Stanislaw Skrowaczewski: a life in music

The renowned conductor emeritus of the Minnesota Orchestra supports music students at the U

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, renowned composer and conductor emeritus of the Minnesota Orchestra, believes musical training must be grounded in the humanities. His vision for the scholarship he established in the School of Music’s conducting program reflects his desire for students to benefit, as he did, from an education immersed in art, poetry, and music.

Skrowaczewski came of age in Poland during the German occupation. His exposure to the painters, poets, and musicians who went underground to create and perform—and the vitality of the art scene he experienced in Paris after the war—profoundly influenced his life’s work. 

Are musicians born or made?

Great musicians have a gift. Teachers can guide the gift, but they cannot give it to them. My mother was a concert pianist. When I was 2, I crawled under her grand piano during a chamber concert. It sounded like an orchestra.  My formal education began at 4. Over the years my teachers corrected me, guided me, and taught me to listen and understand the nuances of a score and instrumentation. This is how I learned to compose and to conduct.

What’s your advice for budding conductors?

Play an instrument and perform. It can be piano, violin, percussion, anything. Know the intricacies of the score and correct mistakes. Otherwise, I feel young conductors beat in the air and do not have enough rapport with the music. They are theoretically prepared, but they need to know the music as intimately as possible.

Young musicians today have op­portunities to acquire knowledge and experiences in ways that were impos­sible until recently. They should take advantage of travel, mentoring, and contact with great orchestras.

How do you envision the future of classical music?

The future of music as art depends on the development of humanity—what will happen in the new brave world [sic] and how it will look. Devoted musi­cians, exciting conductors, and gifted composers will inspire people to attend concerts and support their orchestras. We must make it a priority.

Watch a short clip of Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducting Bruckner's Ninth Symphony: