Goldenthal in Kraków

By Marek Zebrowski

Born in 1954, Elliot Goldenthal is primarily known as a very successful film composer with a long list of scores for such highly acclaimed features as Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy (1989), David Fincher’s Alien 3 (1992), Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire (1994), Michael Collins (1996) and The Good Thief (2002), Michael Mann’s Heat (1996), Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin (1997) and Julie Taymor’s Frida (2002), Across the Universe (2007), The Tempest (2010), and The Glorias (2020), among others. 

Perhaps less noticed, but just as important, is Goldenthal’s extensive catalogue of concert and stage works. These were the happy outcome of his full-time studies at the Manhattan School of Music under the tutelage of John Corigliano during the 1970s, which culminated with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in composition. Beginning with chamber music during his college days, Goldenthal gradually expanded his list of works by composing string quartets, symphonies, suites and concertos for large orchestra.

Goldenthal’s most recent opus, Symphony No. 3 for Soprano and Orchestra to poetry by Barbara Sadowska, was commissioned by the Beethoven Academy Orchestra. This extensive, five-movement work, commemorates the fortieth anniversary of the imposition of martial law in Poland on 13 December 1981, following the dissolution of the Solidarity labor union by the communist government. Each of the Symphony’s movements takes its title from lines of Sadowska’s poems, and the choice of this author is also closely connected to the tragic years of martial law in Poland. Born in Paris in 1940, Sadowska came to Poland as a child and began publishing poetry in the late 1950s. She was active in anti-communist movements in Poland from the 1960s onward and was detained and mistreated by the police on several occasions. Arrested in 1982 and 1983, she was attacked by some still unidentified plain-clothes policemen in spring of 1983. A few weeks later, her 19-year old son, Grzegorz Przemyk, was interrogated and severely beaten by the Warsaw police. He died two days later. Barbara Sadowska died of cancer in 1986 at the age of 46.

Goldenthal’s Symphony No. 3 was premiered at the Kraków Philharmonic Hall on 15 December 2021 by the Beethoven Academy Orchestra, led by Maestra Monika Stefaniak with soprano soloist Adriana Ferfecka. The background of the December 2021 premiere in Kraków was as turbulent as the subject matter however, as we have recently learned from Richard Guerin—a PMC friend and correspondent, who provided the following details:

Goldenthal’s Third Symphony, based on the Sadowska poems, was in its way a big success. It was also high drama when it premiered right before Christmas… When I say high drama – the scheduled soprano Iwona Sobotka had to withdraw from the world premiere on four days’ notice as she contracted Covid at the Spanish National Opera in Madrid. The wonderful soprano Adriana Ferfecka stepped in and did an amazing job. Furthermore, the conductor Monika Stefaniak’s father died the night before the premiere. Covid was again bearing down on everyone and attendance in the Kraków Philharmonic was limited to 50%. Furthermore, there was this obvious specter of what might happen in Ukraine and this piece – essentially about the tragedy of authoritarianism from a mother’s point of view was overwhelming emotionally… I found it incredibly moving.

For anyone interested in listening to this extraordinary concert, the Play Kraków website has just posted a video of Goldenthal’s Third Symphony here: www.playkrakow.com/en/vod/vod.2479

As our friend Richard Guerin observed, “I can’t think of any other time an American composer would have set the Polish language in this way.” We agree and hope that our readers will do so as well.

Besides the Goldenthal’s Symphony, the Beethoven Academy Orchestra concert opened with Krzysztof Penderecki’s Sinfonietta No. 2 for Flute and String Orchestra, and was followed by the world premiere of Jan Sanejko’s Symfonia wolności [Freedom Symphony]. The flute soloist in Penderecki’s work was Łukasz Długosz and the orchestra was led by Jean-Luc Tingaud for the Penderecki and Sanejko’s works.

[Sources: email correspondence, oab.com.pl]