When Witold Lutosławski arrived with his wife in San Francisco in 1962, as part of a ‘goodwill tour’ organised by the Department of State, music lovers in that city were not entirely unfamiliar with his name, since a year earlier the local symphony orchestra had performed the Concerto for Orchestra, at the initiative of an ardent propagator of that work, Stanisław Skrowaczewski. Thirty years later, that same work was heard again, this time under the composer’s baton.
Lutosławski first stood on the conductor’s rostrum in San Francisco in 1986, leading a performance of Chain 3, composed for the San Francisco Philharmonic Orchestra to mark their seventy-fifth concert season. He donated his composer’s fee for a grant for young Polish composers, enabling them to study in the West; the weakness of the non-exchangeable Polish zloty made it extremely difficult for young musicians to undertake studies outside Poland.
Lutosławski’s contacts with the musicians of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra were excellent. When he returned here in January 1993, to celebrate his eightieth birthday with them, the orchestra surprised him with a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ in an arrangement imitating the style of his music. And after the concert, before the audience left the auditorium, Anthony di Bonaventura, performing the solo part in the Piano Concerto, roused the listeners and intoned that birthday toast, inspiring the audience to join in.