Born on 23 November 1933, in Dębica, Poland, Krzysztof Penderecki began studying composition under F. Skołyszewski. He later continued his education at the Krakow Conservatoire under A. Malawski and S. Wiechowicz. In 1959, he composed Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima – one of his best known and most often performed compositions, for which he received the UNESCO prize in 1961. At that time the following pieces were written: Anaklasis (for Donaueschinger Musiktage), Polymorphia (commissioned by Norddeutscher Rundfunk Hamburg), Fluorescences (for Donaueschinger Musiktage), and in 1966, St Luke Passion, the first major work in Penderecki’s career. This piece was commissioned by Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Münster Cathedral in which the piece was first performed on 30 March 1966. The performance made him acknowledged around the world and initiated a series of success.
Krzysztof Penderecki has received multiple national and international awards, including: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize at the 2. National Young Composers Competition of the Association of Polish Composers (1959), 1 Class State Award (1968, 1984), Award of the Association of Polish Composers (1970), Herder Award (1977), Honegger Award (1978), Sibelius Award (1983), Premio Lorenzo Magnifico (1985), Karl Wolf Foundation Award (1987), Grammy Award (1987, 1998, 1998, 2000, 2016), Grawemeyer Music Award (1992), UNESCO International Music Council Award (1961, 1993), Best Living Composer Award (2000), Prince of Asturias Award (2001), Praemium Imperiale (2004), Viadrina Preis (2012), Per Arte at Deum (2015), International Classical Music Awards (2012, 2014, 2016).
Krzysztof Penderecki received honoris causa doctorates from tens of universities, including: Rochester (1972), Bordeaux (1979), Leuven (1979), Washington (1984), Belgrade (1985), Barcelona (1986), Madrid (1987), Poznań (1987), Warsaw (1993, 1994), Krakow (1994, 1998), Buenos Aires (1994), Glasgow (1995), Moscow (1999), Lucerne (2000), Leipzig (2003), New Haven (2003), Seoul (2005), Münster (2006), and Lviv (2015). He has been an honorary member of artistic and scientific universities, such as: Royal Academy of Music in London, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, Musikaliska Akademien in Stockholm, Akademie der Künste in Berlin, Polish Academy of Sciences, Academia National de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires, Académie Internationale de Philosophie et de l’Art in Bern, Académie Nationale des Sciences, Belles-lettres et Arts in Bordeaux, Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, American Academy of Arts and Letters, Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, Academy for Performing Arts in Hong Kong, and Die Musikverein für Steiermark in Graz.
Between 1973 and 1978, Penderecki was a professor at the Yale University in New Haven. Between 1972 and 1987 he was the rector of the Academy of Music in Krakow, and from 1987 to 1990 – the artistic director of the Krakow Philharmonic. He has been an honorary professor at many artistic universities, including: Peter Tchaikovsky Conservatoire in Moscow, Music Conservatory in Beijing, Academia Argentina de Musica, Academy of Music in Riga, Rimski-Korsakov State Conservatory in Saint Petersburg, Komitas State Conservatory in Yerevan, and Die Hochschule für Musik in Würzburg.
In 1972, the composer began his conducting career. Since then, he has been seen on the podiums of the most important orchestras in the world. He has been the principal guest conductor of the Norddeutscher Rundfunk Orchester in Hamburg and the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk Sinfonie Orchester in Leipzig. From 1992 to 2002, he was the artistic director of the Casals Festival in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 1997, Krzysztof Penderecki became the artistic director of the Sinfonia Varsovia orchestra. Since 1998, he has been the advisor to the Beijing Music Festival and since 2000, the guest conductor of the China Philharmonic Orchestra.
On 11 July 1998, the world première of Credo – composition commissioned by The Oregon Bach Festival and Internationale Bachakademie in Stuttgart – took place. A year later, Credo recorded for the Hänssler label, received the prestigious prize AFIM Indie Award. The Sextet, commissioned by Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, was first performed on 7 June 2000 in Vienna by Paul Meyer, Radovan Vlatković, Julian Rachlin, Yuri Bashmet, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Dmitri Alexeev. In 2001, the composer completed his Concerto Grosso for Three Cellos which was commissioned by NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo. On 9 May 2002, the Piano Concerto Resurrection, was premiered by Emanuel Ax and the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Carnegie Hall. 26 June 2005 saw the world première of Symphony No. 8 (Songs of Transience) in Luxembourg. On 14 December 2005, professor Krzysztof Penderecki was awarded the Order of the White Eagle — Poland’s highest decoration and on 12 October 2006, he received the Three Star Order in Riga, Latvia. In April 2008, Krzysztof Penderecki was honoured with the Golden Medal of the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Armenia and received the Orły 2008 Award for the best score for Andrzej Wajda’s film Katyń. On 5 May 2008 in Bremen, Krzysztof Penderecki himself conducted the world première of Concerto per corno e orchestra Winterreise with Radovan Vlatković as the soloist, while on 22 November, the composer’s String concerto No. 3 Leaves of an unwritten diary was first performed during the jubilee Krzysztof Penderecki Festival in Warsaw. In 2009, Krzysztof