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A triumphant return

Conductor will lead Utah Symphony in the hall he helped inaugurate

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducts the Utah Symphony during its first performance in Symphony Hall (now Abravanel Hall) in 1979.
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducts the Utah Symphony during its first performance in Symphony Hall (now Abravanel Hall) in 1979.
Deseret Morning News Archives

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski has had a long — though decidedly sporadic — relationship with the Utah Symphony.

The Polish-born conductor has the distinction of being the first conductor to lead the symphony in its inaugural concert in Abravanel Hall — then known as Symphony Hall — in September 1979. (Music director Maurice Abravanel was prevented from having that honor by a heart attack, from which he was still convalescing; later that year he would resign as music director after 32 years at the helm.)

Skrowaczewski (pronounced "skro-vah-chev-ski") returned to Salt Lake City a few years later to conduct Verdi's Requiem with the Utah Symphony and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir — this time in the Salt Lake Tabernacle — for the first O.C. Tanner Gift of Music concert in 1983. It also marked the last time local audiences had the opportunity of seeing the conductor firsthand.

Until now. Twenty-four years after his first appearance in Abravanel Hall, Skrowaczewski will finally return to the podium next weekend to lead the Utah Symphony in a single work, Anton Bruckner's towering Symphony No. 8 in C minor.

"They asked for it, and I was very happy to do it," Skrowaczewski said during a telephone interview from his home in Minneapolis, Minn.

For Skrowaczewski, Bruckner holds a significant place. "He is one of my beloved composers." He has recently conducted four of the composer's symphonies with the Saarbrcken Radio Symphony Orchestra, of which he is principal guest conductor.

Last month, Skrowaczewski took the Saarbrcken orchestra on a tour to Japan, which culminated in a performance of Bruckner's Eighth in Tokyo. "They wanted us to do all nine symphonies for their Bruckner festival in Tokyo, but I told them that was impossible, given the short time we had to prepare for the tour." Skrowaczewski said the tour was an enormous success, and before leaving Japan, he and the orchestra were invited to return during the 2005-06 season.

Skrowaczewski has also recorded all of the Bruckner symphonies with the Saarbrcken Radio Symphony. "We finished that two years ago. We recorded all 11 symphonies, including the (early) '0' and '00' symphonies." Unfortunately for American record buffs, the symphonies were recorded on the Arte Nova label, which isn't widely distributed in the United States, although it's popular in Europe and Japan. The 12-CD set won the Cannes 2002 Award for Best Orchestral Recording. "I was very happy to receive that award," he said.

Skrowaczewski already had a productive conducting career in his native Poland when he won the International Competition for Conductors in Rome in 1956. During the 1940s and '50s, he was music director of the Katowice Philharmonic, the Krakow Philharmonic and the Warsaw National Orchestra. But after walking away with first prize at the competition in Rome, his career took on international proportions.

George Szell heard about the young conductor and invited him to come to the United States. Skrowaczewski made his American conducting debut with Szell's Cleveland Orchestra in 1958. "That was a very wonderful and great opportunity for me. I was still very young and unknown in America." The following year, he returned to Cleveland and also made his debuts with the New York Philharmonic and the Pittsburgh and Cincinnati Symphonies.

In 1960, Skrowaczewski was appointed music director of the Minneapolis Symphony (now the Minnesota Orchestra). He remained in that position for 19 years, until he resigned in 1979. "I decided to resign because I was doing 20 weeks of concerts, and that was too much. I did not have the time for other things." However, Skrowaczewski retains a close association with Minnesota. "I conduct there at least once or twice a year, and I keep a very warm relationship with the orchestra"

Besides maintaining an active conducting schedule, Skrowaczewski is also a prolific composer. He celebrated his 80th birthday in October with a new work written for his beloved Minnesota Orchestra. "About three years ago, I was commissioned to write a work to celebrate the Minnesota Orchestra's 100th anniversary," he said. The second performance of the new piece, "Symphony 2003," coincided with Skrowaczewski's birthday on Oct. 3. "I don't celebrate my birthdays, but the day became an occasion for public celebration, which I did not expect."

The new work was favorably received by the public, which also surprised the composer. "I do not understand such enthusiasm. The symphony is gloomy and lugubrious, and rather longish at 35 minutes. But somehow it worked and moved the audience."

Many of Skrowaczewski's own works are available on CD. Last month, Reference Recordings recorded his Concerto for Orchestra and his Concerto for Left Hand, which he wrote for pianist Gary Graffman. The Concerto for Orchestra was short-listed for a Pulitzer Prize in 1999. This was Skrowaczewski's second Pulitzer nomination. He was also considered for the prize in 1997 for his "Passacaglia Immaginaria."

When Skrowaczewski isn't conducting or composing, he's busy annotating new editions of the orchestral works of Schumann, Bruckner and several other composers. He said that he has already sent the Utah Symphony his edition of Bruckner's Symphony No. 8. "My edition has all the bowings and dynamic changes in it. Having that ready saves an enormous amount of time during rehearsals."