Born on November 23, 1933, in Dębica, Poland, Krzysztof Penderecki began studying composition under Franciszek Skołyszewski. He later studied at the Cracow Conservatory under Artur Malawski and Stanisław Wiechowicz and graduated in 1958. He was then appointed as a professor at the Conservatory. Between 1966 and 1968, Penderecki was a lecturer at the Volkwang Hochschule für Musik in Essen, Germany. In 1968, he received a grant from the German Academic Exchange Organisation — DAAD. He was appointed rector of the Cracow Conservatory in 1972.
Krzysztof Penderecki's first public appearance on an international level was in 1959 at the Warsaw Autumn Festival. There he performed Strophen, one of three works for which he received first prizes at the 2nd National Young Composers Competition. The other two works were Psalms of David and Emanations. In 1959, he composed Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima. For this, one of his best known and most often performed compositions, he received the UNESCO prize. This piece was followed by a series of successes: in 1960 at the Donaueschinger Musiktage with Anaklasis, the following year with Polymorphia, Phonograms, and Psalm, and in 1966, St. Luke's Passion, the first major work of his career. This piece was commissioned by the West German Radio in Cologne to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Munster Cathedral in which the piece was first performed on March 30, 1966. On this day, Penderecki was reborn — the performance marked a turning point in his career making him the most acclaimed artist since Igor Stravinsky. The following year brought the composition and performance of another major choral work, Dies Irae, known also as the Auschwitz Oratorio.
In 1968-69, Penderecki wrote his first opera, The Devils of Loudun, commissioned by the Hamburg State Opera where it had its world premiere in 1969. Since then, this work has been produced numerous times, has been broadcast, televised, and released on record.
Utrenya was Penderecki's next major work. The first part of this composition, The Entombment of Christ, premiered at the Altenberger Cathedral in 1970; the second part, The Resurrection of Christ, premiered one year later at the Cathedral of Munster. He then wrote another oratorial work, written in 1970 for the United Nations, the cantata Cosmogonia. The premiere was marked by the presence of presidents, royalty, and prime ministers, and the piece was lavishly praised as a brilliant and extremely original work. In 1971 he composed the De natura sonoris No. 2 for Zubin Mehta. The work is based on a piece of the same title, composed in 1966.
In 1972 Penderecki began his conducting career. Since then, he has been seen on the podiums of the most important orchestras of the world.
From 1972 to 1978, Krzysztof Penderecki was a professor at the Yale University School of Music.
Penderecki completed his Symphony No.1 in 1973 and personally conducted the world premiere at Peterborough in England. In addition, he composed Canticum Canticorum Salomonis. And he wrote Magnificat, one of his most important works for bass solo, vocal ensemble, two mixed choirs, boy's choir, and orchestra. It was written to commemorate the Twelfth Centenary of the Salzburg Cathedral, and Penderecki himself conducted the world premiere at the Salzburg Festival in 1974.
Penderecki's second stage work, Paradise Lost — the Sacra Rappresentazione is based on a libretto by Christopher Fry after Milton. It had its premiere at the Lyric Opera in Chicago on November 29, 1978. In January, 1979, Penderecki conducted a stage production of Paradise Lost at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and, having been invited by Pope John Paul II, gave a concert at the Vatican. The world premiere of Penderecki's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No.1 took place in Basle in April, 1977 with Isaac Stern as the soloist. Zubin Mehta conducted the first performance of the Symphony No.2 in New York on May 1, 1980, and also at the Salzburg and Lucerne festivals while touring Europe.
Te Deum, written in 1979/1980 for solo, choir, and orchestra, was conducted by Penderecki at its world premiere in Assisi during the summer of 1980. In 1981, it was performed in New York, Berlin, Warsaw, and Paris. On January 11, 1983, Penderecki conducted the premiere of his Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No.2, performed by the Berlin Philharmonic with Mstislav Rostropovich as the soloist. It was followed by the Concerto for Viola and Orchestra which had its world premiere on July 24, 1983 in Caracas and by the Polish Requiem. The Requiem had its premiere on September 28, 1984 and was commissioned by the Würtemberg Radio and State Theater to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the end of World War II. This major choral work has been in the programs of international concert halls since its debut.
