Conglomerate of Wild Ideas

25 September 2019

We talk to Krzysztof Pietraszewski, programme director of the Sacrum Profanum festival, about finding satisfaction in difficult tasks.

Karnet: This year’s Sacrum Profanum takes inspiration from the extensive body of work by Lithuanian composers. The central point of this exploration is the concert “Lithuanian Post-Minimalism” (1 October).

Krzysztof Pietraszewski: The idea of introducing our audience to music from our region of Europe has been brewing for some time. It’s easy to turn our attention to the West, but I’m certain that our closer neighbours are just as interesting. The seed was sown with the Romanian Spectralism programme in 2017 – the exotic name instantly drew the audience’s attention. I became interested in Lithuania during last year’s celebrations of the centenary of independence. I also admire the label Bôłt, whose cycle New Music in Eastern Europe has brought us concerts such as that by Arturas Bumšteinas. In the coming years we are going to explore Ukraine, Czechia and Estonia.

During the programme “Inescapable Spiral” (2 October), we will hear the latest composition by Wojtek Blecharz in which he has collaborated with an artist on the autistic spectrum. Where did the idea come from?

Autism remains severely misunderstood in Poland – we treat it with reservation and even fear, largely due to ignorance. The initiative came from Piotr Stasik, who is working on a film about gifted people on the ASD spectrum. One of the individuals featured in the film is fascinated by music – he is a composer and piano improviser. In any case Piotr had been dreaming of working with Wojtek for a while. The topic and the composer’s name convinced me, and even though clashing timetables meant the two artists weren’t able to meet after all, Piotr provided Wojtek with recordings by the musician. The premiere of the performance of the piece – inspired by the difficulties faced by people with hypersensitivity and his improvisations – will be recorded and included in the film.

Some of this year’s concerts, including “Why Patterns?” (2 October) and “Studie in Form” (3 October), feature compositions by Lucia Dlugoszewski, a composer almost entirely unknown in Poland. After a long search, scores of her compositions have at last been found.

In the US, Dlugoszewski was known as a “Polish sonorist” or even “Penderecki in a skirt”. This was unfair and misogynistic, and in any case highly inaccurate since she had very little to do with Poland. If we were to compare her to anyone, it would be more fitting to name John Cage, Harry Partch or Moondog – artists with a singular attitude which is impossible to classify. Suffice it to say, Lucia built almost a hundred percussion instruments and she spent her lifetime reconstructing the piano. Finding her scores was incredibly difficult; Dlugoszewski mainly wrote music for choreographies by her husband Erick Hawkins, and the scores weren’t published. After the couple’s death, access to materials was obstructed for a long time. Finally, as a result of our enquiries some of the resources have been acquired by the Library of Congress for cataloguing, and we were able to get hold of four scores. We are very much hoping to obtain more.

The festival is also becoming increasingly open to literature. Last year we heard the premiere of the opera “ahat ilī – Sister of Gods” with a libretto by Olga Tokarczuk, and this time the programme features Dorota Masłowska’s “Other People” (3 October).

The marriage of music and literature is natural, and here, in the UNESCO City of Literature, it’s especially worth stressing. We were approached with the concept of putting Other People to music by Artur Zagajewski; he was considering collaborating with Paweł Romańczuk and his lineup of Małe Instrumenty. He felt there was an opportunity to bring the two worlds together, and he knew that the Sacrum Profanum festival was the perfect space for presenting this conglomerate of wild ideas.

The final concert of this year’s festival, “House of Low Culture” (4 October), features almost four hours of music. Isn’t that too much?

The finale shifts towards alternative music with nods to noise, metal and techno. It felt like a natural move after spending an entire week communing with serious, high culture. We deliberately tried to maintain a distance – we want to leave the audience with a repertoire which will allow them to escape, reset themselves and physically exhaust themselves all at once. The programme also includes a surprise!

Have any of this year’s concerts been prepared especially for those who are intrigued but not yet initiated into the festival’s ideas?

The Sacrum Profanum programme is consistent. If someone can’t decide which concert to go to – perhaps the names or descriptions don’t mean much to them – then it’s best they simply pick a day when they are free. Additionally, since 2016 at least one concert is free [this year there are two: Encumbrance and Studie in Form – ed.]. I promise that exploring our repertoire is fascinating and satisfying!

Interviewed by Bartosz Suchecki, “Karnet”

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