Witold Lutosławski’s debut as a conductor in Germany came in Hamburg, on 25 March 1964. The contacts that he made at that time gave rise to a commission from the Norddeutsche Rundfunk for a work to be included in a jubilee concert as part of the cycle Das Neue Werk. During the mid sixties, the composer was having trouble meeting previously agreed deadlines, and the Second Symphony for Hamburg was one such example. The premiere was given on the agreed date, 15 October 1966, but the Norddeutscher Rundfunk orchestra under the baton of Pierre Boulez performed just the main movement of the symphony.
At that time, Rolf Liebermann tried in vain to talk Lutosławski into working with the Hamburg Opera. ‘For many years now, I’ve been thinking about writing a stage work – explained the composer a couple of years later. – I deliberately avoid the term “opera” here, because opera in the form in which it exists is really an inaccessible, anachronistic phenomenon for a contemporary composer. A new convention needs to be forged. Until such time as at least the outline of such a convention appears in my imagination, I won’t be able to begin anything… To put it a little more clearly, it is quite simply a question of justifying the singing on stage of actors playing a theatrical play. I don’t see any artistic sense or artistic justification in it. I’ll avail myself of the example of an opera that exists and has been played for a number of years in which that condition has already essentially been met. I have in mind here Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges. If an armchair is singing, that is neither strange nor more ridiculous than if it were talking. I do find it funny, though, when Sharpless sings “lovely golden hair” to Madame Butterfly’s child’.
In 1981, Lutosławski returned to Hamburg to conduct the Bundesstudentenorchester. In 1984, he was invited to a meeting and a concert of chamber works by the Freie Akademie der Künste, of which he had been an honorary member since the time of the first performance of the Second Symphony. An opportunity to visit that city again was provided by the Polish Music Week organised in November 1985 by the Hochschule für Musik und Theater. In one of the concerts, Peter-Jürgen Hofer and Peter Roggenkamp had the privilege of giving the first performance of Lutosławski’s essentially unknown work Miniatura per due pianoforti, from thirty years before. The last chance for Hamburg music lovers to hear Lutosławski’s music under his baton came on 31 October 1989, when he conducted Jeux vénitiens in a concert by the Hochschule für Musik und Theater orchestra.
Lutosławski, or more precisely his music, was linked to Hamburg in another way as well. This city is home to the headquarters of Deutsche Grammophon, which in 1988 released a disc featuring two violin concertos, by Stravinsky and Lutosławski, performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter. Today, meanwhile, the representative of Lutosławski’s music in Germany is Hans Sikorski Verlag. That publishing house, located in the centre of Hamburg, published the orchestral material for ensembles wishing to play works by the Polish composer. The exceptionally large number of active orchestras in Germany means that this is the country in which those works are performed most often.