Stanislaw Skrowaczewski retains a unique position on the international musical scene, where he is both a renowned conductor and a highly regarded composer, especially of large-scale orchestral works. Recognized as the preeminent Bruckner interpreter of his times, Skrowaczewski's recordings include all the Bruckner symphonies, some in multiple issues. His interpretations have earned him the Gold Medal of the Mahler-Bruckner Society. He has also received the "Commander Order with White Star," the highest order conferred by the Polish Government.
Born in Lwow, Poland but resident in the U.S. since 1960, Skrowaczewski began piano and violin studies at the age of four, and composed his first orchestral music at age seven. Although he showed great promise as a pianist, making his debut with the Beethoven Third Piano Concerto, an injury to his hands during World War II terminated his keyboard aspirations. Composing and conducting became his double focus. Directly after the warstill in his mid-twentieshe was named music director of the Wroclaw (Breslau) Philharmonic, proceeding in subsequent years to the Katowice Philharmonic, Krakow Philharmonic, and Warsaw National Orchestra.
During the immediate post-war period, Skrowaczewski also studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, where he was a co-founder of the avant-garde group known as Zodiaque. During these years he won several composition prizes, and by the early 1950s his symphonic works (including Symphony for Strings and Music at Night) appeared in European repertory. Eventually they were performed by American orchestras, including those of Philadelphia and Cleveland, as well as the New York Philharmonic.
In 1956, Skrowaczewski won first prize in Rome's Santa Cecilia International Competition for conductors, a turning point in his podium career. At the invitation of George Szell, he made an acclaimed American conducting debut with the Cleveland Orchestra in 1958; equally successful engagements with the orchestras of New York, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati soon followed. These led, in 1960, to his appointment as music director of the then-Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, subsequently known as the Minnesota Orchestra. Across his nineteen-year tenure, Skrowaczewski amassed a discography with the Minnesotans that included works of Bartók and Penderecki, along with the complete orchestral music of Ravel; his Grammy Award-nominated Bruckner Ninth with the Minnesota Orchestra was recorded in his role as conductor laureate, which he has held since leaving his directorship in 1979.
Although Skrowaczewski was principal conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, England, from 1984 to 1991, and has never lightened his guest-conducting schedule, he has managed to be a consistently productive composer. Earning a Kennedy Center Friedheim Award in 1976, his Ricercari Notturni for saxophone and orchestra revealed Skrowaczewski's imaginative rendering of nocturnal moods. His Passacaglia Immaginaria as well as the Concerto for Orchestra, both commissioned and premiered by the Minnesota Orchestra, were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1997 and 1999, respectively. The composer's concerted works include, besides the Clarinet Concerto and an early Concerto for English Horn, a Concerto for Violin and Orchestra premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra and its concertmaster, Norman Carol, in 1985.
No two Skrowaczewski scores are exactly the same. He creates a unique tonal canvas for each piece, proceeding from a palette devised for the substance of the piece, always plumbing the deepest pools of sound and exploiting exotic percussion. The result is highly colored, evocative music, rendered in a free harmonic language that heightens the emotional content of each work.