Phenomenal Starting Point

24 January 2023

Let’s live our lives to the full and do meaningful, creative, enduring things, suggests Jan Tomasz Adamus, director of Capella Cracoviensis, in an interview with Robert Piaskowski.

Robert Piaskowski: Capella Cracoviensis, one of the oldest music ensembles in Kraków, has undergone some major changes, expanding its repertoire from Renaissance polyphonies to Romantic symphonies. Most recently, Brahms’s German Requiem showed that CC has something of Il Giardino Armonico, something of Orchestre des Champs-Élysées and something of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Where are you heading, o restless spirit, as you manage this constant change?
Jan Tomasz Adamus:
There are lot of folk around the world, and we are all different. Some
endure and nurture, others sleep and just exist, others build or perhaps destroy. I am always in motion. I move between places with powerful magnetic fields, acting at once to uplift and entrance me. They mean I can continue. It’s true that I sometimes return to the same places, but usually from a different direction or perspective. Some of my greatest inspirations come from places, artworks and ideas such as Seneca, Proust, Thomas Mann, Gustav Mahler, South Tyrol, the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre, Church of Peace in Świdnica, Egon Schiele…

Your Vilnius version of Moniuszko’s Halka has won many awards, and you released the recording on the prestigious Sony / Deutsche Harmonia Mundi label.
Well, if you had an aeroplane, you wouldn’t just taxi around the landing strip and show off your fancy pilot’s hat and goggles – you’d have to fly it. That’s when you actually have the aeroplane. Kraków and CC is this aeroplane – a phenomenal starting point. Kraków definitely lacks in self-confidence and is too enamoured of outdated authorities, but it is still absolutely phenomenal. That’s why we are trying to do something and we are trying to be ambitious, because oscillating sleepily between Kleparz and Kazimierz isn’t enough. We want to announce that we’re here.

Stanisław Moniuszko, Halka, Vilnius version, dir. Cezary Tomaszewski, Opera Rara 2017, photo by Tibor-Florestan Pluto

This year you’ve performed at many major European venues. What’s your dream venue – somewhere you absolutely want to and must appear?
Casa da Música in Porto. It’s an important place because art and people are equally important. Many symbolic, prestigious venues are mortuaries in comparison – the same names, predictability, stagnation. Porto is different, Blaibach is different. That’s why we are going to Porto and are planning to return to Blaibach. But I think what’s even more significant is that some of our dream places are just around the corner. We want to play at the Słowacki Theatre regularly – there is no better venue in this part of Europe. I have long been trying to convince our artistic circles to introduce a system of themes corresponding with seasons, perhaps spring/autumn – theatre, summer/winter – operas and concerts. It will take a while to convince everyone that places like the Słowacki Theatre, the Cloth Hall, ICE Kraków and the Philharmonic need to see daily, thriving artistic activity rather than be regarded as sheds for hire. Unless we shift our perspective, Kraków will never welcome premium tourists or even premium residents. Kraków is mere millimetres from being a spectacular success, but we must have the courage to ditch the ballast of tombstones and staid ways of thinking and acting.

What’s it like to receive an Opus Klassik – one of the most prestigious awards in classical music?
We think of it as a nice, symbolic honour bestowed on the entire team who have spent many years working together on different spheres of the repertoire and forms of expression. Personally I keep my distance from awards; my theory is that when you live your life to the full, you don’t need praise. This philosophy has become my nature, even though psychology does not allow for it.

Actually, you won this award for the audiovisual production, the album Vivaldi: Stabat Mater.
Of course the award was well deserved by Jakub [counter-tenor Jakub Józef Orliński – ed.] and CC. But since it was awarded for audiovisual production, it should really go to Marzena [Lubaszka, soprano, Opera Rara Kraków creative manager – ed.] who carried the entire operation from concept to picking the director, cameraman etc. She herself said, “We must make living things, not write on tombstones.” In any case, the real winner is the city of Kraków. Kraków is a mighty power – perhaps still a little chaotic, but gradually becoming clearer in its direction. I fully support more such adventures. I think Kraków should start believing in itself, rather than waiting for another “sleeping visit” from Emperor Franz Joseph since he is long gone – ditto the pope. In Kraków it’s still popular to wheel out “people of society” (as they like to describe themselves) for pompous anniversaries and funerals, and it’s just so cheesy, passé, frankly naff. Let’s give it a rest – it was trendy centuries ago! Let our lives be meaningful and creative, not disposable. Kraków is one lucky city, so it should strive to be a fighter, not a damp squib.

Jakub Józef Orliński during the Bach Festival in Świdnica, 2021, photo by Filip Adamus

Let’s talk about festivals. You have been a director of the Bach Festival in Lower Silesia for many years, and you’ve also been running the Opera Rara for the last six. What do festivals mean to you, and how would you describe their function?
Once upon a time people didn’t go hiking in the mountains – they thought it was a waste of time, and instead they spent their time on pursuits they thought were profitable. Today mountaineering is a major industry. And the same can be said about art: organised art, cyclical festivals, regular, distinctive events deeply rooted in society and bolstered by educational and lifestyle activities are an industry and a tool for building social infrastructure – a set of systemic solutions enabling people to join forces for positive, creative reasons, to communicate and experience emotions.

Your festivals are hardly recognisable as festivals these days. Opera Rara stretches almost throughout the entire year, you try out different formats, bring back past spectacles, tackle difficult subjects and take major risks. Your ideas can be controversial. The poster of the acclaimed male soprano Samuel Mariño wearing high-heeled boots caused quite a stir. Is your aim to use art to provoke? Or perhaps to tear us away from routine thinking?
Is existence controversial? Is humankind controversial? Are there really people so intellectually sloppy to be outraged by a man wearing high-heeled boots? Most of humankind’s key intellectual achievements date back thousands of years – are there really people who haven’t noticed them and made the most of them?

