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Paweł Szymański

Born: 1954

Nationality: Polish

Publisher: Chester Music

Photo © Wojciech Druszcz

Pawel Szymanski was born in Warsaw on 28th March 1954. He graduated with honours from the National Higher School of Music in Warsaw, where he studied composition with Wlodzimierz Kotonski (1974-78) and Tadeusz Baird (1978). In 1976 Szymanski took part in the International Summer Academy Of Ancient Music at Innsbruck, and in 1978, 1980 and 1982 participated in the International Summer Courses of New Music at Darmstadt, working also with the Experimental Studio of the Polish Radio in 1979-81, the Independent Studio of Electroacoustic Music in 1982-84 and the Electronic Music Studio of the Cracow Academy of Music in 1983. As a Herder scholar, Szymanski continued his studies with Roman Haubenstock-Ramati in Vienna in 1984-85, and as a holder of the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst grant in 1987-89, worked at the Electronic Studio of the Technische Universitaet.

Szymanski won numerous composing competitions. His 1979 'Gloria' for female choir and instrumental ensemble earned him 1st Prize at the Young Composers' Competition of The Polish Composers' Association in 1979 and 4th Prize in the Works by Young Composers category at the Unesco International Composers' Tribune in Paris in 1981. 'Lux Aeterna', Szymanski's 1984 work for voices and instruments, won an award at the Sacred Music Composition Contest of the Internationale Bachakademie in Stuttgart in 1985, while 'Partita Iii' for amplified harpsichord and orchestra (1985-86) won the Benjamin Britten Composing Competition in Aldeburgh in 1988. In 1993 Szymanski received the annual award of the Polish Composers' Association, followed by the Grand Prix of the Culture Foundation in January 1994. 'Miserere' for voices and instruments (1993), presented by Channel 2 of the Polish Radio at the Unesco International Composers' Tribune in Paris, made it to the group of works recommended by the Tribune in May 1994, and the 'In Paradisum' motet for male choir earned the composer the main prize at the Competition Of The International Foundation Of Polish Music in 1995.

Pawel Szymanski's music is performed all over the world including Austria, the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France, Holland, Japan, Hungary, Mexico, Sweden, Italy, and the United States. A number of his works were commissioned by European institutions and festivals and were premiered by world-famous musicians. 'Partita Iv' for orchestra, for example, was requested by the Northern Irish division of the BBC for the Sonorities '87 festival organised by Belfasts's Queen's University, and was first performed by the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Lionel Friend. 'A Study Of Shade' for small orchestra (1989) was commissioned by the Aldeburgh Festival and was first performed by the Britten-Pears Orchestra conducted by Richard Bernas. 'Quasi Una Sinfonietta' for chamber orchestra (1990) was commissioned for and first performed by the London Sinfonietta conducted by Arturo Tamayo in the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

'Sixty-Odd Pages' for chamber orchestra (1991) was commissioned by the Suedwestfunk Baden-Baden and was first performed by the Suedwestfunk Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden, conducted by Mathias Barnert, at the Warsaw Autumn International Festival Of Contemporary Music. 'Five Pieces For String Quartet' (1992) were commissioned by the BBC in Bristol and were first performed by the Silesian Quartet, again at the Warsaw Autumn festival. 'Concerto For Piano And Orchestra' (1994) was composed at the request of Radio France and it was in France that it was first performed by Ewa Poblocka and the Great Symphony Orchestra of The Polish Radio conducted by Antoni Wit. 'Recalling A Serenade' for clarinet, two violins, viola and cello (1996) was commissioned by the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival, where it was first performed by the clarinetist Kari Kriikku with the Silesian Quartet.

Pawel Szymanski's output, starting from 'Partita Ii', the 1978 diploma work crowning his studies with Wlodzimierz Kotonski, has been uniquely homogeneous with regard to stylistics. The composer confesses that while he had previously kept searching for new inspirations, ever since 'Partita Ii' he has operated within the area of certain musical ideas. "All I have since done has explored this area", says Szymanski. The area can be defined as creating a new context from elements of the language of tradition. The source sound material of Szymanski's works is rooted in the past, with many a reference to Baroque, yet it is always composed. Szymanski processes this source material in the second phase of the creative process, giving it a new structure and inviting the listener to a play on musical conventions.

Says Szymanski: "The modern artist, and this includes composers, finds himself tossed within two extremes. If he chooses to renounce the tradition altogether, there is the danger of falling into the trap of blah-blah; if he follows the tradition too closely, he may prove trivial. This is the paradox of practising art in modern times. What is the way out? Since you cannot fully free yourself from the trivial, you need to play a game with it, treat is as a material allowing you to stick to certain elements of the convention, while keeping it at bay through the use of quotation marks, metaphors and paradoxes. Such treatment may result in a tangle of means leading to eclecticism. Censured and rejected in avant-garde times, and, to a large extent, rightly so, eclecticism is now coming back under the guise of postmodernism. However, there are many methods to stay out of eclecticism despite playing games with tradition. An important method for me is to violate the rules of the traditional language and to create a new context using the elements of that language." ("Studio" 1996 No. 9)

Pawel Szymanski’s music is highly sophisticated and always subject to strict technical discipline, yet it enthralls the listener with its variety of emotions and moods ranging from sensuous sound play to metaphysical musings.
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