Panufnik’s Music at USC

by Marek Żebrowski

The centenary of Sir Andrzej Panufnik was celebrated with two concerts on the USC campus in early October. The first, Polish Music Center’s annual Paderewski Lecture-Recital on October 5, was devoted to Panufnik’s chamber music. The program began with the composer’s widow, Lady Camilla, delivering a lecture about her husband’s life and work, illustrated with photographs from the private family archive. Lady Camilla’s personal and direct recollection of their relationship and life in music drew sympathetic and appreciative applause from the audience gathered at the Alfred Newman Recital Hall.

The first musical offering of the evening was Panufnik’s Op. 1 Piano Trio. This youthful work already contained seeds of Panufnik’s more mature style and was delivered with gusto by pianist Nic Gerpe, violinist Joel Pargman, and cellist Maggie Parkins.

Eclipse Quartet

Next, the mezzo-soprano Juliana Gondek (pictured at right with Lady Camilla) presented Panufnik’s Five Vocalises—Hommage à Chopin for voice and piano. Dating from the mid-1950s, this abstract and spare work relies on delicate coloring of the vocal line and quasi-mediaeval textures of piano accompaniment that was delicately delivered by pianist James Lent.

The program closed on Panufnik’s highly-evocative and subtle String Quartet No. 2. Subtitled “Messages” it amply showcased the Eclipse String Quartet, who imbued their brilliant performance of the work with poise, control, and a variety of fascinating sound textures.

During the reception after the concert, the audience had a welcome chance to converse with the guest lecturer and the performers, rounding off this very interesting evening.

Lady Panufnik and Jim SvejdaTwo days later, during the evening hours of October 8, KUSC-FM with Jim Svejda presented a 4-hour program devoted to Panufnik’s music. In-between airing of several orchestral and solo works, Mr. Svejda and Lady Camilla engaged in an easy going conversation that provided much needed background to the music by this rarely-heard composer.

On October 9, Thornton Symphony Orchestra led by Maestro Carl St. Clair, devoted the opening half of the evening to two of Panufnik’s orchestral works, his Tragic Overture (1942/1945) and Harmony—A Poem for Chamber Orchestra (1989). Whilst the former is a driven, tense composition reflecting Panufnik’s experience of World War II in Poland, the latter is a love letter, composed for and dedicated to Lady Camilla on the occasion of their silver wedding anniversary. The young musicians gave their very best to both works and the energy of the performance worked its magic on the audience assembled at USC’s Bovard Auditorium.

Lady Panufnik and Maestro St. ClairAfter the abrupt ending of Tragic Overture reverberated in the hall, the work was greeted with thunderous applause and Maestro St. Clair invited Lady Camilla for a short conversation on stage (shown above). Soon a few more fascinating details emerged about the Panufnik’s wedding anniversary trip to Venice (“Italy, not California,” as Lady Camilla impishly added), and the orchestral reading of Harmony resonated all the more with all present. After the intermission, Maestro St. Clair led Thornton Symphony in a rousing performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, which closed the evening on a decidedly ecstatic note.