Rhinegold Photo credit: Toshiyuki Urano

Katy Wright

Deputy Editor, Classical Music

Stanisław Skrowaczewski (3 October 1923 – 21 February 2017)

10:15, 22nd February 2017

Stanisław Skrowaczewski, who conducted the Minnesota Orchestra for 56 years, has died aged 93.

The Polish conductor and composer will be remembered for his highly-regarded interpretations of Bruckner and for his collaborations with some of the leading musicians of the 20th century, including Shostakovich, Lutosławski, Penderecki and Andrzej Panufnik.

Born in Lviv, Poland, Skrowaczewski began learning piano and violin aged four. He composed his first symphonic piece at the age of seven, and played and conducted Beethoven’s third piano concerto aged 13. In 1941 he suffered a hand injury from a bomb explosion which ended his keyboard career, at which point he decided to focus on composing and conducting.

He moved to Kraków following World War II, and became music director of the Wrocław (Breslau) Philharmonic in 1946, later holding positions as music director of the Silesian State Philharmonic of Katowice (1949-54), the Kraków Philharmonic (1954-56), and permanent conductor of the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra (1956-59).

Winning the Santa Cecilia Competition for Conductors in Rome in 1956 brought Skrowaczewski to international attention, and led to an invitation to conduct the Cleveland Orchestra in 1958. Engagements with other major US orchestras followed, and in 1960, at the age of 36, he became music director of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra), where he was later appointed conductor laureate. It was at this time that he became a US citizen.

From 1984 to 1991, he was principal conductor of the Hallé, and was appointed to the same role with the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in Japan in 2007, later becoming honorary conductor laureate. In 2015 he was made conductor laureate of the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern.

Skrowaczewski’s last concerts were in October 2016 when he conducted the Minnesota Orchestra in Bruckner’s eighth symphony to mark his 93rd birthday. He leaves an impressive recorded legacy, with highlights including his Beethoven and Bruckner symphony cycles with the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern.

An active composer, his works have been performed by Bavarian Radio Symphony, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Bruckner Orchester Linz, Yomiuri Nippon Symphony and Minnesota orchestras and recorded for Oehms Classics, Reference Recordings, Albany Records and Innova. His Concerto for Orchestra (1985) and Passacaglia Immaginaria (1995) were both nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; earlier award-winning compositions include Overture 1947, which won the Karol Szymanowski Competition in Warsaw, and Ricercari notturni (1977), which received the first Kennedy Center Friedheim Award.

Skrowaczewski was awarded the Knight’s Cross of Polonia Restituta, one of Poland’s highest honours, and has six honorary doctorates. He is also the recipient of the Bruckner Society of America’s Kilenyi Medal of Honor, the gold medal of the Mahler-Bruckner Society, and five ASCAP Awards for his programming of contemporary music.

Hallé chief executive John Summers described Skrowaczewski as ‘an extraordinary figure, gentle yet determined and popular with both orchestras and audiences’, and said that he would be remembered ‘for many memorable performances in Manchester […] and for his indomitable spirit and good humour’.

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