Seven Gates Festival – Polish Music Celebrated in the UK

Seven Gates: a journey of discovery, an exploration of the music of Poland. There is a vast richness in Polish compositional output and during these four days we shall be opening seven doors through which to understand the power of its influence. By looking through the music of Krzysztof Penderecki, Witold Lutosławski, Henryk Gorecki, Karol Szymanowski, Agata Zubel as well as film, and new compositions reflecting on, and inspired by, Polish compositional thought and research, we shall be entering a rich soundworld which has influenced the world.—from the program booklet of the festival.

The UK premiere of Krzysztof Penderecki’s Seven Gates of Jerusalem was the inspiration for a four-day festival of Polish culture held at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Filled with programs of works by Polish composers from Szymanowski to Zubel and accompanied by film screenings and works inspired by Polish music, the Seven Gates: a Journey of Discovery festival was held from June 23-26, 2015.


Seven Gates of Jerusalem or Symphony no. 7 (1997) is one of Krzysztof Penderecki’s greatest monumental works, commissioned by the city of Jerusalem for the third millennial celebration of the city. Numbers are especially important in this composition: three (gimel) for three religions co-existing together; three choirs singing; the third millennium of the city. Seven (zayin) for the division of the city into seven parts (historical gates); seven texts used (six Psalms from various books from the Bible and the prophecy of Ezekiel that always have to be read in the language of the audience); the frequent presence of seven notes repeated twice in Passacaglia, the septuple meter and the E-flat major chord repeated seven times.

“As the title awakens so many associations I wanted to minimize the extra-musical means and express what I wanted through pure musical construction. I reached out to the Psalms, which have always fascinated me. The composition consists of seven movements, which are all nameless – even the last one that is the ‘seventh gate’ through which the Messiah symbolically passes.” – as the composer described his work.

The premiere is accompanied by a festival of compositions by Polish composers, starting from those of the 20th century to contemporary ones: early works by Karol Szymanowski (Masques and Songs of the Fairy Tale Princess), works by Witold Lutoslawski (Dance Preludes, Chain I, Piano Concerto), a concerto by Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki (Concerto for Hapsichord), and a wide review of Krzysztof Penderecki’s oeuvre (from Three Miniatures for Clarinet and Piano from 1956, Violin Sonata, the controversial Bridge of Death, Agnus Dei from the Polish Requiem from 1981, String Quartet no 3 from 2008). The representative of the next generation of composers at the festival is Agata Zubel. Her Shades of Ice inspired by Icelandic glaciers and Streets of a Human City inspired by Czeslaw Milosz’s text will be presented.

Compositions by Paul Petterson (a piece with the very encouraging title Penderecki’s Party Piece) and new works by Aled Smith and Sergio Corte will be also presented at the Seven Gates mini-festival. They will be conducted by Mark Heron, Adam Kornas, Piero Lombardi Iglesias, Maciej Tworek, and the maestro Penderecki himself. The concerts will be accompanied by film showings – Katyn by Andrzej Wajda with Penderecki’s music, Tony Palmer’s documentary about the work of Gorecki (Gorecki: The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) and Witold Skrzynecki’s story about the most famous Polish festival 50 Years of Warsaw Autumns.