In Autumn 2022, Opera Rara took us on a whirlwind journey to the world of music, from Schütz to Mahler, operatic takes on Bach and oratorios in theatre settings. What can we expect from the next instalment of Opera Rara in 2023?
We are still working on a few important artistic details concerning the final format of events, but we know the dates, pieces and performers: we will see Mozart’s early opera Lucio Silla whose manuscript is at the Jagiellonian Library in Kraków, Vivaldi’s Tamerlano led by Ottavio Dantone, and a stage version of Schumann’s oratorio Das Paradies und die Peri. The latter is an incredible masterpiece which makes artists abandon everything and accept the invitation to perform immediately. And so Kraków welcomes back Ian Bostridge, and we are delighted that Cezary Tomaszewski, a director with an incredible knowledge of operatic repertoires and classical music in general, is taking the conceptual reins. A truly explosive mix, even if it turns out to be rather lyrical.

Bach Goes Opera
, dir. Paweł Świątek, World Opera Day | Opera Rara 2022, photo by Filip Adamus

What else are you planning on surprising us with in 2023? What should music fans be looking out for from CC?
In early spring we will hear three versions of Stabat Mater – by Boccherini, Pergolesi and Vivaldi, Bach’s St Matthew Passion and Gesualdo’s responsoria.
Later in spring we return to Haydn – we have been performing and recording all his symphonies since 2018. I can reveal that we will be presenting it as a relaxed performance, but the full details are yet to be finalised.
In the summer we will travel to festivals in many locations, and in late August we are launching “Kraków Six Weeks” – a busy cycle of oratorios, cantatas, symphonies and chamber music, and perhaps a few stage projects. We are planning Handel’s Rinaldo with Xavier Sabata as singer and director, and projects from music theatre.

The city has started construction work on the Centre of Music which will be your home and headquarters. Until now, CC’s agility has been a major advantage. What does such a hipster orchestra, favourite of European salons, want to create in an institution it has been waiting for so long?
A place for people, without commemorative plaques and halls of memory. Somewhere which will serve as a second home to the public – where people will want to spend time. And not because they might see a great star or some other puffed-up bore, but simply because they can just come in, there is good atmosphere, they can listen to a part of a concert or an open rehearsal, the staff are friendly, the café isn’t stupidly expensive and there are food trucks nearby in any case. They’ll find quality events every afternoon or evening, and more informal music in the mornings or at lunchtimes. It will be a centre of music, of performance art, of creativity; a place influencing and organising the city’s artistic rhythm. A place for everyone – including those who now simply can’t afford tickets. The same hall will have tickets for 150 zlotys, 50 zlotys and 5 zlotys – all for the same concert. There’s no other way – it’s either art or barbarism. Let’s join forces to do things which will blow our minds! Otherwise nothing important will ever happen.

You want CC to be a driving force and not just a mirror showing a better world; a space for endless aspiration and a vision of a better city. What kind of city best suits Capella Cracoviensis?
A young city, regardless of how old anyone is. I used to lecture at the Academy of Music in Wrocław, now I am involved with students at the Academy in Kraków. And you know how it is – once they graduate, young people frequently fade. You know what I mean? They graduate, they muddle through for a while, but then they hit the wall and fade away. I wouldn’t be able to teach at an academy of music; I just can’t watch that. The Academy of Music in Kraków waited decades for Penderecki to pass away, because its most important ambition was to be named after a famous composer. And no-one thought that perhaps they should work towards their main aim, which is to take an interest in young people. That’s why we must build a young city. Believe in people and let them act. It doesn’t matter how old anyone is – a young city is a state of mind.

You often welcome acclaimed artists, conductors and musicians into your home. You talk about your love of Austrian wine and your wife Marzena serves incredible snacks. Where would you take someone who’s interested in CC’s music and who would like to discover something new in Kraków?
I realised recently that in all these years I haven’t suggested to any of our international guests that they visit any museums. It’s reflective of my knowledge of the city. Kraków’s museums are so dispersed that from the perspective of a visitor who has just three days they might as well not exist. No-one is going to traipse all over the city to see one painting in the centre and another in Zabłocie. That’s a serious problem. On the face of it, it might seem that twenty branches of one museum and twenty of another is a great thing. But the truth is that dispersing museums and festivals makes them invisible. It’s as though they simply didn’t exist. That’s not a criticism; it’s just reality. If we want to move forward, we should be far clearer in what we want to say about ourselves. And use a clear language. Not an outdate language but a living one. Living language means easel painting, contemporary art, theatre, opera, classical music and other performance arts, video art, design, contemporary dance, sculpture and art in the public sphere.

So what do you see as being the key to the city?
A key from the outside – for tourists who would like to see something they won’t see anywhere else – is looking at Kraków from the ethnographic perspective: nativity scenes, ostentatious funerals, myriad processions and pageants, academic chaplaincy, the “Tygodnik Powszechny” weekly.
But the key for real development of the city is courage. Kraków should be courageous – as we should all be in all spheres. Well, apart from looking backwards.

Jan Tomasz Adamus
Conductor, organist, harpsichordist, culture creator, general and artistic director of Capella Cracoviensis – chamber choir and period instrument orchestra.

Jan Tomasz Adamus, photo by Michał Ramus

Robert Piaskowski
Polish philologist, sociologist, diplomat, musician, commentator on cultural life, music lover, Programme Director at KBF, currently Deputy of the Mayor of the City of Kraków for Culture.

Robert Piaskowski, photo by Adrian Pallasch

The interview was published in the 3/2022 issue of the “Kraków Culture” quarterly.


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