Sad news: Minnesota’s loyal maestro died today, aged 93

Stanisław Skrowaczewski died on 21 February 2017, at the age of 93. In a long and well-loved career, he was principal conductor of the Hall Orchestra and music director in Minneapolis, where he returned every season until this year.

Official biography follows.

 

 

Born in 1923 in Lwów, Poland, Skrowaczewski began piano and violin studies at the age of four and composed his first symphonic work at seven. He played and conducted Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto at the age of 13. Despite severe artistic censorship from the first Soviet occupation (1939-41), Skrowaczewski enjoyed Lwów’s flourishing cultural scene during his formative years, and immersed himself in the city’s musical life. During this period, Skrowaczewski learned English and followed the progress of the Second World War by listening secretly to the BBC. In 1941 he suffered a hand injury from a bomb explosion during the Nazi assault on the city which ended his keyboard career, at which point he decided to focus on composing and conducting.

Following the war, Skrowaczewski moved to Kraków, the new musical centre of Poland, and through his conducting and compositions was hailed a future star by the most prominent Polish composers of the time, including Andrzej Panufnik and Witold Lutosławski (whose Concerto for Orchestra he conducted in its U.S. premiere in 1958). In 1946 he became Music Director of the Wrocław (Breslau) Philharmonic, and then Music Director of the Silesian State Philharmonic of Katowice (1949-54), the Kraków Philharmonic (1954-56), and permanent conductor of the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra (1956-59). In the 1940s Skrowaczewski studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, during which time he joined the avant-garde composer’s organization Groupe Zodiaque. In 1948 he conducted the Paris premiere of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony with L’Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. A few years later Shostakovich heard a Skrowaczewski performance of the Fifth Symphony and he praised the young maestro’s interpretation.

After many years working in isolated communist Poland, a breakthrough came in 1956 when Skrowaczewski won the Santa Cecilia Competition for Conductors in Rome. This award led to an invitation by conductor George Szell to conduct the Cleveland Orchestra in 1958, a significant moment which marked the next chapter of Skrowacewski’s international career. Engagements with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra amongst others followed and in 1960, at the age of 36, he became Music Director of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra), a position he held for 19 years. It was at this point that he left Poland to become a U.S. citizen, having lived through the Second World War and three occupations of Lwów.

During the 1960s Skrowaczewski made many debuts with major orchestras including the Royal Concertgebouw, London Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras, as well as with the Vienna State Opera and Metropolitan Opera (New York). In particular, he became a regular guest-conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra, where he returned most recently in 2015 and the Berlin Philharmonic, where he returned most recently in 2011.

From 1984 to 1991 Skrowaczewski was Principal Conductor of The Hallé in Manchester with whom he toured Europe and the U.S. and recorded extensively, working with them regularly thereafter. In 2007 he was appointed Principal Conductor of the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in Japan and conducted them every year since, most recently as their Honorary Conductor Laureate. From 1979 he served as Conductor Laureate for the Minnesota Orchestra, conducting them annually for 56 seasons, an unprecedented length in the history of major American orchestras. In 2015 he was made Conductor Laureate of the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern, following a long relationship and many celebrated recordings, including the complete Bruckner, Brahms, Schumann and Beethoven symphonies for Arte Nova Classics (now Oehms Classics). These received enormous critical acclaim and joined an extensive discography with other orchestras including the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony for Columbia Records, NHK Symphony, Minnesota, Royal Concertgebouw, London Philharmonic, London Symphony and Berlin Philharmonic orchestras, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Orchestre National de France, Philharmonique de Radio France and The Hallé.

Skrowaczewski’s compositions have been performed and recorded widely and have received critical acclaim, with his Concerto for Orchestra (1985) and Passacaglia Immaginaria (1995) both being nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Recent compositions include the widely performed Music for Winds (2009) and King Lynn and His 3 Naughty Kobolds (2014) for cellist Lynn Harrell. During the last year of his life he was composing a requiem for orchestra and chorus.

The recipient of numerous accolades, Skrowaczewski was awarded the Knight’s Cross of Polonia Restituta, one of Poland’s highest decorations, and has six Honorary Doctorates, awarded most recently by the universities of Minnesota and Wrocław, the New England Conservatory of Music and the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music, Katowice. He is also the recipient of the Bruckner Society of America’s Kilenyi Medal of Honor and the Gold Medal of the Mahler-Bruckner Society, as well as five ASCAP Awards for his programming of contemporary music.

