The 20th century still awaits assessment. What is certain, however, is that whoever wandered through its maze, be it even just a few of its corridors, must have lost all childlike innocence. After all, we bade farewell – definitively it seems – to so many of humankind’s ‘dear illusions’: to beauty, metaphysics, high style, reason, narration, expression, even to the very idea of an author’s statement. It is no doubt virtually impossible today to mark out one’s own original path in this world of ‘weak thought’, of multiple and faded repetitions, where every bar of music immediately gets trapped in the cobweb of our overloaded and paralysed memory. What, then, remains to be done? The most elementary of all things – ‘struggling for breath’ – which is what contemporary music, and similarly poetry, have mostly been about for the last several decades. Adorno’s diagnosis may quite well still hold: the majority of ‘our’ compositions are more like a spasmatic symptom than like a conscious and independent gesture.
All the same, this pendular movement between open (or quiet) despair and the ‘unbearable lightness of being’ seems to be also a time of waiting – for some new roads or criteria to appear. While preserving one’s modesty and cognitive minimalism, one can still break out of the vicious circle of refined, dull grey impossibility. One can grope one’s way back to the ‘forbidden’ territories of art and revive them, heedless of whether the language of such a revival may or may not bear some similarities to the music of the past.
The works of Aleksander Nowak (b. 1979) belong to this quite strong movement of revival. While steering clear from any dogmatic tone, neither embracing nor rejecting, they mostly maintain an interroga tive stance, and even if from time to time the mode changes to affirmative, everything ends in a hush, as if with suspension points... This music, like many others, combines registers that were once stylistically, aesthetically and socially alien to one another. And, still, this combination produces coherent works, written with a sure hand, equipped with narrative form and demonstrating a strong individual streak. This personal signature is complemented with autobiographical
allusions, quotations and comments on the score, brief and frequently cryptic, which have become part and parcel of Nowak’s aesthetics.
transl. Tomasz Zymer
Born in 1979 in Gliwice, he studied composition with Ulyana Bilan, Aleksander Lasoń (at the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice) and Steve Rouse (in the University of Louisville, USA).
He writes chamber, symphonic and stage music, as well as works with electronics and video illustrations. His compositions have been performed in Poland, throughout Europe and in the USA by such eminent artists and ensembles as Ricardo Gallén, Urszula Kryger, Eugeniusz Knapik, Jacek Maksymiuk, Piotr Pławner, Piotr Sałajczyk, the Silesian Quartet, Warsaw CELLONET Group, Lasoń Ensemble, Came-rata Silesia Choir, London Sinfonietta, Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra in Pardubice, AUKSO Chamber Orchestra of the City of Tychy, LEOPOLDINUM Chamber Orchestra, New Music Orchestra, Studio for New Music Ensemble from Moscow, Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber and Symphony Orchestras, Silesian Philharmonic Chamber and Symphony Orchestras, and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Nowak’s works have been commissioned by such festivals as the “Warsaw Autumn”, the “Silesian Guitar Autumn”, “Sacrum Profanum”, the Festival of Polish Music, as well as by the Polish Composers’ Union and the Witold Lutosławski International Cello Competition. His publisher is PWM Edition.
In 2010 the Polish National Opera at the Grand Theatre in Warsaw premiered Nowak’s chamber opera Sudden Rain directed by Maja Kleczewska. The spectacle was presented as part of the cycle “The Territories”.
The composition was awarded the 2011 “Warranty of Culture” prize of TVP KULTURA national TV programme. In 2009 the Silesian Music Society in cooperation with Polish Radio Katowice released the first CD dedicated to Nowak’s compositions: Fiddler’s Green.
Aleksander Nowak received scholarships from the National Centre for Culture, Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, Marshal’s Office of the Silesian Province, the Moritz von Bomhard Fellowship, Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung, and ZAiKS Polish Association of Writers and Composers. Since 2008 the composer has been on the faculty of the Academy of Music in Katowice, where he teaches instrumentation and fundamentals of composition. In 2010 he obtained a doctorate.