The Polish-born American Stanisław Skrowaczewski, who has died aged 93, was noted particularly for his performances of Bruckner’s symphonies though was also an admired composer in his own right. Born in Lwów (then in Poland), he studied in Kraków and later, with Nadia Boulanger, in Paris. His first conducting appointments were as music director of the Wrocław Philharmonic, then the Katowice Philharmonic, the Kraków Philharmonic and finally the Warsaw National Orchestra.
A win at the 1958 Santa Cecilia conducting competition, followed by an invitation from George Szell to conduct the Cleveland Orchestra, led to Skrowaczewski being appointed Music Director of the Minneapolis SO (now the Minnesota Orchestra), a post he held from 1960 until 1979, when he became the orchestra’s Conductor Laureate (meaning that he held a role with the orchestra for 56 years). From 1983 to 92 he was Principal Conductor of the Hallé Orchestra and, from 1995 to 97, he was Artistic Adviser to the Milwaukee SO. His last concerts, in October 2016, were with his beloved Minnesota Orchestra at which they performed Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony. The previous October he became the oldest conductor to perform at London’s Royal Festival Hall: Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony with the London Philharmonic (the recording was subsequently released on the orchestra’s own label drawing the comment from Gramophone’s Christian Hoskins that ‘the applause also reflects the fact that the audience had just heard a performance of exceptional insight and concentration’).
Throughout his life, Skrowaczewski was a committed recording artist: in his earlier years as a fine accompanist, including the Chopin piano concertos with both Alexis Weissenberg and Ewa Kupiec, Mozart piano concertos with Walter Klien, the Penderecki Violin Concerto with Isaac Stern and Beethoven and Brahms piano concertos with Gina Bachauer. His most critically acclaimed recordings came relatively late in his late and included cycles of the complete symphonies, with the Saarbrüchen RSO for Oehms Classics, of Bruckner, Beethoven, Brahms (‘Where others make Brahms sound portly, Skrowaczewski works the fat back into gleaming muscle’ in Rob Cowan’s vivid phrase) and Schumann.
As a composer Skrowaczewski wrote for his ensembles including, in 1981, a Clarinet Concerto for the Minnesota’s Principal Joe Longo. There are recordings of his Concerto for Orchestra, his Concerto for English Horn and Orchestra, Concerto Nicolò, Music at Night, Fantasie ‘Il piffero della notte’ and a number of his chamber compositions.