An injury to his hands in World War II cut short Stanislaw Skrowaczewski's career as a concert pianist. But the 82-year-old composer and conductor, who has left a lasting imprint in the world of music, shows no signs of quitting the stage. The Tokyo-based Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra on Friday said it had named Skrowaczewski as its principal conductor, the latest in a string of orchestral appointments for the Polish-born, Pulitzer- and Grammy-nominated maestro.
"I have been through may different styles in my life, like the history of music itself," Skrowaczewski reflected at a press conference in Tokyo, speaking, like his music, in a combination of hushed tones and animated outbursts. "But I've always tried to play music that exists in the present," he said. "Music must be interesting to the public."
Born in Lwow, Poland, but resident in the United States since 1960, Skrowaczewski studied the piano and violin from the age of 4, giving his first piano recital at 11. But when an injury to his hands during the war terminated his keyboard career, he turned to direction and composition, soon amassing a substantial corpus of orchestra and chamber works.
A pre-eminent interpreter of the Romantic composer Anton Bruckner, Skrowaczewski's own works have also received international acclaim. His Passacaglia Immaginaria, a series of evocative, continuously metamorphosing variations, was shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize in Music 1997. He reaped a further Pulitzer nomination in 1999 for the Concerto for Orchestra, a momentous work that uses exotic instruments, like Thai gongs, to intermix delicate passages with grand raptures.
"If I play something avant-garde, it must be valuable work," Skrowaczewski said. "I believe new music can create a dramatic comparison, and give new light to older pieces." Skrowaczewski also received a Grammy nomination for a recording of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony with the Minnesota Orchestra, which he directed from 1984-91. He has held posts at the Cleveland, New York, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati orchestras in the U.S., and the Halle Orchestra in Manchester, England, on top of earlier appointments in his native Poland.
Skrowaczewski said his strongest musical influence came from the sounds he heard as he crouched under his mother's piano as a 2-year-old baby. "I heard very different things: a whole orchestra, an organ, many different tones," he said. "I was fascinated at the chaos I could hear from down under."
The composer said he would focus on works by Bruckner, as well as Romantic composers and 20th century masterpieces, in his new appointment with the Yomiuri Orchestra. He succeeds the German Gerd Albrecht, who has directed the orchestra from 1998. Skrowaczewski's official term at the orchestra begins in April 2007, reports the AP. N.U.