Revisiting Górecki Part 3: An interview with Maestro Andrey Boreyko

Revisiting Górecki Part 3: An interview with Maestro Andrey Boreyko

Maestro Andrey Boreyko. (Photo credit: Richard de Stoutz)
Maestro Andrey Boreyko. (Photo credit: Richard de Stoutz)

COLLEGE PARK, Md., April 11, 2014 — For the third and final article in our “Revisiting Górecki” series (see Part 1 here, and Part 2 here), we discuss the music of Górecki, new music in the 21st century, and the challenges of conducting it all with Maestro Andrey Boreyko.

Mr. Boreyko currently serves as music director of the National Orchestra of Belgium and the Düsseldorf Symphony as well as the Orquesta Sinfónica de Euskasi in San Sebastian, Spain. He will also assume the position of music director of the Naples (Florida) Philharmonic at the start of the 2014-2015 season.

Earlier this year, in January 2014, he conducted a pair of well-received regular series concerts performances with the New York Philharmonic.

On April 12, Maestro Boreyko will be in the U.K. to conduct the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the much-anticipated world premiere performances of Henryk Górecki’s “Symphony No.4,” subtitled “Tansman Episodes.”

Mark Nowakowski (MN): Maestro Boreyko, thank you for giving us your valuable time for this interview. To begin, could you give us a brief sketch of your career, as well as your relationship with new music and the music of Henryk Górecki in particular?

Andrey Boreyko (AB): My interest in new music and its performance practice dates back to the beginning of my career as a conductor in the mid-80s. Alexei Lyubimov was probably my first source of inspiration. He was very well known as a dedicated and strong advocate and performer of new music, an outstanding musician and fine pianist.

My genuine fascination with this music never interfered with my interest in studying and performing Medieval and early Renaissance music. Some may find this a little odd, but the link between these different styles becomes evident when remembering that Arvo Pärt developed his new composition technique, which he called Tintinnabuli, as a result of studying medieval music, specifically the Gregorian chant. A number of composers in the early 1970s felt the need to go back to the simplicity and clarity of structure, use of the diatonic scale, and the precision of thought of medieval music – including Pärt, Kancheli, Silvestrov, Górecki, among many others.

Polish composer Henryk Górecki. (Via Wikipedia)
Polish composer Henryk Górecki. (Via Wikipedia)

I first encountered Górecki’s music in the early 1990s when I was living and working in Poland. Compositions by Górecki started attracting the attention of Polish conductors from the wave of success felt by his Third Symphony. During my work as the Music Director of the Poznan Philharmonic Orchestra, I was among them.

MN: It’s been suggested that the Górecki Fourth Symphony is rather quite different than the Third, being less a mystical work and more a précis of his entire career. Might you comment on the style and character of this work, to give listeners an idea of what to expect?

AB: The Fourth Symphony is in fact quite different from the style of the more popular Third. Górecki chose not to take the route of imitating the success he achieved with his Third Symphony. But it is still Górecki, and his style will be recognized by those who know his music. Those who only know the Third Symphony may well be somewhat surprised.

MN: Indeed, now that I have had a chance to see the score, I must entirely agree with you. It is somehow more reminiscent of the energy of his earlier string quartets. Might you give us an insight into the genesis of the Fourth Symphony? As far as everyone was aware, Górecki had died before completing this work. But now, suddenly, we have a completed symphony. How did this all come together?

AB: As far as I am aware, the commissioners of the symphony (the London Philharmonic Orchestra & the Southbank Centre, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and the Zaterdag Matinee), asked the son of the composer, Mikolaj Górecki, to complete the work. According to the information I received from Mikolaj Górecki, he started working on the symphony, which was available in its full length in the form of a short score/piano reduction. This means that the essence of the musical material belongs to Henryk Górecki in its entirety.

Composer Mikołaj Górecki, from Mr. Górecki's website.
Composer Mikołaj Górecki, from Mr. Górecki’s website.

Mikolaj Górecki has completed the tutti orchestration of the first movement; he fully orchestrated the fourth and the major part of the second movement, as well as several episodes of the third movement. His work was completed in 2011.

[Henryk] Górecki dedicated his symphony to the memory of the Polish-born French composer Alexandre Tansman. The musical themes of the symphony are based on the musical anagram of the composer’s name, similar to the famous B-A-C-H [B flat, A, C, B natural] or D-S-C-H motives.

MN: Did you ever have a chance to work with Górecki while he was still alive?

AB: I met Górecki in November 1995 at the renowned Melos-Ethos International Festival of Contemporary Music in Bratislava, now the capital of Slovakia, where I conducted his composition “Beatus vir. Psalm op. 38” for baritone solo, mixed choir, and orchestra (1979).

