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Recollection of musical and non-musical trips past

By David Amos

David Amos

SAN DIEGO–Many times, the non-musical experiences of a conducting assignment are worthy to share. In the spring of 1993, I traveled to the city of Katowice in Poland, to conduct the Polish National Radio Orchestra in two compact disc releases.

I had been to Katowice before. In 1990, I was in Poland twice, to conduct the Krakow Philharmonic, and three months later, the Polish National Radio Orchestra. After those visits, I wrote about my experiences, with special emphasis on my unforgettable morning in Auschwitz. Even though my antennae are always keenly tuned to any traces of anti-Semitism, I was glad to report at that time (even though I conducted music with obvious Jewish references and I was there only six months after the Communists and Soviets departed and Solidarity fully controlled the country), I had no personal story to relate on anything I noticed to the contrary.

My 1993 visit to Katowice came at a sad and sensitive time. It was during the fiftieth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising; foreign dignitaries were everywhere. Concerts of Jewish music were given in every major city. Polish Television broadcasted the speeches by Yitzhak Rabin, Vice-President Al  Gore, Margaret Thatcher, and many Polish politicians.

The Lot Polish Airline magazine had a full page article on the service to Tel-Aviv. Several musicians of the Radio Orchestra asked me for recommendations of Jewish solo and chamber music which they could acquire and play. I saw and talked to Israelis everywhere, including the Krakow and Warsaw airports. Among them were businessmen and tourists, old and young, all friendly and communicative. Maybe I created a distorted view of what is a far more complex problem, but my personal observations and encounters were positive and optimistic.

On the general economic and sociological side, I saw dramatic improvements compared to conditions three years before. Sure, the standard of living, salaries, and availability of consumer goods did not compare with what we have in the West, but the differences over 16 months were dramatic. Katowice had a night life, there were new cars everywhere, salaries had increased tenfold, and banks were open. Taxis were plentiful, and most large businesses took Western credit cards. I even ate a fine Chinese dinner, while the live band played songs from Fiddler on the Roof!

On the artistic side, I worked with the Radio Orchestra for six, consecutive, exhausting days, and even while I was fighting a respiratory infection, we recorded material for two compact discs which were later released on two different American labels. They included a program of music for two pianos and orchestra with music by Paul Creston, Nicolai Berezowski, and Francis Poulenc, with the brilliant duo-piano team of New Yorkers Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas. The second CD contained a String Symphony by the American Irwin Swack, a work full of wonderful Eastern European folk melodies which easily endeared themselves to the musicians I conducted, and three works for clarinet and orchestra, by Donizetti, Norman Dello-Joio, and Debussy. The solos were played by the distinguished clarinetist from Philadelphia, John Russo.

The Katowice Radio headquarters is a large, modern auditorium which used to be the meeting place of the old Communist Party; it was later converted into a theatre for live concerts and recordings. The principal musicians of the orchestra, its manager, and recording engineer (the latter two being women), spoke perfect English, and verbal communication was never a problem.

The recording engineer and I had a couple of lunches together, She was an energetic, assertive young woman, mother of two, who questioned me in great detail on my feelings about the Holocaust. She wanted to know what I thought, as well as the opinions of my family and other acquaintances. 

I met and talked with Maestro Antoni Wit, who at the time had been the orchestra’s conductor for ten years. He turned out to be an experienced, eloquent, and well traveled musician, who has conducted in the U.S., Mexico, Spain, Israel, and in practically every country in Europe.

Overall, this was a most tiring, but very successful and memorable experience.

Amos is conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra and has guest conducted professional orchestras all over the world.

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