The world premiere of Penderecki's third opera, The Black Mask, based on the play by Gerhart Hauptmann, was the focus of attention at the 1986 Salzburg Festival. It was immediately followed by performances in Vienna and the first U.S. performance took place at the Santa Fe Opera during the summer of 1988.
In March 1987 Penderecki's Song of Cherubim for a cappella choir was premiered at a gala concert given in Washington D.C. on the occasion of Mstislav Rostropovich's 60th birthday. Veni Creator, also for a cappella choir, was conducted by Penderecki himself when he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Madrid in April 1987. That same year, he received the Karl-Wolf Award from the Israel Wolf-Foundation.
In 1988 Penderecki received a Grammy Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for his Concerto for Cello No.2, M. Rostropovich as soloist, and recorded by ERATO. In November 1989, Lorin Maazel conducted Penderecki's Symphony No.4, Adagio, commissioned by the French Government for the bicentennial of the French Revolution.
The premiere of Penderecki's fourth opera, King Ubu (based on Alfred Jarry), took place on July 6, 1991 at the Munich State Opera.
The premiere of K. Penderecki's Sinfonietta took place in Warsaw on February 16, 1992 with the Sinfonia Varsovia under the composer's baton. This work was performed again in May, 1992 by the musicians of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra and, on the same day, in Seville during the World Expo '92. Another recent composition, Benedicamus Domino, for a male a cappella choir was performed for the first time in April 1992 at the Easter Music Festival in Lucerne.
Penderecki's Symphony No.5 had its world premiere on August 15, 1992 in Seoul. In 1992 Penderecki finished his Flute Concerto dedicated to Jean-Pierre Rampal — the first performance by Jean-Pierre Rampal took place on January 11, 1993 in Lausanne with Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne under the composer's direction. In August 1992 K. Penderecki finished his Beneductus for a cappella choir for Maestro Lorin Maazel. The premiere of Penderecki's Sanctus, the final part of the Polish Requiem, took place in November 1993 with the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic.
In 1995 Penderecki finished his Violin Concerto No.2 written for Anne Sophie Mutter. It was premiered in June 1995 In Leipzig with MDR Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons. December 1995 witnessed the premiere of Penderecki's finished Symphony No. 3, performed in Munich with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of the composer.
In December 1996 Krzysztof Penderecki completed his new work, Seven Gates of Jerusalem, which will close the celebrations of 3000 years of Jerusalem. Its world premiere was held on 9 January 1997 in Jerusalem. In February 1997 he was awarded the Crystal Award in Davos, Switzerland. The world premiere of Penderecki's Hymn to St. Daniil took place on 4 October 1997 in Moscow. The piece was commissioned by Channel Six of Moscow Television to mark the 850 years of Moscow. Penderecki's Hymn to St. Adalbert was written to mark the millennium of Gdańsk and was premiered on 18 October 1997.
The world premiere of Penderecki's Credo took place in July 1998 at the Bach Festival in Eugene, Oregon. The European premiere was held as part of the Krzysztof Penderecki Festival on 5 October 1998 in Cracow, Poland.
In 1999 Krzysztof Penderecki received two Grammy Awards for Best Classical Contemporary Composition, (Violin Concerto No.2 Metamorphosen performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter) and for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (Penderecki Violin Concerto No.2 under the composer's baton).
On 23 January 2000, Krzysztof Penderecki received the Best Living Composer award at the Midem Classic in Cannes and in October 2000 an honorary doctorate from the University of Luzern.
Penderecki’s Sonata for Violin and Piano was premiered by Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis at the Barbican in London on 29 April 2000. The Sextet, commissioned by the Musikverein, was first performed on 7 June 2000 at the Musikverein in Vienna by Mstislav Rostropovich, Yuri Bashmet, Julian Rachlin, Dmitry Alexeev, Radovan Vladkovic and Paul Meyer.