A comprehensive account of Skrowaczewski’s life and work can be found in Seeking the Infinite: The Musical Life of Stanisław Skrowaczewski, by Frederick Harris, Jr.

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  • Sad, but one should celebrate 93 years of a long and rich life. I have great memories of him conducting in New York, Seattle, Washington and Boston. Interestingly, four of the five programs included Bruckner symphonies (#3 three times, #4 once). The greatest was seeing him with the New England Conservatory orchestra in Bruckner 3; his technique was so smooth and elegant – as though the music just flowed out of his hands, and he knew exactly what he wanted. The NEC Orchestra, as is often the case with youth/conservatory orchestras, was deeply involved, back to the last stand. So glad I had a chance to see this great musician (and person) at work.

    • So many great memories. I was an undergrad at the U of Minnesota in the late 60’s and spent many a night in Northrup Auditorium listening to his fine performances, the Penderecki St Luke Passion premiere, an incomparable Beethoven c minor with Kempff and so much more; in later years at Orchestra
      Hall, an unforgettable Berlioz R&J, the legendary Bruckner performances.
      My young niece ran into him a couple of years back at a Chinese restaurant in a Mpls suburb and thanked him for a recent performance she had heard. He took time to chat and when he learned she was taking piano lessons, encouraged her to keep at it and make music a permanent part of her life. A great artist, a great man and a great gentleman. “Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

  • I recall a wonderful rehearsal – Skrowaczewski at Interlochen (Michigan) in the early 90’s. He was kind, demanding, and a great educator to the HS students in the orchestra! Beethoven Leonore lll is the work I remember.

  • One of the finest performances I have ever head given by the NSO of Washington DC was his conducting of Bruckner’s 7, perhaps some 20 years ago. I recently read a quote by a retiring NSO player who fondly recalled that concert. I sure wished I had heard him live more than once but I am still grateful for that one superb performancee Thank you Maestro.

    • Yes, I remember that concert as well. Indeed, one of the greatest of my life, not just of the ones that I heard with the NSO. And it was so criminally sparsely attended!

      RIP Maestro.

  • I first heard the maestro in Bismarck, North Dakota, when I was a youngster in the early 1970s. The Minnesota Orchestra was playing in the civic center which was prepared for hockey…the floor being ice. He came to the podium skipping on the ice to great applause. I fell in love with live classical music on that night. I will miss him.

  • When I was a conducting student of James Dixon’s at the University of Iowa in the mid 1960s Skrowaczewski and Minneapolis came to Iowa City to play a concert every year. The music was wonderful, of course, but knowing Dixon and knowing he had been Skrowaczewski’s assistant in Minneapolis made it all the more interesting. And having heard about the Mitropoulos visits before that made it all feel like one long and very special connection. Many years later I saw Skrowaczewski a couple of times in Seattle. What a wonderful conductor! A compelling composer, too! How lucky to have had his music making for so long.

  • I recall a review in the Minneapolis paper about a concert in the 70s at which the piano soloist suffered “a spectacular memory lapse” and wandered off into something not quite the Mozart concerto they had embarked on while Skrowaczewski “gamely leafed through the score” trying to find a spot they could reunite at.

  • Arguably by far the greatest performances I have ever heard of Bruckner’s 3rd Symphony was conducted by Skrowaczewski with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, London, in March 2014: no other conductor has understood the architectural structure of this score and how it should be paced: it was total perfection and the climax of the first movement had such an overwhelming power. We are lucky to have this perfect performance preserved on the LPO’s own CD label. Sitting in the choir seats, i had the privilege of watching a great conductor at work with his elegant economic gestures free from the charlatan-conductor acting-acrobatics we see with the likes of Dudamel and Rattle. Skrowaczewski was the last of the ‘great conductors’ and really will be sadly missed, and never forgotten.

    • I do think it rather remarkable that upon a conductors death everyone leaps in to say that he was a genius, a great conductor etc etc. I saw him numerous times when he was with the Halle Orchestra and I remember him as a competent if rather uninspiring conductor. I will however, thank him for introducing me to Mahler 2, which I saw him conduct in an inspiring performance of this great symphony in the clapped out Sheffield City Hall. Yes, a night to remember, but not many of his other performances I am afraid.

