Report about the Warsaw Autumn Festival (by Krzysztof Knittel)

Krzysztof Knittel

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I was invited to Barcelona to talk about the “Warsaw Autumn” festival. I would like to tell you about its nature, about programming matters, about economic structure and financial problems. At the end of my speech I will add a short information about another international new music event in Poland “Audio-Art” festival which was invented a few years ago by Marek Choloniewski and myself. I hope that I will manage to contribute to the subject of our meeting.

Let me say at the beginning a few words about the tradition of “Warsaw Autumn”which has led to numerous present initiatives. The festival was created by two composers-Kazimierz Serocki and my teacher and professor Tadeusz Baird. The first “Warsaw Autumn” took place in 1956 during the historical thaw in the comunist Poland. From the beginning the festival was designed to present the newest musical works as well as 20th century music, hardly known to the generation brought up in social realism. It was of an open character, none of the tendencies in new music have dominated the ‘Warsaw Autumn”, neither postimperialism, nor modernism, nor electronic music, nor neoclasical trends. On the contrary, the festival was the place to feature all musical styles, aesthetic orientations and technological novelties, also all kind of musical experiments.

It is worth stressing that the festival has always represented a high performing quality, the best orchestras, ensembles and soloists performed here and not only new music professionals but also world-renown classical music celebrities playing contemporary repertoire, just to mention concerts given by string quartets such as Parennin, La Salle, Juilliard (performing also Polish contemporary music), a recital of Pears with Britten, concerts of Rubinstein, Rostropovitch, recitals of Richter, Cathy Barberian. Since the early sixties the festival has presented music by Cage, Xenakis, Stockhausen, Berio and Nono, first pieces by Lutoslawski, Penderecki and Górecki, here Denisov and Schnittke began their international careers.

I’m bringing it all up because to Polish composers and festival organisers of the nineties, it creates a chalenge, which our generation -working in completely different conditions- has to cope with. Up till 1989 the “Warsaw Autumn” was a bridge between the West and the East, visited by large numbers of East European musicologists and composers who, for political and finincial reasons, could not afford to go to concerts and festivals in Western Europe. Besides, artists and critics from western countries were coming to Warsaw as the festival gave them a unique opportunity to get acquainted with the musical works of the countries on the other side of the iron curtain.

Today, luckly for all of us, these problems are gone; what remained are the financial problems, well known to all festival organizers in every political system and in each historical period, and I think we are doomed to struggle against them anyway.

When I became a festival director almost two years ago, the “Warsaw Autumn” was deprived of a half of its subsidy provided by the Ministry of Culture which was dominated by the farmer´s party. This subsidy was the basis for the festival´s existence. Within a few following months it was only by miracle, I guess, that we succeeded in securing financial assistance from new institutions and sponsors, and we managed to rescue the 1995 festival programme.

At the moment we act on principles close to those adopted by major Europeanfestivals, we take subventions from the state, public and municipal institutions, Polish and foreign foundations and finally, commercial firms. The private sponsoring is still not popular in Poland due to the lack of tradition, deficiencies in the legal system unfavourable for the culture.

I would like to say more about economic principles of the festival. The basic support for “Warsaw Autumn” comes from the Ministry of Culture and it means more than 1/3 of the festival budget. Other important donators are municipal institutions as City Hall of Warsaw, Warsaw Center Borough, Governor of Warsaw Province and a few Polish cultural foundations, including Batory Foundation which is a branch of Open Society Fund created by multimillionare George Soros. There are also festival partners as the National Philarmonic, Academy of Music, Centre for Contemporary art – Ujazdowski Castle, Royal Castle in Warsaw, Polish Scientific Publishers PWN and some others helping us on many musical, organization and financial levels.

Other important partners of “Warsaw Autumn” are foreign institutions like Goethe-Institut Warschau, Institut Fran·ç·aise de Varsovie, Association Fran·ç·aise d’Action Artistique, different Embassies, foreign Ministries of Culture (like Lithuanian and Russian in this year festival) Gaudeamus Foundation, The Fund for U.S. Artists at International Festivals and Exhibitions (so called Arts International) and many others.

When I think about the promotion of new music, I whish to underline the role of public media and, first of all, of the Second Programme of the Polish Public Radio which has co-organised ‘Warsaw Autumn” for three years and broadcasted and rebroadcasted most of our concerts, also whithin the framework of the European Broadcasting Union.

Polish public television broadcasts two or three concerts during each festival and makes numerous programs about the “Warsaw Autumn”. In this year’s festival public television recorded unusual number of seven festival events.

Colaboration whith public radio and television is probable the most important matter for the festival organizers. In our case the Polish radio as co-organizer of “Warsaw Autumn” makes possible the participation of best Polish Symphony orchestras, gives their concert halls and pays costs of licenses. In this year jubilee 40th festival Polish Radio was the festival co-organizer whith Polish Television and they gave us very important financial support.

Finally there are also few commercial sponsors, like LOT Polish Airlines which has from a few years the tittle of Oficial Sponsor of the festival. LOT is giving us free air tickets for many foreign artists.

