Composer and conductor Skrowaczewski, 90, is not slowing down

by Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
February 21, 2014

St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota Orchestra Conductor Laureate Stanislaw Skrowaczewski came to the state decades ago to lead what was then the Minneapolis Symphony.

He never left. And he hasn't stopped.

Skrowaczewski turned 90 years old in October without missing a beat. "Six concerts in Tokyo in six different halls," he said recently with a laugh. "You cannot imagine a better celebration."

Classical music fans will applaud him again Sunday afternoon when they meet at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis to celebrate the living legend. Gov. Mark Dayton has declared Sunday Maestro Skrowaczewski Day in Minnesota. A German label recently released a 28 CD collection of his recordings, including this arrangement of Bruckner's Adagio for Strings.

Skrowaczewski began composing as a child in his native Poland. He once planned a career as a concert pianist until a hand injury suffered in World War II made that impossible.

He turned instead to conducting, which led him to the Warsaw National Orchestra and then Minnesota. In 1960, he took over as music director of the Minneapolis Symphony, a job he held until 1979, when he became the Minnesota Orchestra's conductor laureate.

He has conducted the orchestra at least once a year ever since.

"Composing is the heart of who he is, but he spent a lot more time conducting," Skrowaczewski biographer Fred Harris said. "That insight into music by being both a conductor and a composer makes him special."

The CD collection - which includes Beethoven, Bruckner, Schumann, Bartok and Berlioz and his own compositions -- shows the remarkable scope of Skrowaczewski's work, said Harris, who spent more than a decade writing the conductor's biography, "Seeking the Infinite."

Skrowaczewski has delivered more than music over the years the Minneapolis Symphony became the Minnesota Orchestra. He fought for a new Orchestra Hall, insisting that Northrop Auditorium, where the orchestra had played for decades was acoustically inadequate. That fight took almost a decade and a half.

He also championed new music, and he's delighted there will be six premieres of new works at Sunday's concert, including one of his own. During the recent lockout he conducted independent concerts by the musicians. He also led the first two concerts after the contract settlement.

"The whole community should be very proud of this man," said Young-Nam Kim, founder and artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota, which is sponsoring Skrowaczewski's birthday celebration on Sunday.

"He says, 'You know I get weaker every day.' But once he stands at the podium he becomes just a giant," Kim said, laughing of the man he calls The Maestro. "The energy he puts out is just unbelievable."

Kim said when he asks Skrowaczewski about how he does it, "He says, 'That's what music does to you. You know that.'"

Even now at 90, Skrowaczewski maintains a breakneck schedule. He declined to be interviewed in person for this story because he carefully maintains his energy. After Sunday's concert he leaves for a month long tour of Europe, including a booking with the London Philharmonic.

"I am booked to 2016. What will happen after? No one knows, of course, and they realize that any moment I can just say I have to stop, and this is it," he said. "But if it goes ... well, why not?"

The concert to celebrate Stanislaw Skrowaczewski happens Sunday, Feb. 23, at 4 p.m. at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Ticket information is available on the Chamber Music of Minnesota's website.

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