      • Well, the London Philharmonic, begs to differ. From their website:

        “We are deeply saddened to learn of the death of conductor Stanisław Skrowaczewski, who passed away on Tuesday 21 February 2017, at the age of 93.

        “The London Philharmonic Orchestra was lucky to enjoy a fruitful musical relationship with Stanisław Skrowaczewski, including the performance of Bruckner Symphony No. 5 in October 2015 which made him the oldest conductor ever to perform at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall.

        “Tim Walker, CEO has said:

        “‘The London Philharmonic Orchestra had the privilege of some extraordinary performances with Stanisław Skrowaczewski at Royal Festival Hall over the last few years‎ and to have been able to release on our own label Bruckner Symphonies Nos. 3, 5 and 7 derived from live recordings of these concerts. He was more than admired and respected by the players: he was in the true sense of the word, revered. Admiration for his sheer stamina and love of music and making music. Respect for a lifetime of incredible knowledge and experience which brought to every performance a real understanding of the repertoire. Reverence, because every concert was an ‘event’, the concert you don’t forget.

        “He will live long in our memories and we have the shared joy of music making with him, held for us and for everyone on the Bruckner recordings, to sustain our love and appreciation of him.’”

    • Why mar such a thoughtful appreciation with that nasty (and cloth-eared) little sneer at two superb (if very different) musicians? Quite apart from leaving an unpleasant taste in the mouth, it undermines the credibility of your comments about Skrowaczewski.

    • “Last of the ‘great conductors'” Really? Last time I looked Haitink and Blomstedt were still with us and apparently still going strong.

  • Many. many fine performances through the years, but one obvious highlight was hearing Skrowaczewski conduct Bruckner 8 with the MO last fall, his last performances with the orchestra he had led so well. The players loved him.

    • I was present for his last Bruckner8 with the MNOrch. The performance was terrific but an unprecidented emotional moment happened as he entered the stage to advance to the podium. The immediate and very lengthy standing ovation with cheers and extended applause expressed Minnesota’s love and appreciation for a great conductor and man.

  • When you consider all the conductors who have recorded the complete Bruckner symphonies, I think it says it all that Skrow’s set is among the three best, bettered (in my opinion) by Jochum’s first set on DG and by the unsurpassable Karajan set, which is simply one of the greatest recorded legacies in all of classical music. Yet Skrow’s set is consistently excellent, with some outstanding performances and not a single misfire (well, maybe #2). That’s an unbelievable achievement, especially considering the incredibly talented group of conductors whose efforts in Bruckner don’t produce anything close to the same results. I had the good fortune of hearing him live twice, and it was very clear he was the real deal. I wish I had the opportunity to hear more of his live performances, but am grateful for what I did hear.

    Thank you, Maestro, for being such a great citizen of the world.

  • A fine conductor of the old school. An inspired musician who used to breathe heavily on upbeats- I heard him at The Fairfield Hall Croydon with the Halle about 25 years back (his former orchestra) in a wonderful Tchaikovsky 5 & his much younger fellow countryman Piotr Anderszewski in Beethoven Piano concerto- which he played with sensitivity but looked like he was falling asleep in the tuttis.

    A flautist friend of mine who played in the CBSO & sometimes guested with the Halle said however that he was a bit of a bastard- a martinet in the Szell mode. Apparently- if you didn’t deliver- you were quickly called in for a coffee with the maestro & then given due marching orders.

    • Your flautist friend’s description of Skrowaczewski as a “bit of a bastard in the Szell mode” is wildly inconsistent with every other story I have read or heard about Skrowaczewski. Maybe someone was mixing up names, or maybe your friend was having a really bad day. Or maybe the Halle players had to get used to higher standards.

