Witold Lutosławski visited Montreal three times, on each occasion in a different role. One further visit was planned, for 1970, but he turned it down, citing organisational problems. The real reason was his reluctance to travel alone; his wife Danuta had to stay at home to prepare the parts for the first performance of the Cello Concerto.
He first travelled to Montreal in July 1967, for the twenty-first congress of the international federation Jeunesses Musicales, as honorary head of that organisation’s Polish section, which had been set up just one year earlier. He took part in the work of the jury of an international composition competition organised by Jeunesses and in a seminar devoted to twentieth-century music and its audience; he also delivered a lecture in the Jeunesses Musicales pavilion L’Homme et la musique at the EXPO’67, which was being held in Montreal.
The second time, in April 1980, he appeared in front of a Montreal audience to conduct the local symphony orchestra. The third visit was connected with an invitation to the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the Polish Institute of Science and Art in Canada, with its seat at McGill University. The Institute’s authorities decided to honour Lutosławski with special lectures, concerts and an honorary doctorate of McGill University. The ceremony was held on 30 October 1993, and it was accompanied by a chamber concert and two lectures by the new doctor, one delivered in English, the other in French. There were also meetings with members of the local Polish community and then, in Montreal, the composer met his old schoolfriend Józef Ziabicki after many years. Such encounters abroad were nothing out of the ordinary for him. The war and the subsequent regime changes in Poland meant that only half of Lutosławski’s classmates remained in Poland; the others either died during the war or emigrated.
In 2013, on the centenary of the composer’s birth, and also the twentieth anniversary of that ceremony, McGill University organised a conference devoted to Lutosławski and his music