Centennial Introduction to Witold Lutosławski

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On Tuesday, Nov. 12, Q2 Music presents Lutosławski at 100 – 24 hours of music hosted by Nadia Sirota celebrating the centenary of Polish icon Witold Lutosławski. Curated by composer and Lutosławski scholar Steven Stucky, Lutosławski at 100 comprises seven one-hour episodes (beginning at 1 am, 9 am and 5 pm) tracing the life and creative evolution of one of Poland's legendary musical voices, as well as Lutosławski 101 – a one-hour primer (at 12 am, 8 am and 4 pm) with insights from noted Lutosławski conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen


Just as thoughts about 19th-century Polish music inevitably revolve about Fryderyk Chopin, discussions of Polish music in the 20th century center inescapably on Witold Lutosławski (1913-94). Several of his popular early works are lodged firmly in the canon: the Paganini Variations, the Concerto for Orchestra, Dance Preludes.

More impressive, though, is the staying power of several supposedly “difficult,” modernist compositions, such as Musique funèbre (1954-58), the String Quartet (1964), and the Cello Concerto (1968-70), the latter surely the most prominent work of its genre since Shostakovich. And of course music lovers have embraced his later, more accessible Third and Fourth symphonies (1972-83; 1988-92) unreservedly.

What explains this kind of success for a late-20th-century atonal composer? For a composer whose work avoids allusions to pop music, lacks the sort of tunes you go out whistling (usually), and, in a multicultural age, remains stubbornly true to its Western European “Classical” heritage? Music that resists all concessions to fashion, to ‘relevance’, or to the habits of easy listening?

The answers lie in fundamental values: the ravishing beauty of his French-Slavic sound world, his rich harmonic language, his expressive melodic voice, his lucid forms, his attention to dramatic tension and release, and, underpinning everything, his drive to communicate. But to communicate what? Lutosławski was fond of quoting his musical forebear Debussy’s claim that “Music begins where words end. Music is made for the inexpressible.”

In Lutosławski’s magically colorful sound worlds, his frankly gorgeous effects are never merely painted on; they are intrinsic to the expression. (Much the same can be said, of course, of Debussy himself.) It was a trait he developed precociously early — the 1938 Symphonic Variations already reveal an orchestral master — but he continued to expand and refine his palette right to the end.

* Introduction * Centennial Introduction by Steven Stucky 
* Lutosławski 101 * Insights and Anecdotes from Esa-Pekka Salonen

* Part 1 * Early Works and World War II
* Part 2 * The Postwar Period
* Part 3 * Breakthrough to Modernism
* Part 4 * Consolidating the Mature Style
* Part 5 * Heroism and Dissent
* Part 6 * The Late Style
* Part 7 * Last Thoughts


Celebrating Poland: Lutosławski, Penderecki and New Music Now is supported, in part, by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute as part of Polska Music programme, and is presented in partnership with the Polish Cultural Institute New York.