Intersections - Tomasz Sikorski International Festival of Contemporary Music Warsaw Autumn

go to content

Tomasz Sikorski’s output can be divided into three basic periods: early (his youth); middle, encompassing most of the 1960s, when he extended his sound qualities through sonoristic experimentation; and the mature period, from around 1970 onwards, which brought the original and unique works we usually associate with his name. is last period is sometimes labelled “minimalist”: an unfortunate mental shortcut that applies to the music material in the technical sense but fails to grasp the essence of Sikorski’s music. 

Intersections (1968) comes from the second, sonoristic phase. It is scored for 36 percussion instruments divided among four percussionists, each playing on various instruments from five groups: timpani; gongs or tam-tams; cymbals; melodic instruments (tubular bells, marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel); and sets of four instruments of indefinite pitch (temple blocks, congas, tom drums, bongos, and cowbells). The fourth performer uses two such sets. 

The piece predictably applies a wide palette of non-standard performance techniques or rather methods of sound shaping and production, such as touching the vibrating part of the instrument with a metal object in order to produce a specific kind of tremolo. Also frequent in Sikorski’s other works, free acceleration and retardation are applied on a wide scale, combined here with major dynamic changes, playing at the greatest possible speed, and irregular repetitions of short motifs. At least 12 segments differing in sonoristic qualities can be distinguished in this unipartite work.

Despite the use of rich instrumentation and the apparent fragmentation of form, the composition is quite compact and perfectly consistent. The core or leitmotif, indiscernible at first glance, consists in all kinds of fluctuations: of tempo, pitch, dynamics, and sound qualities; accumulation and release or reverb. Though not smooth or fluid, these changes are far from clashlike or confrontational; they rather resemble a school of fish conceived as a marriage of formless chaos to curious order or  incomprehensible logic. Sikorski’s title may suggest an interpretation of the work based on points of intersection between opposed ideas.

Although 44 years have passed since the composition of Intersections, the piece was never performed in Poland. It was considered lost until lately, since the only source of information about its score was a note in the PWM Edition’s sheet music library that the composer had borrowed the manuscript in order to introduce revisions. It was never returned to PWM archive, nor found after the composer’s death in any collections available.  Thanks to new online catalogues, however, in 2014 not only the score, but even a recording of the piece was discovered at the Music Library of the State University of New York at Buffalo. 

The score was found overseas since Sikorski wrote Intersections for a competition held by The New Percussion Quartet of Buffalo. Hence the untypical set of instruments and the mysterious subheading “33 55 46,” representing quite simply the composer’s emblem for the competition. The work bears the number 79, which proves that the competition enjoyed much popularity, and the recording by the quartet from Buffalo shows that the young Pole’s composition was recognised and appreciated at that time. 

Tomasz Piotrowski