Penderecki received the Ordre de Mérite du Grand-Duché de Luxemburg and an Honorary Order from the President of the Republic of Armenia. Also in 2009, he composed Kaddish to mark the 65th anniversary of the liquidation of the Łódź Ghetto. The composer was invited to join the Honorary Committee of the Year of Chopin Celebrations 2010 at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Lisbon, Tokyo, and Rome. On 14 January 2011, Warsaw witnessed the première of A sea of dreams did breathe on me… Songs of reverie and nostalgia for soprano, mezzo-soprano, baritone, choir, and orchestra, commissioned by the Fryderyk Chopin Institute to conclude the Chopin year. On 7 March 2011, Robert Matthew Festing, the Grand Master of the Order of Malta honoured Krzysztof Penderecki with the Grand-Croix Pro Merito Melitensi. Later in March, Duo concertante for violin and double bass, composed for Anne-Sophie Mutter and Roman Patkoló, premiered in Hanover. It was then followed by stagings of St Luke Passion in Alvernia Studios near Krakow prepared by Grzegorz Jarzyna and performed on 31 March 2012. Double Concerto for violin and viola, composed to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Musikverein in Vienna, premiered on 22 October 2012 in their venue and featured Janine Jansen and Julian Rachlin. In January 2013, Missa Brevis, commissioned by Bach Archiv to commemorate the 800th anniversary of Thomanerchor, had its première in Leipzig. New version of the opera The Devils of Loudun was premiered in Copenhagen on 12 February 2013. 2013 was also the year of Krzysztof Penderecki’s jubilee. On the occasion of the composer’s 80th birthday anniversary, multiple concerts and festivals took place, where his works were performed: Saint Petersburg, Wrocław, Vilnius, Lviv, Krakow, Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival, Pablo Casals Festival in Prades, Schleswig-Holstein Festival, Ohrid Festival, and Marlboro Music Festival. Occasional concerts took place also in Košice, Berlin, Bonn, Hanover, Ravello and Assisi (Emilia Romagna Festival), Budapest, Minsk, Prague, Beijing (Beijing Music Festival), New York, Boston, Yale University School of Music, Seoul, Caracas, and Yerevan. The same year, between 17 and 23 November, Warsaw held a festival dedicated to the music of Krzysztof Penderecki which was attended by such great artists as Lorin Maazel, Charles Dutoit, Valery Gergiev, Marek Janowski, Lawrence Foster, Long Yu, Leonard Slatkin, Alexander Liebreich, Rafael Payare, and top Polish conductors: Jacek Kaspszyk, Krzysztof Urbański, and Gabriel Chmura. Of all the finest soloists and ensembles who perform his music, the festival participants included Anne-Sophie Mutter, Yuri Bashmet, Daniel Müller-Schott, Shanghai Quartet, and many others. 13 December 2013 was the date of the world première of Penderecki’s La Follia – a piece composed for Anne-Sophie Mutter. In February 2014, the composer conducted a series of concerts with the Israel Philharmonic and the Gary Bertini Israel Choir, presenting the Polish Requiem. In March 2014, Krzysztof Penderecki served as the residing composer at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. The same year, the President of the Republic of Estonia awarded the composer with the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana (1st Class). The world première of Dies Illa for soprano, mezzo-soprano, bass, mixed choirs, and orchestra, composed on the occasion of the 100th anniversary World War 1, took place on 9 November 2014 in Brussels as part of a special project Thousand Voices for Peace. 3 and 4 May 2015 marked the première performance of Concertino for trumpet and orchestra. The piece was composed for the virtuoso Gábor Boldoczki and presented during Musikfestspiele Saar in Germany. On 26 June 2015, the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester appointed Krzysztof Penderecki as the conservatoire’s Fellow. In 2015, Penderecki composed the psalm Domine quid multiplicati sunt to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The work was premiered on 26 May 2015 in Carnegie Hall and the Hover State Chamber Choir was led by Sona Hovahnnisyan. On 1 October 2015, during the inauguration of the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, the first performance of Krzysztof Penderecki’s Polonaise for symphony orchestra took place. The piece was commissioned by the Fryderyk Chopin Institute. On 25 November 2016, Krzysztof Penderecki and his wife Elżbieta received an award from the Association of Polish Architects in recognition of their merit in the field of architecture in Poland. Later that year, on 11 December, the Wigmore Hall in London resounded to Quartetti per archi No. 4 for the first time in history. The composition was commissioned for the said venue with the support of André Hoffmann. Penderecki’s latest string quartet was composed specifically for Belcea Quartet – ensemble who delivered the world première. On 8 February 2017, Elżbieta and Krzysztof Penderecki were honoured with the Aleksander Gieysztor Award for the particular care for musical education of the highest quality, and their long-lasting activity to popularise the heritage of classical music in Poland, as well as the foundation of the Krzysztof Penderecki European Centre for Music in Lusławice.
The composer’s output of nearly 60 years encompasses over 100 instrumental works, including over 20 chamber pieces, 17 solo compositions, 24 concertante works, 27 orchestra compositions, 7 symphonies, 21 songs and choral works, 25 cantata and oratorio style pieces, and 4 operas. Moreover, Krzysztof Penderecki authored over 120 compositions for animated pictures, puppet theatres, dramatic theatre, television drama, as well as motion and documentary films.