He commands a rare position in the international musical scene, being both a renowned conductor and a highly-regarded composer. He has conducted all the top orchestras during his long and distinguished career, and now in his 90th year Skrowaczewski is the oldest working major conductor.
Born in 1923 in Lwów, Poland, Skrowaczewski began piano and violin studies at the age of four, composed his first symphonic work at seven, gave his first public piano recital at eleven, and two years later played and conducted Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3. A hand injury during the war terminated his keyboard career, after which he concentrated on composing and conducting. In 1946 he became the conductor of the first Polish symphony orchestra in Wrocław (also called the first Philharmonic), and he later served as Music Director of the Katowice Philharmonic (1949–54), Kraków Philharmonic (1954–56) and permanent conductor of the Warsaw Philharmonic (1956–59).
Skrowaczewski spent the immediate post-war years (1947–49) in Paris, studying with Nadia Boulanger and co-founding the Zodiaque avant-garde groupe. After winning the 1956 International Competition for Conductors in Rome, he was invited by George Szell to make his American debut, conducting the Cleveland Orchestra in 1958. This led to engagements with the New York Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony and Cincinnati Symphony orchestras and, in 1960, to his appointment as Music Director of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra), a position that he held for 19 years. During the 1960s he made his debuts with the Royal Concertgebouw, London Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestras, as well as with the Vienna State Opera and Metropolitan Opera. In particular, he became a regular guest-conductor of the Philadelphia and Cleveland orchestras and the Berliner Philharmoniker.
From 1984 to 1991 Skrowaczewski was Principal Conductor of The Hallé. With The Hallé he gave concerts across England, led tours throughout Europe and the USA and recorded extensively for RCA, Chandos and Pickwick/Carlton. In 2007 Skrowaczewski was appointed Principal Conductor of the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra for three highly successful seasons, during which time many of his performances were recorded live for Columbia Records. In March 2010 he completed his three-year tenure, holding until the present the title of Conductor Laureate of this orchestra.
At present, Stanisław Skrowaczewski is the Conductor Laureate of the Minnesota Orchestra he has been collaborating with for 50 seasons, and the Principal Guest Conductor of the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie (previously Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra). He is also the Principal Guest Conductor of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice and the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo. He regularly conducts in South America, Scandinavia, Europe and Japan. In May 2011 he performed, among others, with the Berliner Philharmoniker, giving three superb performances of the Bruckner Symphony No. 3.
Still an active composer, Skrowaczewski’s works have recently been performed by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Bruckner Orchester Linz, Yomiuri Nippon Symphony and Minnesota orchestras. His Concerto for Orchestra (1985) and Passacaglia immaginaria (1995) were both nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Earlier award-winning compositions include Overture (1947) – the Karol Szymanowski Competition in Warsaw (IInd award), and Ricercari notturni (1977) – the Kennedy Center Friedheim Award (first edition in 1978). Music for Winds (2009) was commissioned by a consortium of nine orchestras from the USA, Germany, Austria and Japan. Recordings of Skrowaczewski’s music are found on Oehms Classics, Reference Recordings, Albany Records and Innova Recordings.
Of particular note within his extensive discography are Skrowaczewski’s complete recordings of Bruckner’s and Beethoven’s symphonies with the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra (now Deutsche Radio Philharmonie) for Arte Nova Classics (now Oehms Classics), which received enormous critical acclaim. The Bruckner set won the 2002 Cannes Classical Award in the “Orchestral 18/19 Century” category and was also included in BBC Music Magazine’s “Top Ten Discs of the Decade”. His latest recordings are Symphonies No.1&4 by Dmitri Shostakovich recorded with the Hallé Orchestra as part of its series.
In 1999 Maestro Skrowaczewski received Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta, awarded to him by the President of the Republic of Poland. He holds honoris causa doctorates of the Academies of Music in Wrocław (2004) and Katowice (2012). In 2012 he received the Kilenyi Medal of Honor from the Bruckner Society for his excellent interpretations of Anton Bruckner’s music. The other holders of this medal include Bernard Haitink, Serge Koussevitzky, Arturo Toscanini, and Bruno Walter.
Published in 2011, a comprehensive account of Skrowaczewski’s life and work can be found in Seeking the Infinite: The Musical Life of Stanisław Skrowaczewski, by Frederick Harris, Jr. The book can be found under seekingtheinfinite.com.