Stanislaw Skrowaczewski doesn't have time to think about retirement.
The octogenarian conductor told the Deseret Morning News that he's working harder than ever. "I am more busy now than before," he said by phone from his home outside Minneapolis. "And in the last two or three years, it has been absolutely crazy."
Skrowaczewski doesn't have a permanent position with an orchestra, but he fills his schedule with guest engagements on both sides of the Atlantic. For the past several years, he's been the principal guest conductor of the Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra. And he still maintains close professional ties with the Minnesota Orchestra, of which he was music director for 19 years, beginning in 1960 (when it was still know as the Minneapolis Symphony).
Next weekend, Skrowaczewski returns to Salt Lake City to lead the Utah Symphony in an all-Beethoven program — the ever-popular Ninth Symphony and the formidable "Grosse Fuge."
One of the advantages of age and position over a long and illustrious career is being able to choose where and what programs he wants to conduct. "I only take programs that I like. Some are more unusual than others, but they all make me very musically excited."
The program the Utah Symphony offered the 81-year-old conductor fell into that category. "They suggested the Ninth and also the 'Grosse Fuge.' The program appealed to me."
In particular, Skrowaczewski is looking forward to leading the orchestra in the latter. Beethoven originally wrote the "Grosse Fuge" ("Grand Fugue") as the closing movement of his B flat major Quartet, op. 130. But his publisher persuaded him to replace it, because of its difficulty and length. Beethoven agreed and wrote another finale for the op. 130, publishing the "Grosse Fuge" as a separate work. Since the early 20th century, the piece has also been played by the string sections of symphony orchestras.
"It is right to do it in orchestral form," Skrowaczewski said, "because it is very symphonic. The music is very grandiose, so it is proper to make it sound big. And it sounds wonderful for a string orchestra."
Skrowaczewski said that with the "Grosse Fuge," Beethoven was breaking new ground. "Everything about it is incredibly new, even for a string quartet, and Beethoven was freer in his writing for string quartets than he was for his symphonies."
For one thing, Beethoven's harmonic language is more forward-looking. "There are some strong clashes between notes because of the polyphonic writing. It is sometimes very strange sounding."
Beethoven has been occupying quite a bit of Skrowaczewski's time recently. He is in the middle of recording the composer's complete symphonies with the Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra on the Oehms Classics label. "The idea to do all of the Beethoven symphonies came from the record company. We had great success with our complete set of the Bruckner symphonies. After it won a prize at the Cannes Festival in '02, the record company was so excited, they wanted us to record the Beethoven symphonies."
When the Beethoven project is finished, Skrowaczewski and the Saarbrucken orchestra are scheduled to record the complete Schumann symphonies.
With his full concert schedule, Skrowaczewski still manages to find time to compose. "It increases my busy time."
Currently he is in the midst of working on a flute concerto. "It was commissioned by Saarbrucken for their former first flute, who is a great friend of mine." The work is scheduled to be premiered by the Saarbrucken orchestra next March. "Or perhaps the following season."
He admitted that he might not get the work completed in time for a premiere next spring. "I work very slowly. A lot of times, I rewrite what I have written, because when I look at it later, I do not like it. The content must be right. The message, if you will, must move me. Otherwise, I am not satisfied with my music."
Joining the Utah Symphony and Chorus next weekend in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony are soloists Kelly Nassief, soprano; Marietta Simpson, mezzo-soprano; Michael Hendrick, tenor; and Kurt Link, bass.
If you go . . .
What: Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, the Utah Symphony and Chorus
Where: Abravanel Hall
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
How much: $12-$50
Phone: 355-2787 or 888-451-2787
Group/student discounts: 533-6683