History lessons

By William Dart

Michal Dworzynski will launch the Auckland Philharmonia's Splendour Series.
Michal Dworzynski will launch the Auckland Philharmonia's Splendour Series.

Michal Dworzynski is enjoying his latest trip Downunder. Next week, the young Polish conductor joins us to launch Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's new Splendour series. In the meantime, though, he's on the road in Australia, "just as a tourist, with my family".

"But it's work tomorrow," he counters, "with Adelaide Symphony Orchestra."

It's difficult to believe that a few weeks ago Dworzynski debuted with the Strasbourg Philharmonic, alongside violist Maxim Rysanov in Giya Kancheli's Styx, "a very, very beautiful piece".

Life has calmed down after the rush that followed his winning the Donatella Flick Competition in 2006. "It changed my life," he says. "After a period of not having so much work, I was 10 months on the road, without my family, which was extremely hard."

He outlines the pressures of being a conductor and, in particular, the hours of preparation before every performance. "A conductor's life is like a doctor's," he laughs.

"You must study all the time to be aware of what is happening and what is new."

As for that all-important rapport with an orchestra, "the first few minutes of a rehearsal are the most important," he stresses. "If the beginning is not good, then even after a fantastic concert there will be a feeling of something missed."

Dworzynski takes pride in his Polish heritage and we talk of how his country struggled under the musical domination of Germany and Russia. In September, he will mark his new appointment as principal conductor of the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra, with a performance of Penderecki's Polish Requiem. The composer is a personal hero, his St Luke Passion one of Dworzynski's favourite works. I'm also let into why Penderecki veered away from his early avant-garde style to become something of a 20th-century Brahms.

"My teacher, Antoni Wit, who knows him very well and has recorded all the orchestral music, once told me that Penderecki changed his way of composing when he started to conduct."

Discussing Penderecki, we find a link between the man who made his name for his searing Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima and the music of the APO's first Splendour concert. In Thursday's programme, titled Music of Wartime, three works by Richard Strauss, Hindemith and Prokofiev catch the zeitgeist of Europe in the unrelenting grip of World War II.

"Strauss' Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings was his last orchestral piece," explains Dworzynski. "A composer's final work, such as Beethoven's Ninth, always has a special challenge. It's not so much to do with its musical complexity but more exploring the spiritual depth of the music."

When we move to Hindemith's 1940 Cello Concerto, Dworzynski is amused that the soloist is Johannes Moser. Although he has never worked with the German-Canadian cellist, he has shared a stage with him - they both appeared, as students, in different performances at the same graduation concert in Berlin.

He is clearly fascinated by some of Hindemith's rhythmic procedures in this work. "At first, he writes in a fast tempo, and then in a slow," he points out, singing the relevant themes. "Finally, the two meet up together, in a very modern way."

Dworzynski decides that this is polymetric more than polyrhythmic and warns that the extraordinary layering must be "absolutely accurate, like a metronome".

For many, the irresistible work on Thursday will be Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony. "I love Russian music," exclaims Dworzynski, "and Prokofiev's Fifth the most of all his symphonies."

It is the frank emotionalism of the piece that appeals. "Many people think it is grotesque," Dworzynski muses, pointing to its wild scherzo and the belligerent finale. "But the slow movement is a memorial to the many victims of Stalinism. It touches me deeply because this history is connected with our own Polish history, and these thoughts are always in my heart when I conduct it."


What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where and when: Auckland Town Hall, Thursday at 8pm

- NZ Herald

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