|Stanislaw Skrowaczewski receiving an award from the Bruckner Society, April 20, 2012, at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis. (Photo by Mark Taylor.)|
Last night I saw legendary conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conduct Anton Bruckner’s 8th symphony with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall. It was simply amazing. Skrowaczewski was the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, then named the Minneapolis Symphony, from 1960 to 1979. He has remained a conductor laureate of the Minnesota Orchestra and returns annually to conduct. His 52-year association with the Minnesota Orchestra is the longest time that “any one person has been associated with an orchestra in the world,” according to critic Michael Anthony. (The quote is from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 15th.) Since defecting from Poland in 1960, Skrowaczewski had made his home in the Twin Cities, and he still lives here. I knew of Skrowaczewski, but I had never seen him conduct before. When I was looking through the concert season and saw that he was returning for this concert, I knew I had to go. I was able to get tickets in the front row, because at Orchestra Hall those tickets are usually cheaper than seats a little farther back. Seeing classical music performed live is such an amazing experience, and seeing it from the first row is even better. I went to the concert with my wife, and our seats were front and center, right in front of the first violin and Skrowaczewski’s podium. It was a lot of fun to watch Skrowaczewski conduct, he was pretty animated, and you could tell how focused he was on the music. Even at the age of 88, his passion for Bruckner is clear.
Skrowaczewski has told of the immense impact that Bruckner’s music had on his own life. When he was 7 years old, and already playing and composing music, he was walking the streets of his hometown of Lwow, Poland, when he heard Bruckner’s music coming from a radio out of the window of a house. He was transfixed by this music, the likes of which he had never heard before, and he stood frozen like a statue until the radio broadcast was finished. Skrowaczewski has become one of the foremost conductors of Bruckner’s work.
I don’t know enough about classical music or Bruckner’s work in general to really analyze the content of the 8th symphony, but it’s clearly a spectacular work. It’s about 75 minutes long, made up of four movements. It’s an exciting piece of music that builds to a memorable finish. According to the program, Bruckner’s 8th symphony is considered the pinnacle of his work. There’s never a dull moment during the symphony, it’s a very dramatic piece of music. I had a very good view of the cello players, and it was fun to watch the eye contact they made with each other at various times. Just thinking about how all of the players of an orchestra need to come together to perform a symphony is mind-boggling. It’s also pretty amazing to think that someone could write a 75 minute symphony.
After the concert Skrowaczewski received an award from the Bruckner Society. He seemed very thrilled to receive it, and he really seemed amazed at all the applause he got from the audience. There is a new biography of Skrowaczewski that just came out last year, “Seeking the Infinite: The Musical Life of Stanislaw Skrowaczewski,” by Frederick Edward Harris, Jr. Harris was signing copies in the lobby after the show, and so we got our copy signed. It looks like a great book, and Harris was a very nice guy.
Skrowaczewski said in 1994 of Bruckner’s 8th symphony, “When I conduct the 8th symphony it seems to me that it is already over in a moment. Time really stops with Bruckner. It is like a religious meditation or a dream; you lose the notion of time.” (“Seeking the Infinite,” p. 424.) I certainly lost the notion of time last night, thanks to some great music by Bruckner, great conducting by Skrowaczewski, and great playing by the Minnesota Orchestra.