Biography

Hanna Kulenty

  • Białystok, Poland, 1961
  • Composer

Hanna Kulenty (b 18 March 1961 in Bialystok, Poland) began her music education as a pianist in the G Bacewicz Elementary Music School in Warsaw. From 1980 to 1986 she studied composition with Wlodzimierz Kotonski at the Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw. From 1986-88 she did her post-graduate work in composition with Louis Andriessen, at the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague. She participated in the International Courses for Young Composers organized by the Polish Section of the ISCM, and the International Summer Courses of New Music at Darmstadt. The year 1985 was very important for her career: her composition for symphony orchestra, Ad Unum, received second prize at the European Young Composers’ Competition, organized in Amsterdam by the European Cultural Fundation to celebrate the continent’s unity. The theme of her work, a dissonant, dramatic and well-crafted study of convergence towards musical unity, was eminently suitable for this occasion. The same piece by the 24-year old composer, performed at the Warsaw Autumn Festival, elicited an enthusiastic response from Jan Weber, a very powerful music critic who warned Kulenty’s male colleagues: “Gentlemen, hear and tremble!”

She has received numerous awards and commissions, including the DAAD scholarship to Berlin, Germany (for senior artists in many disciplines), and composition commissions and scholarships from the governments of Poland and Holland. Ms Kulenty has taught composition at courses and seminars in several European countries; her music has been featured at festivals in Poland, Denmark, England, Germany and Holland. Her music is currently available on three CDs and has been broadcast and recorded in many European countries. In December 1996, the Hamburg Opera premiered The Mother of Black-Winged Dreams at the Munich Biennale. The opera explores the difficult subject matter of “multiple personality syndrome” and touches upon issues of suffering, child abuse, and gender relations. With the scenario penned by a Canadian writer who lives in Holland, Paul Goodman, the chamber work is structured as one huge arch of increasing tension, spanning the duration of the piece.

Kulenty’s compositional style has evolved during the years. Her earlier music, consisting of many layers of simultaneous “arcs” which begin at different points of their emotional trajectories and proceed at different speeds, often calls for vast instrumental resources (two symphonies, piano concerto, violin concerto). Her preferred medium has been the symphony orchestra which has the richest sound pallette, though recently she has written numerous chamber works. Commentators have often compared her orchestral style to Penderecki or Xenakis; she shares their flair for drama, expressive intensity, and relentless, layered rhythms. Formidable technical difficulties make One by One for solo marimba a showpiece of instrumental virtuosity. This work was composed in 1988, published by PWM, and premiered at the Pascal Zavaro Festival, Paris, Radio France, in January 1991. Another solo work, Still Life with a Cello was commissioned by the Schleswig-Holstein Festival in Germany, composed in 1993 and premiered at the Festival by Polish cellist, Andrzej Bauer. This composition is a counterpart to the earlier Still Life with a Violin composed for Krzysztof Bąkowski. Both pieces share a rhapsodic playfulness with time, and a selectiveness of pitch material, though the cello composition is somewhat more repetitive, with more regular rhythmic patterns.

The turn towards minimalism in recent works may be attributed to studying with Andriessen, most of whose students write “minimalist-oriented” pieces. Kulenty calls this phase in her works “European trance music” and often structures her compositions as single, powerful arcs. Good examples of this style are provided by A Fourth Circle for violin and piano (1994) and A Sixth Circle for trumpet and piano (1995). The melodic instrument in A Fourth Circle could be a violin, viola or cello; the work is most frequently performed in the violin version. It was premiered at the New Music Festival, Musikhøst, in Odense, Denmark, in 1994; the main theme of the festival was “Three Polish Women: Bacewicz, Moszumanka-Nazar and Kulenty.” A Sixth Circle for trumpet and piano, shares the melodic traits with its predecessor: microtonal inflections and long stretches of held notes in the trumpet, driving ostinati in the piano. Kulenty credits her intuition and the subconscious as the sources for the haunting sonorities and compelling emotional intensity of the music she creates. Whatever the explanation, the result certainly deserves our attention.

Maja Trochimczyk [i-95]