Gorecki’s Third

Holy Cross Church, ZakopaneUndoubtedly my favorite contemporary composer, Górecki often vies for “best composer of all time” in my opinion – it all depends on when you ask. It was his music, particularly his Third Symphony (subtitled”Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” – more information here) that was a major factor in my choosing Poland when I joined the Peace Corps back in 1996.

Since then, my appreciation of his music has only grown, particularly with my improved Polish and the ability to understand the texts of his vocal works.

When I was about to leave for Poland, I joked with someone that I was going to meet Mr. Górecki no matter what it took. I had my chance this weekend, in the most auspicious of occasions: Górecki conducting his Third Symphony in celebration of his seventieth birthday. In the end, I’m ashamed to say, I chickened out. I couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t make me sound like a babbling teen meeting some superficial movie star.

Górecki concertIt’s enough, I suppose, that I got to experience his Third Symphony, under his own baton (well, no – he didn’t actually conduct with a baton), in a location that was intimately connected with the text of the second movement.

The whole adventure was blessed by luck from the beginning. Kinga and I left at 1:40 in the afternoon, not knowing when we had a bus or even how long it would take us to get there. We arrived at the bus stop just as a bus to Nowy Targ was pulling up. The chances of that happening are miniscule. We made it to Nowy Targ, waited half an hour for a bus to Zakopane, with me babbling like a little girl going to meet The Back Street Boys. Hopped off the bus in Zakopane, took a cab to the church, and arrived half an hour before the concert started. Those without invitations had to sit in the small balcony. Though we arrived only half an hour before the concert was to begin, the balcony was virtually empty. We ended up standing at the railing of the balcony to get the best view, and by the time the concert started, there was quite a crowd.

The concert itself was something of a blur. At 60+ minutes, the symphony could, I suppose, be called “moderate” by some standards, but for me, it seemed to last about ten minutes. I blinked and the first movement was over, with an outbreak of coughing and sneezing in the audience – the backlog of half an hour silent, respectful listening, I suppose. The second movement, at only nine minutes, seemed a flash. And the third moment, at about twenty minutes, seemed about a tenth that. I didn’t take any pictures because the concert coordinator politely asked that we not.

Górecki concertAfter the concert, the orchestra performed “Sto Lat” (“100 Years”), the traditional Polish well-wishing song. Mid-way through, Górecki jumped onto the podium again and directed everyone, audience and orchestra alike.

After some well-wishing and chatting, the orchestra came back out and they did a playback recording session, as this is intended to be a DVD released sometime later. It was a strange thing – they were basically making a music video, playing along with their earlier performance. They played for a bit – most of the first movement – then suddenly the director stopped everything just as the music reached it’s most emotional point. Strange how art can so easily succumb to commercial needs.

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