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Rare performance at USC of Górecki-led Third Symphony will be broadcast

November 18, 2010 |  1:17 pm

Henryk Górecki, the great Polish composer who died last week, was only known to have conducted his famed Symphony No. 3 (“Symphony of Sorrowful Songs") twice -– once in Poland and once (to the memorable amazement of the music world and maybe to Górecki himself) with a student orchestra at USC, on Oct. 3, 1997.

A tape of that performance has been located in the KUSC archives, and the station (91.5 FM or will broadcast the performance Saturday afternoon at 4:30 as a memorial to the composer.

The concert was quite an occasion. Once agreeing to conduct, Górecki did everything he could to worm out of the assignment. When none of his tactics worked, he then delayed the performance by nervously fiddling with his tux for ages. He slowly and sheepishly limped on stage (he had a childhood leg injury). But once he began, he entered into what could only be described as a cosmic trance.

He led an unbelievably slow, 65-minute performance of extraordinary depth and passion. Conducting without a baton, he carefully beat time, allowing the power to build with infinite patience. At the climaxes, he erupted, shaking his fists with terrifying intensity.

Górecki wasn’t a practiced conductor, but he was a pianist able to make the piano resound as though its strings were the size of the Golden Gate Bridge cables. That he could get that same unfathomable sound after a single rehearsal from a student orchestra and soprano Elizabeth Hynes felt at the time like a feat of magic.

For those out of range of KUSC or its many neighboring feeders, the station has a versatile streaming service online.

-- Mark Swed


An Appreciation: Henryk Górecki

Henryk Górecki dies at 76; composer of "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs"

Photo: Henryk Górecki conducting his Third Symphony at USC in 1997. Credit: Anacleto Rapping / Los Angeles TImes