The Polish Connection: Lithuanian Music and the Warsaw Autumn Festival

Lisa Jakelski (University of Rochester)

 Since its inception in 1956, the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music has facilitated cross-border contact. Standard accounts of the Warsaw Autumn highlight its status as a unique zone of aesthetic liberalism and East-West cultural exchange during the Cold War. Yet the festival has linked more than the Cold War’s opposing realms of geopolitical influence. This paper considers how the Warsaw Autumn contributed to the formation of transnational ties among the Baltic States during the late socialist period. I focus on a specific moment in Warsaw Autumn history: the 1983 performance of Bronius Kutavičius’s Last Pagan Rites (1978), a work that was quickly proclaimed a masterpiece after its premiere in the composer’s native Lithuania. Drawing upon archival documentation, journalistic reception, oral history, and published memoirs, I trace the informal, personal connections that bypassed official channels of Polish-Soviet interaction to bring Kutavičius’s work to Poland. I also explore the complex responses Last Pagan Rites received at the Warsaw Autumn, where critics heard the piece both as exotic and as a political metaphor. Based upon this case study, I will suggest that the performance of Lithuanian music at the Warsaw Autumn reconfigured older Polish-Lithuanian cultural connections while presaging the ties of the post-Cold War era.

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