Jerzy Kornowicz: “Contemporary music is a natural element of the identity shaping of young people”

Kornowicz Jerzy. Prezes ZKP / foto G. Press

The Composer’s Competition named after Myroslav Skoryk, in which Jerzy Kornowicz took part as the jury member, was arranged to find new contemporary pieces of Ukrainian symphonic music. In his commentary for the Competition, he gave opinions about symphonic music, the winner’s piece, the role of the modern ensembles and shared some very useful advice for young composers. We have written it down from the answer to the question “Is a piece for symphony orchestra a necessary sign of the composer’s competence?”. 

We have so many good composers which do not even use acoustical instruments so, I think, moreover, it’s not so obvious that a piece for a symphony orchestra is a main significant point of preference. As you know, the so-called workshop of the composer nowadays changes so fast, that not only young people, but a few generations already use computers. These computers have programs for score edition, they are in charge of manipulating sounds, making a lot of procedures… A lot of programs can transform the sound without putting it into notation. So this workshop holds not the same place, not the same directions as before, as it was for my generation when we started to compose in styles, writing notes and so on. 

Now, I guess it’s not necessary to know the notes to be a good composer. In the field of electronic music (but not only), but it’s also possible to make music scenarios, to write the notation of the score as the final result of the computer operations. But if you ask about the role of the symphony orchestra, it has been changing very much, and I have a strong belief that in our time the orchestra itself in a contemporary music field has become more a means of very specific messages, instruments are not expected to act as before. It’s special (but not only), field to be a good composer and to be accepted as idiomatic and recognizable. I am of the opinion that, for example, a string quartet or two pianos are a much more difficult instrumental combination for the composer.

I would advise young people (but nobody is obligated to follow my advice, it’s just a suggestion) to listen to more contemporary music, really contemporary, not only skilful in referring to aesthetics already recognized from the past. Here is also a question: for whom do you write your music? To your teacher? To your classmates? To your co-students or music society? Or you just have any imaginary perfect listener from the place where do you live?  

I think it’s better not to write for the musicians as the first addresser of your music. Nobody expects that movie makers, directors will make films for actors or other film society members. We, as composers, have something wrong to think just about music society, which is not our aim. We have to be communicating with the “normal” people to develop, to share our music outlooks, ideas and opinions with them, treating them very seriously. It’s great to have something to say about the common real world, not only about the music structures we use. 

So my advice is, don’t think only about the music, but if you do, listen more and more, just to control what is happening not only in your city or country. Now it’s possible to enter the websites of the music festivals. Because of the pandemic, many of them started to make streaming.  E.g. the Contrasts festival offered great streaming. It concerns also Donaueschingen Music Tage, Festival of the First Performances in Katowice. Also,  Warsaw Autumn Festival — we have on our website many interesting links. It’s good to know that contemporary art, music, is an exceptionally special kind of music that doesn’t include all good music written nowadays. It contains only a limited part, still looking for new meanings, new ideas, still recognizing and describing a human being in a new and changeable world. 

So if you want to be in touch with the new streams in this field, you have to observe the changes and situations and know the people which are our alias. There are a lot of possibilities now. It’s a fast-changing sphere. I’m permanently trying to learn what’s happening to stay updated. It’s like looking at watching a TV breaking news: each day gives you something new. And probably you ought to have this special kind of inner skills to feel good in these changing situations in case you want to co-create this artistic movement. Observation and hearing. And remember that real sound is important, not only written by points.  Just to live with music, to breathe music, and not to only write music. It’s also good to improvise. It is not difficult for Ukrainian composers. Ukrainian musicians generally are very naturally musical. 

I would recommend having a neighbourhood of friendly young ensembles or creating your ensemble, to create new generation ensembles. Because cognition is changeable from generation to generation. Naturally, contemporary music festivals are in the hands or space of young people. Between 20 to 35-40 years old. When it goes to the “Warsaw Autumn” — forgive me for bringing up this festival, but this applies to many others — which was created in 1956, blasting the 60s, the 70s but always being considering the stage of the young people of their time. Penderecki had about 30 years, Kotoński, Serocki, Górecki, Kilkar, Baird, Szalonek, Tomasz Sikorski,  they were young people. And it was true for many of all the next generations. A generation of composers, performers and… audiences. 

So first of all, contemporary music is not only a collection of masterpieces but the sphere of the cognitive movement, a natural element of the shaping of the identity of young people. That’s why it’s very important not to expect from already prestigious, rooted ensembles respect for your music as the young composer. Create your ensembles to check your music as fast as possible with people that are equal to you in age. Having the same experience of the world, the same reflections, the same mental attitude, do not expect the acknowledgement, just build your society, make your structure. Of course, I know it’s easy to advise but not easy to realize, that all those significant new ideas were conceived this way — some young musicians met and started doing something for themselves privately what appeared on a larger scale soon. Louis Andriessen, Helmut Lachenmann, Pierre Boulez made the same. 

If you start making your society, there’s a chance that when you are at the age of 30-50, you will take over the narrative in contemporary music. Be patient. Just act and be patient. Time works for you. Earlier or later you will be the significant voice of your generation and just trust your pleasures, patience and try to enjoy what you are doing. 

Do not expect too much from older generations. They had their chances, their time, and they are still busy with themselves and not always open for youngers. Of course — my words are an obvious simplification. Because we have also so many contradicting examples. There are checked structures which are very open for new generations — “Ensemble Modern”, “Ensemble MusikFabrik”, “Gaudeamus”, Polish Ensemble such as “New Music Orchestra”, “Spółdzielnia Muzyczna” (“Music cooperative”), “NeoQuartet”, “Kwartludium”.  This concerns the Ukrainian ensembles  I know. It’s also to a high degree Warsaw Autumn Festival. We know that’s the most important is to observe the young people because the catalogue of their new ideas is the most “boiling”. For example, I  observe very carefully musicians at the age of 30 and below as the director of “Warsaw Autumn”. It’s the moment the new personalities appear in their presence. They are among us. 

In the return to Ukrainian Composer’s Competition named after Myroslav Skoryk, I think that the winner, Maksym Kolomiiets, who is very well-known to me as a musician, is the example of a very natural musician — playing and composing, immersed in music. His case is also opened for several centres of influence in contemporary music, for example, the German music academy. Speaking of Germany, but also the Netherlands or Denmark, it should not be brought down to some national schools, there are centres of truly international ferment. We have been building this quality — openness to a different  — in Poland for some time. By the way, I had the pleasure to make a commission for Maksym’s piece at the Warsaw Autumn, among several other commissions directed to the Ukrainian composers in recent years. And Maksym made it perfectly, so when I came to know that he is the winner, I was very satisfied. The piece sounded tricky, very wise and intellectual. It wasn’t easy to find a piece that would be interested in texture — I think the texture is still the most important element of contemporary music — the moment you see that this score is alive. 

This piece is attractive in the score notation aspect and good at sounding. In this competition, we had at least four other pieces which were consistent and even brave in conception, interesting but very doubtful about the performative possibilities. So I was very happy that all the members of the jury found the piece which was on the one side, modern, puzzling and rising interest — “o, how will it sound?” — and finally sounding. We didn’t fail as the musicians, we selected the piece which gave us and I hope, the audience, a lot of satisfaction. 


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