities his Polish Requiem, a monumental composition with
soloists and choir first performed 30 years ago.
"I am emotionally very much involved in this piece because it
tells us the story of our history and the history of the last
decades to which I was a witness," Penderecki told Reuters in an interview between rehearsals in Tel Aviv.
"I have lived through very difficult times," said Penderecki,
reflecting on the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War II,
the Holocaust and postwar communist oppression.
"When the Second World War started, I was only 5 but I still
remember... Being a witness ... I wanted people to remember what
happened in our country and elsewhere," he said.
Among the events commemorated in Polish Requiem are the Jewish
uprising against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 (Dies
Irae) and the Soviet massacre of some 22,000 Poles in Katyn
Forest in 1940 (Libera me, Domine).
Penderecki embarked on the Requiem in 1980 with the brief,
lyrical "Lacrimosa" section commissioned for the unveiling of a
monument at the Gdansk shipyard to the Solidarity trade union,
which helped topple Poland's communist regime nine years later.
"It was an idea from (then-Solidarity leader and future Polish
president) Lech Walesa," Penderecki said.
"A year later, my friend Cardinal (Stefan) Wyszynski, who was a
very important political figure in our postwar history, passed
away, so I wrote the Agnus Dei.
"And then I started to write the Requiem, but it took me 25
years. The last movement for strings was only written to
commemorate the death of Pope John Paul II (in 2005)," he said.
STILL VERY ACTIVE
The Requiem includes thrilling, frantic passages with brass and
percussion and haunting choral and soloist performances.
[to top of second column]
Penderecki, who began composing "at the age of
6 or 7" and
whose first composition was a polonaise for violin and piano as a
birthday gift for his grandmother, said he was still very busy,
working on three or four compositions simultaneously.
He has been commissioned to write a major work to
commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, which is
due to be performed in Brussels in November.
Penderecki has also been commissioned by the Vienna State Opera to
compose an opera "Phaedra", based on French dramatist Jean Racine's
version of the ancient Greek myth.
"I am writing maybe one big piece a year and a lot of chamber music.
Now at my late age, I appreciate it very much. There are very few
good chamber music (works)... in the last decades and I think it is
very necessary to write," he said.
Penderecki is known for his film scores, including for William
Friedkin's "The Exorcist" and Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining", for
his Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima and the largely atonal St
From a highly experimental, avant garde youth, he moved to more
traditional forms, often with a religious theme
"In my long life, I have made many, many changes. The last one was
the big one at the end of the '70s, and I think since then, my music
style has not changed much. ... I have always had an audience for my
music, even in the very avant garde, crazy times," he added.
With eight symphonies to his credit, Penderecki said he hoped to
complete a ninth like Beethoven, whom he listed as one of the main
influences on his own work.
"Writing music is something very natural ... this is the way to
communicate with other people," he said.
(Additional reporting by Rinat Harash,
writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Gareth Jones and Michael Roddy)
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