The Maestro

The Polish-American Center can add another notable occasion to its record of events. Extraordinary in the literal and figurative sense of the word – because how many times in life can you exchange a few words with a maestro, indisputably one of the best in the world? I’m referring, of course, to our meeting with Krzysztof Penderecki on Wednesday, November 10th.

Even those who have no interest in classical music will, upon hearing his name, recall „Ah, yes, the composer!” Yes, actually the composer, whose recordings are known worldwide and whose fame spread beyond the borders of Poland already in the 1960s.

Dr. Jerzy Maciuszko opened the meeting with a short summary of the creative work of Krzysztof Penderecki. A short summary, because a “normal” one would have taken several hours. Then, I, on behalf of the editorial board, had the real pleasure of offering the Maestro an issue of the Forum from last year. In it Dr. Elżbieta Ułanowska discussed the work of our guest. I offered the issue as modest evidence that our interest in his work was not simply the result of his visit.

I wanted to speak with Krzysztof Penderecki, in order to tell the Forum’s readers more about him, but, unfortunately, I noticed the impatience on the faces of the people gathering around him, and I gave someone else a chance to speak with him. I managed to exchange only a few sentences with the Maestro. I was impressed with the modesty and patience with which he answered questions. Evidently, greatness does not have to manifest itself obviously.

A true meeting with the Maestro took place on Saturday, November 13th, at Baldwin-Wallace College, where we had the opportunity to participate in the ceremony conferring on Krzysztof Penderecki a Doctorate Honoris Causa, or honorary doctorate degree. Colleges  and universities use
this title to recognize those who have distinguished themselves with truly remarkable achievements in some field. Penderecki received this distinction for his achievements in music. This was not his first distinction of this type. He has already been recognized with a majority of the more prestigious musical honors in the world, including the Praemium Imperiale, known as the “Nobel Prize” in art.

We observed the conferral of the Doctorate Honoris Causa on Krzysztof Penderecki with some emotion. It does not happen every day that one of our compatriots receives such a distinction in Cleveland.  His powerful words fallow on the next page.

The second part of this ceremony was, naturally, a concert. I do not know theory of music and my knowledge is limited to a bare acquaintance of a few fundamental terms in the field, but so-called avant-garde or contemporary music appeals to my views and feelings about the modern world. I listened to the first two compositions with interest. The first was the Pittsburgh Overture, performed by the Baldwin-Wallace Wind Ensemble, directed by Dwight Oltman, and the second was Penderecki’s Flute Concerto performed by the Baldwin-Wallace Symphony Orchestra with George Pope on the flute, directed by the composer. But I waited for the Te Deum, a work the composer wrote to honor the election of his friend, Karol Wojtyła, as Pope. I heard this composition somewhere, probably on the radio, a long time ago, and I knew that the best was yet to come. And, of course, while listening to Te Deum under the direction of the composer, I sat engrossed, enchanted, and moved. Only the greatest are able to create such music.

Stanisław Kwiatkowski
Translated by Sean Martin

Forum, 12/2004