Inside Krakow?s raging music scene of hip-hop, drum-and-bass and disco-dance clubs, Krakow?s Academy of Music has a well-kept secret in its composition program — a secret that has finally come out through its own public diploma concerts at aula Floriana.
Krakow?s student composers are creating an altogether new vision of Polish music. While they study in a city known for priding tradition, they are creating music that is progressive and filled with youthful zest, fire and spontaneity. Compositions range from mythic film-scores, to jazz-fusion with orchestra, to textural modern music, and while it?s all deemed at a classical level, its modernity gives the music potential to influence spheres outside traditional symphony halls.
Three of this year?s graduating composers had public performances of their diploma works last April and May. These were 24-year-old Marcin Paczkowski and Jerzy Rogiewicz, and 25-year-old Karol Nepelski. While their compositions feel young, they embody a youth mature beyond their years and experience.
?I?m just happy to hear [the piece]. I?m just happy that someone wanted to play it, that people are listening, that they enjoy it,? was Marcin?s reaction after the performance of his symphony ?Synchrofonia.? He has a youthful and fresh energy, accentuated by his full head of curly dark hair and soft eyes, yet is clear in his expectations from the orchestra both as conductor and composer.
?I will compose some music for theater or movies, not independent music. Music dependent from a picture, from the play of actors,? he says.
?Synchrofonia? resonates with a film score quality. A slow quiet rumbling of brass and electronic instruments open the piece, as though the instruments are crawling out of darkness. It expands with speed as warbling drums and strings venture into the music, adding tension with gleams of different characters. The tension is eased with quiet moments of waiting through electronic and metallic sounds, soon chased by the full orchestra?s chaos.
Despite the cinematic style, film composers haven?t been Marcin?s primary sources of inspiration.
?I just listen to various music, maybe except the most mainstream pop,? Marcin says. ?I?m still looking for my own style, my own musical language, that?s why I don?t have a definitive ?master?.?
Marcin applied to the Krakow Academy of Music with the primary intention of studying saxophone. After examinations for both sax and composition, composition took the lead.
He says: ?Two years later I started conducting studies. I?m happy with that.? With two more years of conducting, he says he has more time to develop his style and to have a clearer sense of his future goals. For now he says that ?at this stage they are my secret.?
Jerzy is slightly more set in his future and his music style. His spiked black hair and all-black attire are eye-catching and unusual for Krakow, while the cheerful and humble smile in his eyes is memorable as a musical game seems to be playing inside. He admits that his music stems from ?what is playing inside of me. That interests me most of all. I?m trying to listen to myself.?
His diploma piece, ?Trio Levity,? is a fusion of jazz-trio playing in harmony and dissonance to a classical symphony. The opening is a strange meeting of classic jazz with classical orchestra as it takes a few minutes to figure out how the music should progress. Finally, the composition sets off to a duet of symphonic orchestra and jazz, but never breaching a big-band sound. The beginning weaves in and out of uniformity and arguments between jazz and orchestra, eventually setting into a full jazz groove, winding through bars and beats of rocking rhythms, stumbling harmonies and smoky relaxation.
Despite his greater inclination towards more modern music, Jerzy?s piece was received with applause from the music faculty. However, while admitting that the piece was well-composed and original, Dr.hab, Zbiegniew Bujarski, composition professor of all three students, responded that ?only one thing worries us; [the students] are all going into the direction of music that is easier, lighter.?
The director of the composition program, Dr. hab, Wojciech Widlak, has a different opinion: ?A composer is someone who is writing music now and influenced by what is around. Many of them are of course working with pop, but the consciousness is different. Many refresh pop music, changing their simple structure. Many refresh ?serious? classical music by using these pop elements. This is something new in the classical circle.?
Jerzy says: ?My family did not even have a record player or a radio in the house, yet somehow I was always singing some little song or tune from the age of 5.? He wanted to create music before knowing what an instrument was. ?When I finally went to music school, I had to study piano until I was old enough to start studying percussion.? Jerzy would often improvise music to avoid practicing piano. When first asked about favorite bands they listen to in their spare time, Marcin, Karol and Jerzy all answered: ?I don?t have spare time.? After responding in this manner they relaxed a bit and named a few. Surprisingly, their tastes often pointed in similar directions despite their completely different composition styles and goals.
Jerzy?s musical influences are jazz artists such as Uri Caine and George Crumb, and the more classical been Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Bartok, Oliver Messiaen, and Tadeusz Berg, whose theatrical style inspired him earlier this year in composing for a contemporary staged artwork.
Despite the vast difference between Nepelski?s music and Rogiewicz?s compositions, the same composers had the greatest impacts on their own musical development — Polish Witold Lutoslawski, as the more traditional, and Finnish Kaija Saariaho, as the more contemporary modern composer.
?Kaija Saariaho was especially important for me because she uses textures of nature and elements in her compositions,? says Karol.
Karol is a reflection of his music, which resonates with assurance and clarity. Tall and well poised, while discussing his music he would sweep back his long blond hair from his face, revealing his self-confident and serious gaze. His piece, entitled, ?The Elements,? was so visual that the listeners were pulled into a recreation of the world as earth, air, fire, and water established their roles and places among each other.
From the first note, one could do nothing but listen to the changing textures.
The flute solo played with the cello in a dance between wind and earth, the vibraphone surrounded the elements with its icy peaks and glacier walls, and the hollow drums lead the elements in an earthly pagan dance.
Karol applied to the Krakow Academy of Music after a year in the Gdansk School of Mechanics, at first believing that he had little future prospective as a composer. Earlier he had studied violin and piano, and had already been composing for several large theatrical productions with his friend who directed the plays. After realizing that mechanics was not for him and some prompting from his friend, the director, he applied to Krakow?s Academy of Music.
Recently Karol was able to perform the first part of his opera with the help of the student orchestra and conductor, Grzegorz Wierus, at the ?Scena w Bramie? of the Juliusz Slowacki Theater.
Karol and his librettist, Waldemar Razniak, transfigured Stanislaw Lema?s ?Solaris? into an unorthodox electronic opera.
?I want to express important things with opera. That?s why I don?t want the actors to sing the text. They just speak as though they spoke in a natural way,? Karol explained.
?If the actors are speaking as they spoke naturally, they are natural and really real. The audience believes what they say. That?s the thing I always wanted to write, something that is not a fairytale for adults,? he added.
The orchestra played a cosmic weave of music around the dialogue, creating textures of air, space, discord, and confusion in perfect harmony. The singing was performed by a computer, which emitted cosmic and airy textured echoes when triggered by the actors? dialog. Through this technique Karol created what he calls ?theater that is musical, but also natural, so that it is as believable as theater.?
Even though Karol says that he is not inspired by imagery or scenery in his compositions, his ambition after graduating and in his future career is to continue composing for theatrical opera.
Dr. hab, Wojciech Widlak believes the students have a good chance of a future career in serious music thanks to numerous competitions and grants throughout the world.
?The students now have an upper hand over past generations because of their knowledge of foreign languages, especially English,? he says. ?They are using their Polish culture and international opportunities to influence Polish music and bring it to the world stage. They are building a new music culture in our nation. Also many new Polish composers are now important in the panorama of Europe.?
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