In January 2001 he completed his Concerto Grosso for Three Cellos which was premiered in June 2001 in Tokyo under the baton of Charles Dutoit by Boris Pergamenschikow, Han-Na Chang, and Truls Mrk. On 26 October 2001 the Jury of the Principe de Asturias Foundation awarded him the prestigious Principe de Asturias de las Artes Award 2001. On 7 December, Krzysztof Penderecki became an honorary member of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts in Hong Kong. The Piano Concerto, commissioned by Carnegie Hall, was premiered on 9 May 2002 by Emanuel Ax and the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch.
On 19-20 June 2005 in Vienna, there was a premiere of Penderecki’s Largo for Cello and Orchestra, a work commissioned by the Musikverein and dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich. It was performed by Mstislav Rostropovich and the Wienerphilharmoniker conducted by Seiji Ozawa.
26 June 2005 in Luxembourg saw the premiere of Symphony No.8 (Lieder der Vergänglichkeit) for Soprano, Mezzo-soprano and Baritone with the EuropaChorAkademie and Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra led by Bramwell Tovey The piece was commissioned by the Government of Luxembourg to mark the opening of the new Josephine Charlotte Philharmonic Hall.
photo Mirosław Pietruszyński
Penderecki was the principal guest conductor of the Norddeutscher Rundfunk Orchester in Hamburg and the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk Sinfonie Orchester in Leipzig. In 1987-1990 he was the artistic director of the Cracow Philharmonic Orchestra and in 1992-2002 the artistic director of the Casals Festival in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In September 1997 Krzysztof Penderecki became the music director of the Sinfonia Varsovia orchestra, becoming its artistic director in July 2003 – a position he holds to this day, often working with the orchestra as a conductor.
He has been the artistic advisor to the Beijing Music Festival since 1998 and a guest conductor of the newly formed China Philharmonic Orchestra since October 2000.
Krzysztof Penderecki began his anniversary year 2003 by conducting a concert at the National Philharmonic in Warsaw with the Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra. The program included his Concerto grosso and Sinfonietta per archi and Dvorak’s Symphony No.9.
Symphony No. 8 for three soloists, choir and orchestra (Lieder der Vergänglichkeit) was premiered on 26 June 2005 in Luxembourg. The world premiere was performed by Olga Pasichnyk (soprano), Agnieszka Rehlis (mezzosoprano) and Wojciech Drabowicz (baritone); the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra and the EuropaChorAkademie were conducted by Bramwell Tovey. The Symphony No.8 was commissioned by the Government of Luxembourg to mark the opening of the new philharmonic hall – the Josephine Charlotte Philharmonic Hall.
The premiere of Ciaccona for violin and viola took place on 9 September 2009 at the Julian Rachlin & Friends Festival in Dubrovnik.
In 2010, to mark the bicentenary of Fryderyk Chopin’s birth, he composed A sea of dreams did breathe on me... Songs of reverie and nostalgia for soprano, mezzo-soprano and baritone. In 2010, the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien (Musikverein) commissioned him to write a work to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Musikverein in Vienna – Double Concerto for Violin and Viola, which was premiered on 22 October 2012 in Vienna by the Bavarian Radio Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons with Janine Jansen (violin) and Julian Rachlin (viola). The first German performance (by the same musicians) took place on 15 and 16 November in Munich. The work was recorded for BR-Klassik. The Polish premiere was held on the composer’s 79th birthday in Poznań. Krzysztof Penderecki conducted the Poznań Philharmonic Orchestra with soloists Fumiaki Miura (violin) and Julian Rachlin (viola).
Krzysztof Penderecki’s new version of his opera The Devils of Loudun was premiered in Copenhagen on 12 February 2013.