I would like to tell you now about the organisation of our festival, about its characteristic features. From the very beginning the “Warsaw Autumn” has been organised by the Polish Composer’s Union and its programme was selected by the Repertoire Commitee, which is a social body. The Commitee troughout the whole year works out the programme. In 1996 we introduced some changes into the Commitee’s work procedure – We split up into two groups and we were simultaneously preparing two festivals- in 1997 and 1998. This metoth lead to satisfactory results and we will stick to this concept at least till the end of the century.

Another new conception is the idea of presentation of new music of particular countries in 1996 we focused on Hungarian music, this year it was French and German music and the next year we will follow a nordic theme in a scope far beyond the “Warsaw Autumn” tradition; since a half of the pieces played at the festival and more than a half of ensembles will represent music from nordic countries. The festival will be co-financed by the Nordic Council of Ministers, we will also be assisted by local music information centres of the northern region of Europe.

A festival novelty is a collaboration with the Centre for contemporary art in Warsaw, a place brilliantly designed to present musical actions which go beyond the traditional notions of instrumental music. At the Ujazdowski Castle halls, where the Centre is located, for four years we have organised audio-art music concerts, audio-visual performances, musical installations, exhibitions, etc. From the beginning I was personally involved with these presentations – it is a sort of continuation of what I did before with my friend and composer Marek Choloniewski, with whom I set up the Audio-Art festival which has been held parallelly in Cracow and in Warsaw for five years. At the end of my speech I will tell you few words more about this important vanguard music event in Poland. The concerts of “Warsaw Autumn” sound art were given by Lorenc Barber, Gordon Monahan, David Moss, Horst Rickles, Godfried Willem Raes, Robin Minard, Heiner Goebbels, Pierre Bastien, John King and many others.

The recent trends in music, in sound art, however, have not gained supremacy over the festival; the “Warsaw Autumn” is still, above all, a review of symphonic and chamber music. Moreover, each year we organise one or two electronic music concerts, sometimes operas or ballet performances. This intentional diversity does not originate from diverse preferences of the Repertoire Comitee members, but is the basic principle of the programme’s arrangement, through which we intend to present various music genres. This variety has also been designed to present the most recent art together whith 20th century classics.

We also do our best to provide an appropiate number of world premieres (this year we had about twenty of them) but it is a matter of festival finances, so we cannotafford to many works written on “Warsaw Autumn” commision.

Here are the folders and programme books of the last four “Warsaw Autumn” festivals. If you need more information, I am ready to answer all your questions. I would like to say now about next year’s “Warsaw Autumn.

The following festival of 1998, as I have already said, will be devoted to Nordic music. In a year’s time, in September, we will present an unprecedented number of symphonic concerts. We invited the Royal Philarmonic from Stockolm, Radio Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk of Leipzig, Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra, Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra from Katowice and National Philarmonic. We also hope to receive world-renown ensembles like Avanti from Finland and the Oslo Sinfonietta. The Repertoire Commitee would like to invite also the SKRAEP ensemble whith the European Improvisation Orchestra, since most of the members of this formation are from the Nordic countries. There is also musician from Spain (Victor Nubla) and Poland, since I am also a member of this experimental music society. We may organize also the IIIrd European Symposium of Experimental Music. The principles were not discussed yet but the concert of E.I.O. will be a good ocasion to continue our work on the Experimental Music Society in Europe. This is also a matter of finances and European Community support.

Symphonic and chamber music concerts will run parallelly to Internet concerts at the Centre for Contemporary Artwhich will be organized in collaboration with NoTAM from Oslo (NoTAM means Norwegian network for Technology, Acoustics and Music) and with the Computer Music Studio of Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. It will be an Internet based real time multimedia collective work including participants from Oslo, Helsinki and Warsaw. For the time being this project is at the preparatory stage, but throughout the year we hope to develop it to the point when audio-visual instrumentalists of this three cities will be able to present their parallel performances.

Finally, the “Warsaw Autumn’ is editing an audio Chronichle – every year after the festival – this is a serie of cassette tapes including all Polish compositions performed during the festival. I have with me the last year (1996) chronicle with 10 cassettes with Polish music.

Let me say now a few words about “Audio-Art” – 5 years old international festival invented by my friend and musical partner Mark Choloniewski and myself in 1989. Since 1990 we organized many audio-art concerts in the Centre for Contemporary Art in Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw and in different concert halls and galleries in Krakow however, but we were not able to bear the expenses of an international festival lasting two or three weeks. It was possible only in 1993 with the important support of the Goethe-Institut in Krakow and the Culture Foundation in Warsaw. Since the first festival many concerts are given parallel in Krakow and Warsaw. Muzyka Centrum Society is taking care of the organization in Krakow and the Polish Society for Contemporary Music organizes concerts in Warsaw. The Festival’s organization and financial structure reflects many problems of “Warsaw Autumn” and this is why I will not explicate this subject. The conception of each festival is prepared mainly by Marek Choloniewski with some suggestions of other composers. Here are the programs of five “Audio-Art” festivals and everyone interested may have a look into these papers.

Thank you very much for your attention and I am ready to answer your questions.

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