By Robert Hurwitz
Henryk Górecki's Third Symphony was recorded in one day, 15 years ago last month. Here is Nonesuch President Bob Hurwitz's journal entry from that day.
Henryk Górecki's Third Symphony was recorded in one day, 15 years ago last month. Here is Bob Hurwitz's journal entry from that day:
Nonesuch Journal, May 9, 1991
I am always careful about looking both ways when crossing the road in London, but today I am within a hair of walking into a speeding cab when David Drew pulls me back at the last instant. We are far outside central London, at CTS Studios, near Wembley, and they don’t have the large painted warnings in the road instructing you to look right or left like they do in the middle of town. David, renowned biographer of Kurt Weill, is our close friend from Boosey & Hawkes, a confidant of Henryk Górecki, and earlier today we recorded Górecki’s Third Symphony with Dawn Upshaw singing and David Zinman conducting; the orchestra was an expanded version of the London Sinfonietta. We were to go to Orso's for dinner, and were trying to figure out how to get into the city. David Drew said, “I have great faith in the London transport system.” We all thought it was the right way to go, and I rushed out into the street, only to be pulled back to safety.
We had allotted two days for the album—two three-hour sessions the first day, a three-hour session the second, but we were finished by 4 PM on the first day, with an hour to spare. The first time the piece was played in a rehearsal sound check at 10 this morning, without Dawn singing, David, Henryk, Dawn and I just stood there, speechless. Dawn, who met Henryk yesterday for the first time, was visibly overwhelmed and I was concerned that this reading was at such a high level that we wouldn’t sustain it for the recording.
Many forces brought us together today. David Drew, and his colleague at Boosey, David Huntley, have both been passionate and articulate advocates of Górecki’s music. David Huntley first sent me a copy of the album about three years earlier, performed in Poland, by a singer named Stefania Woytowicz. I was drawn to the piece immediately, but thought this was a perfectly fine recording, and simply wished we had done it first; I had no interest to make another recording of the piece. But in April 1989, I flew over to London for a London Sinfonietta weekend festival of the music of Schnittke and Górecki, both of whom I was quite interested in. It was an amazing weekend—I heard Górecki’s Lerchenmusik, which we ended up recording, some terrific pieces of Schnittke’s, and then heard the Third Symphony live for the first time. I found it overwhelming. The Woytowicz recording I had heard was more operatic; but Margaret Field, who performed it in London that night, sang in a style with much less vibrato and a tone that seemed to fit the music in a more organic way. Minutes into the performance, I thought: this would be perfect for Dawn Upshaw.
When I first mentioned this to Dawn, she had little experience with, and little interest in music of this style. But I sent her a score and tape, she was intrigued and immediately signed on. I called up David Zinman, who knew and loved the piece, and we quickly put the sessions together. Colin Matthews, a fine British composer, signed on to produce, we found a hall, and all flew to London. Górecki and Dawn spent the first day working through the piece in a piano rehearsal. Dawn, as always, came totally prepared, and Górecki, who had never heard a singer like Dawn perform this piece, was, like so many of us, completely captivated with her pureness and great sincerity.
Note: Górecki’s Third Symphony went on to becoming the most successful recording of a new composition in the history of the record business. It was released a year later, went to number 3 on the British pop charts, sold over a million copies around the world. Nonesuch released three more records of Górecki’s more recent music, and is planning on recording his Third String Quartet with Kronos later this year. His music (and success) was on the mind of every living composer (he even figures in Ian McEwan's novel Amsterdam). David Huntley, who sent Górecki's music not only to me but to David Harrington of Kronos (for whom he would write three string quartets) was the heart and soul of the American Boosey office; he tragically died at the age of 47 in 1994. He is someone we think of often, a man who heard far more new music than anyone I ever ever met, and always found a way to be generous in his opinions. I saw David Zinman recently; he conducted a fabulous performance of John Adams's Naive and Sentimental Music with the New York Philharmonic. David Drew left Boosey a few years later; I bump into him every five years or so, and each time remind him that he saved my life.