conductor and composer, b. 4th April 1947 in Łódź. He studied conducting with Stanisław Wisłocki (an honours degree, 1972), music theory (an honours degree, 1971) and composition with Andrzej Dobrowolski at the State Higher School of Music in Warsaw.
From 1973 to 1978, Wojciech Michniewski was closely associated with the Warsaw National Philharmonic, at the beginning as an assistant-conductor, perfecting his skills in close collaboration with maestro Witold Rowicki, and from 1976 as a permanent staff conductor. At the same time, together with Krzysztof Knittel and Elzbieta Sikora, he formed the KEW composers’ group, very active in the seventies, creating collective compositions and organizing contemporary music concerts.
In 1974 he received an award in the National Conducting Competition in Katowice. In 1977 he won the 1-st Prize and Gold Medal in the Milan’s La Scala Guido Cantelli international conducting competition; in 1978 – the Bronze Medal in the international Ernest Ansermet conducting competition in Geneva.
From 1979 to 1981 Wojciech Michniewski was artistic director of the Grand Theatre in Łódź, and simultaneously (until 1983) – music director of the Modern Stage at the Warsaw Chamber Opera. In the years 1984-1987 he was permanent guest conductor of the Polish Chamber Orchestra in Warsaw, playing an important role in the transformation of this ensemble into well-known Sinfonia Varsovia. From 1987 to 1991 he was the managing and artistic director of the Poznań Philharmonic. After 1991 he has decided not to accept any permanent position and currently he is exclusively guest-conducting.
Wojciech Michniewski has conducted both – symphonic concerts and opera – in almost all European countries, in Asia, North and South America. Apart from the vast classical repertory he is particularly valued for his interpretations of contemporary music. He has brought many world’s contemporary pieces to the Polish audience, conducting – among others – first Polish performances of works by such 20th century and modern composers like Adams, Andriessen, Balakauskas, Berio, Boulez, Denisow, Dusapin, Dutilleux, Ferrari, Glass, Grisey, Halffter, Hosokawa, Kagel, Kancheli, Kurtág, Ligeti, Mâche, Maderna, Maxwell-Davies, Messiaen, Nordheim, Nørgård, Nyman, Padding, Reich, Takemitsu. In the Warsaw Grand Theatre - National Opera he recently prepared and conducted numerous world-premieres of stage works by Pawel Mykietyn, Elzbieta Sikora, Roxanna Panufnik, Dobromila Jaskot, Aleksandra Gryka; in the Wroclaw Opera the Polish premiere of the opera by Hanna Kulenty The Mother of the Black-Winged Dreams, in the Łódź Grand Opera Theatre the world premiere of the opera by Marta Ptaszynska The Lovers from the Valdemosa Cloister; in the UNESCO Hall in Paris with the Gdańsk Baltic Opera company, with which he is now closely co-operating, the world premiere of the opera by Elzbieta Sikora Madame Curie – the first production out of the planned ‘Opera Gedanensis’ cycle, presenting modern operas commissioned by Gdańsk Opera. In 2013 two modern opera events under his baton achieved great acclaim – the world premiere of Qudsja Zacher by Pawel Szymanski in the Warsaw National Opera and the production of Krzysztof Penderecki’s Ubu Rex staged by Janusz Wisniewski in the Baltic Opera.
Wojciech Michniewski took part in numerous international music festivals. He has many radio, CD and TV recordings to his credit. In 1996 his CD with Witold Lutosławski’s music won the ‘Fryderyk’ prize (the Polish equivalent of ‘Grammy’ award). In 1999 the same prize was awarded to another of his CD’s – the Rossini gala concert with the outstanding Polish contralto Ewa Podles; in 2004 his CD with the works by Mieczysław Karłowicz and Wojciech Kilar won the nomination again. His DVD with an opera Madame Curie was awarded the Académie du Disque Lyrique ‘Orpheus’ prize.
In 2005 he received the Award of the Polish Composers’ Union for many years of creative support and presentation of Polish contemporary music. In the same year he received the Polish ‘Merited to Culture Gloria Artis’ medal.
He also runs a conducting class at the Music Academy in Bydgoszcz.
January 2015 (ai)
Wojciech Michniewski studied music theory, conducting and composition. Though he never completed his composition studies, he was composing music in earnest. In 1973-76 he worked with the composers Krzysztof Knittel and Elżbieta Sikora in the “KEW” group. It was in that period that he wrote his most famous piece, Whisperetto, awarded the Premio RAI award of the Italian Radio and Television in 1975. Soon, however, he gave up composition. Why? The composer-conductor answered this question as follows:
“First of all, it was the lack of time, but also a result of my lifestyle. Some composers do not need special concentration to write their works. They can sit by the table for two hours a day, and dedicate the rest of the day to all sorts of different occupations, leading an intensive artistic, political or social life. I cannot live in such a way. Whenever I composed music, I had to distance myself from everything, isolate myself from the world in order to get reconciled to myself, to create the inner silence in which I could hear what I wished to say. The duties that I had to accept when my conducting career began to develop did not leave room for such moments. In my life there is constant turmoil and no such silence.” He had to make a choice: “Every choice is sad, none is perfect. I really love what I do and I enjoy it thoroughly, but I also have moment when I yearn to compose something. At the moment such a wish isquite unrealistic. Perhaps later? I think I will compose again one day.”
Contemporary music takes pride of place in Wojciech Michniewski’s conducting life: “I do not avoid that music; quite the cpposite – I eagerly take it up. It intrigues me as an artist, because it calls for intensive and complex work to be properly interpreted. Usually there are no models to fall back on; we perform it for the first time in history, and therefore a proper insight into its musical, stylistic and intellectual content requires, I believe, more imagination than a reference to an already existing style of interpretation of, for example, Beethoven’s works. These are two very different adventures. I can understand well enough those conductors and musicians who do not like and do not want to deal with contemporary music. It really calls for a special attitude. Still I think that handling contemporary music is, in a sense, more creative. It isharder to penetrate to its core and understand the composer’s intention. One can easily be misled by a false aesthetic clue. Besides,contemporary music is harder for performers – both the conductor and the instrumentalist – from the purely technical point of view. It demands a perfect mastery of all the technical means of classical music, enriched by other means to performance. The instrumentalist who wishes to play contemporay music well must make a similar progress to the one that Grotowski once demanded from his actors – master to perfection every technique available, but then reject and forget it and gain absolute freedom in their control of the performing apparatus. The fact that I was a composer makes contact with contemporary music easier to me. I also think that a conductor who never put his own notes on paper is at a disadvantage. In my time, every student of conducting had to compose a little; even if it was only orchestration, they had to write a number of notes – very enlightening.”
Wojciech Michniewski does not limit himself to contemporary music, though. “No, definitely not. I have almost all sorts of music in my repertoire, except for the early Baroque – Monteverdi or Bach; I also sometimes have some doubts about playing the early Classical works. This music ought to be interpreted in agreement with the style of performance proper to the period, which must be preceded by specialised studies. Today, it is music for specialised ensembles which have permanent conductors, and playing this music the way we did it years ago has become obnoxious. That is why I only rarely decide to play any Baroque music.” (quoted after “Studio” magazine, 1997 no. 9)