Jacek Kaspszyk | Playlist

Wojciech Kilar was an extraordinary composer and human being, associated with the beginnings of my career and my work with the Polish Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra, today the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra. I had the honour – very early on, as a very young man – to work with them then become their boss. This was when I first met Wojciech Kilar. I spent a lot of time in Katowice, where the orchestra is based, and virtually all my free time at the home of Wojciech and his wife, Basia. There were countless hours of conversations, discussions about music.

If I were to make a list his works, I’d have to say that all of them are brilliant, all are written by a man of incredible talent. But the work closest to me is Exodus. I had the honour of conducting its premiere at the Warsaw Autumn Festival. It was a special concert – Kilar was changing his musical language at the time. Exodus – one could make a reference to Ravel’s Bolero because it, too, was an increasingly intense, basically monotonous passage with one motif – made half of the audience go into raptures and give a standing ovation, while the other half felt uncomfortable and booed. It was a great reaction at a contemporary music festival.

Another work worth mentioning is, of course, Krzesany, which became a milestone for the composer, who showed that folklore could be treated in a very modern and very free way. And that a very serious symphonic piece could be written in a language at once very avant-garde and very popular.

When it comes to his first period, when I didn’t know him yet – when he wasn’t associated with Krzesany, film music, or Exodus, his flagship works – that is to his period of experimentation, I could name his Sonnet for orchestra. Springfield Sonnet is a piece that lasts a few minutes, but – like with Andrzej Panufnik – we see here an incredible ease in the use of colour, instrumentation, large orchestra, as well as a truly phenomenal atmosphere and effect of a chamber work.

Kilar had this great ease of writing music, but he didn’t do it because he had to: he chose his films. He really liked and appreciated the director Krzysztof Zanussi. He appreciated his knowledge and intellect, so writing music for his friend was a pleasure.

Kilar never dreamed of Hollywood. It wasn’t something of which he dreamed or which he sought. It was just a nice bonus. Today some people say that he could have had a career in Hollywood – he never wanted that. As I’ve said, writing music came easily to him, he understood film and its music very well. One of the greatest masterpieces of film music is The Promised Land. It is shocking, phenomenal music. But what he loved most was composing.

Jacek Kaspszyk – outstanding Polish conductor, long-time artistic and music director of the National Opera in Warsaw, since 2013 artistic director of the National Philharmonic Orchestra.