  • After being forced to leave Lwów after WWII, Skrowaczewski found his new musical and existential homeland in Katowice (Silesia, Poland) where he was music director/conductor of the Silesian Philharmonic Orchestra. Despite the gloomy times in Poland, the orchestra gave the most outstanding concerts under this young then conductor. Skrowaczewski returned freqently to Katowice conducting the National Radio Symphony Orchestra (unforgettable Bruckner). I heard him many times overwhelmed by his searching and curiousity, even in his 90s. As his musicians said: his conducting was subtle yet powerful.
    Last not least: during his Honorate Doctorate ceremony in Katowice his ‘Fantasie per sei’ was performed – an example of his genius as a composer.
    Poland lost a monumental musician and personality of the two centuries.

  • Saddened to read this. “Stan” was a clear, no-nonsense conductor and musician, and a delightful, gentle man. I treasure memories of many Beethoven Nines and Masses with the Halle and performances of Symanowski with orchestras further afield , most recently in Monte Carlo where he achieved wonders taming the orchestra to produce diaphenous sounds where others have been known to blast away and obliterate soloists and choir alltogether. For that alone, much gratitude , and respect.

  • What sad news and what a great loss for all of us. What a wonderful musical legacy he has left us! I will always treasure the memories of our performances together- Stan was a superb accompanist- a conductor who also loved performing Chopin Concertos, and he was so proud of his landmark recordings of the Chopin with Weissenberg- rightly so! Rest in peace, dear friend, and thank you for all the great music-making!

    • And also the Brahms No. 2 with Gina Bachauer, she a wonder now, it seems, almost forgotten. And you are another wonder! I dearly wish you would record the complete Rachmaninov concertos, and the Paganini Variations, of course. Your performance of the Rach 3 I found on YouTube had me riveted. It ranks with the best I’ve heard, and I’ve heard a lot. Thank you for all you have given us. I’d also like to hear you in the Brahms concertos after hearing you F minor sonata, but I’m just being greedy now!

      • Thanks for your dear words, Steven- do hope I’ll have the chance to record all the Rachmaninoff and both Brahms but that will be after I record the 5 Prokofiev! Haven’t heard the Bachauer recording- will check that out- have such fond memories of performing Brahms #2 with Stan! He will be missed!

        • And thank you for your kind and cheering response, Barbara. That Brahms 2 recording is on YouTube (as also her markedly less happy recording with Dorati). And on there also is their recording of the Beethoven ‘Emperor’! There is, of course, a trove of your own performances on YT, which I mention to galvanize other readers of these comments. All of these performances and others on YT are such treasures, such blessings.

  • During the MN Orch’s 16-month lockout a few years ago, conductor laureate Skrowaczewski sided with the musicians against management.

    • As did their current music director, Osmo Vanska. The Minnesota Orchestra has been blessed to have had two great musicians, who were also courageous, high quality people, in their midst.

  • Ah, the Bruckner was the thing… Only heard him in 3 and 5… missed the 7th in London. Who will continue the tradition? Seems always to be the old guys… but I guess the young guys will become old! But will they know? And will they remember?

  • For those who are interested, there is a wonderful description of S.S. working with the Juilliard Orchestra on Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony to be found in Judith Kogan’s “insider” (warts and all!) book about Juilliard, “Nothing But the Best”. Demanding in the extreme but patient and above all human and sensitive to the young musicians he was, after all, educating.

  • Requiem Aeternam…
    Wonderful Musician, Great Conductor, Creative Composer,Charming Personality.
    I will miss him a lot.

    Rest in peace.

  • Let’s not forget that he was a fine composer too. His English Horn concerto, Concerto for Orchestra, excellent works and deserving to be better known.
    Fortunately a large recorded legacy will keep his work alive as a conductor.
    Stanislaw will be much missed.

  • Sad news indeed from Minnesota. I wanted to share this from the Hallé Orchestra Yearbook 1985-6. Maestro Skrowaczewski’s article before the start of the new orchestral season – such an insight into Mr. Skrowaczewski as a music director, musician and above all a wonderful human being. Principal Conductor 1982-1992. Under Skrowaczewski the Hallé toured to the United States for the first time in 1987, South America and in the same year made an emotional tour to Poland, the country of his birth. Memorable performances of Bruckner and Shostakovich stand alongside critically acclaimed recordings. Mr Skrowaczewski continued to make regular visits to the Hallé until 2015.

    https://scontent-bru2-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/16938932_10210935492436468_5263872833969654083_n.jpg?oh=0339c66d9b1ee027b6982d1e998957ed&oe=593FF99F

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