2013 marked Krzysztof Penderecki’s anniversary year. Many concerts and festivals featuring the composer’s works took place on the occasion of his 80th birthday: the Witold Lutosławski Festival in Warsaw (February), a concert in St Petersburg (St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra), the opening of the European Krzysztof Penderecki Center for Music (May), performances of the Polish Requiem in Wrocław and Vilnius, concerts dedicated to Krzysztof Penderecki in Lvov and Cracow (Sinfonietta Cracovia), the Polish Requiem in Naantali, the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival (July), the Festival Pablo Casals in Prades, the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, the Ohrid Festival (Macedonia). In July, Krzysztof Penderecki was composer-in-residence at the Marlboro Music Festival (USA), and in August he conducted the Penderecki Musik Akademie Westfalen (concerts in Amsterdam, Münster and other cities).
More concerts took place in Košice, Bonn (Beethovenfest, Piano Concerto - Resurrection with soloist Rudolf Buchbinder under the composer’s baton), Hanover (concert with Sinfonia Varsovia, of which he is the artistic director), Italy (soloist Massimo Mercelli), Budapest (Double Concerto and Symphony No.8) and Minsk (Credo). The premiere performance of the Adagio was played by the Czech Philharmonic under the direction of Maestro Jiří Bělohlávek on 10 September in Prague.
Last year’s Beijing Music Festival was dedicated, among others, to Krzysztof Penderecki. On 15 and 16 October, the composer conducted the China National Orchestra, with the programme featuring the Double Concerto (Julian Rachlin – viola and Vera Tsu – violin) and Symphony No.8. Works for string orchestra were performed in the second concert.
Further concerts were held in Warsaw, Bielsko-Biała and Zabrze (participation of Krzysztof Penderecki in a new festival named after him). Krzysztof Penderecki has been in the United States since 24 October. The New York Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Charles Dutoit, performed the composer’s Concerto grosso. On 1 November Yale University celebrated his birthday with a concert by the Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale under the composer’s baton. The concert programme included Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima and Symphony No.2. On 2 November, Maestro Charles Dutoit conducted the Concerto Grosso with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (soloists Gautier Capuçon, Daniel Müller-Schott and Arto Noras). At this year’s BBC Proms in August, Maestro Dutoit also conducted the Concerto Grosso with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
A festival dedicated to Krzysztof Penderecki’s music, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, was held between 17 and 23 November in Warsaw. It brought together friends, artists and composers, including Lorin Maazel, Charles Dutoit, Valery Gergiev, Lawrence Foster, Marek Janowski, Andres Mustonen, Long Yu, Leonard Slatkin, Maximiano Valdes, Alexander Liebreich, Rafael Payare; leading Polish conductors (Jacek Kaspszyk, Krzysztof Urbański, Gabriel Chmura); soloists Anne-Sophie Mutter, Julian Rachlin, Barry Douglas, Yuri Bashmet, Arto Noras, Daniel Müller-Schott, Danjulo Ishizaka, Ivan Monighetti, Michel Lethiec, Radovan Vlatkovic, Iwona Hossa, Agnieszka Rehlis, Olga Pasiecznik, cantor Alberto Mizrahi. The best Polish orchestras and choirs performed (Sinfonia Varsovia, the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, Sinfonia Iuventus, the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir, the Cracow Philharmonic Choir, the Choir of the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic, the Choir of the Wielki Theatre, and the Warsaw Boys’ Choir). Chamber ensembles included the Shanghai Quartet.
A Penderecki festival was held in Seoul in early December. On 13 December in New York’s Carnegie Hall, Anne-Sophie Mutter performed the premiere of the composer’s La Folia, which is dedicated to her.
November 2013 saw the premiere of Anna Schmidt’s German-Polish documentary about Krzysztof Penderecki, as well as the publication of two books: The Penderecki Saga by Wydawnictwo Literackie and Penderecki. Lusławice by Wydawnictwo Bosz (Polish-English version).
photo Janusz Marynowski
In 2013 there was an international conference at the Academy of Music in Kraków (Generation 33). In late 2013 and early 2014, St Luke Passion was performed in Caracas (Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra under the composer’s baton) and there was a concert by the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra in Moscow. In February 2014, the composer conducted his Polish Requiem in a series of concerts with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and in March 2014 Krzysztof Penderecki took up the post of composer-in-residence at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.
Ludwig van Beethoven Assocation