MN: Górecki ‘s son Mikołaj – himself a composer who we have interviewed for this series on Górecki – completed his father’s score, which was originally in short form. Might you comment on the interaction you had with him?

AB: I have never met Mikołaj Górecki, but we have been in contact and he shared with me the editorial note that he prepared specifically for the presentation of this composition. I have listened to some of the compositions by Mikołaj Górecki and I think that he is a very interesting composer who definitely follows his own path.

MN: Quite surprisingly, there have been precious few performances of Górecki in Europe and the United States since his death. Do you think that his influence is fading, or what explanation can you offer to the lack of even memorial performances of his highly accessible and famous Third Symphony?

AB: It is difficult for me to make a judgment on this, but all in all the number of performances of Górecki’s music before and after the completion of his Third Symphony (even in his native Poland) is very much in line with the amount of performed music of many of his contemporaries, other equally interesting and important composers. The tremendous success of the Third Symphony generated genuine interest in other compositions by Górecki, but as the composer chose not to imitate his success by composing solely in the style of the Third, the interest of those who expected him to do so gradually faded.

I would like to point out that I deeply respect composers who write each of their new works as if it was their first composition without taking into account the success or failure of their previous works. Following one’s own path and leaving one’s public profile to the side is a sign of great mastery. I believe that Górecki was such a master and the work that followed his Third Symphony is evidence of this view.

Why is even his most famous work rarely performed these days? Well, first of all, this is not quite accurate according to the performance history of the Third. And secondly: fate is something you can’t control. This applies to human beings and works of art alike. We only know the date of our birth. Luckily, we don’t know how much time we have left, and unfortunately, we don’t know if and how we will be remembered.

MN: This is certainly true. One can only answer that where one’s most admired composers are concerned, there are never enough performances! Moving on, are there any musical peculiarities when working with Górecki’s music that present specific challenges and opportunities for both the conductor and the ensemble?

AB: I don’t think so. In my view, the general aim of preparatory work is always the same for any composition, be it a premiere of a Górecki composition or another performance of one of Beethoven’s symphonies. For me, the most important thing in this process is to understand what the composer wanted to communicate to us and how to deliver his intentions to the listener in the most precise and appropriate way through the orchestra.

MN: Are you involved in any other forthcoming Górecki premieres, potentially or otherwise?

AB: No, except for the U.S. premiere of the Fourth Symphony in Los Angeles in 2015.

MN: This is a question relating to new music in general: There are a growing number of new and emerging composers who are writing beautiful and accessible orchestral music of the highest quality, and yet they find it difficult to get past orchestral boards wary of modernism, audiences who have developed a knee-jerk hostility to all things new, and overworked conductors who receive too many unsolicited works to even begin to consider. What advice might you give to young composers about disseminating their works, getting performances, and building relationships in the orchestral world?

AB: Let me give you some conductor’s advice to all young composers:

First, don’t try to develop a unique composition technique. If you have a real gift, your style will be distinctive anyway. Second, compose only if you want to communicate something. One can immediately feel when there is no message behind the music. Third, identify your target group of performers, whose artistic views are close to yours. Find them among musicians of your generation; the previous generation of performers may already have found their composers!

And, last but not least: Be open to any kind of music. Listen to everything, be it symphony, opera, ballet, musical, jazz, rock, folk, early music or compositions where the ink of the score hasn’t even dried. Listen to everything as long as it makes you want to listen. If it doesn’t, don’t waste your time on it. But as soon as you understand why you want to listen to one or another style of music, you may just feel like going to your desk and starting to compose. And if not? Then maybe it would make sense to think of another profession!

I must confess: My dream was to become a composer and I studied composition for several years, guided by remarkable professors at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. There are a few works of mine that still wait to be burnt one day. But at some point I realized that my music just doesn’t say anything important and unique to this world. It just fills our already congested atmosphere with something undefined, and thus is unnecessary. Furthermore, I understood that another professionally trained, but not exceptionally gifted composer is less needed than an honest, bona fide professional performer. Being an “interpreter” is very honorable and important work. And I decided to dedicate myself to performance, and never, not only for one second regretted it!

MN: Thank you, Maestro, for your time and insightful answers. We wish you all the best with your upcoming premieres.


Górecki’s Symphony No. 4 will be premiered on April 12, 2014 at Royal Festival Hall in London by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Andrey Boreyko.

The American premiere will be given by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra on January 17, 2015, again under Maestro Andrey Boreyko.

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