Stanislaw Skrowaczewski | 93

The conductor and composer defected from Communist Poland to lead the Minnesota Orchestra to new heights, lobbying tirelessly for its "temple" — Orchestra Hall. 

Something happened the final time Stanislaw Skrowaczewski stepped onstage at Orchestra Hall.

It was October 2016, just after the beloved maestro’s 93rd birthday. His thin frame had turned frail, his puff of hair bright white. But at the podium, baton in hand, “Stan” proved powerful, still.

He thrust his hands into the air and, from memory, led the Minnesota Orchestra through a piece he loved: Anton Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony.

He first heard his “beloved Bruckner” at age 7, through an open window in Lwów, a Polish city that is now in Ukraine. “I stood there, completely out of this world, listening,” he said in the documentary “Seeking the Infinite.”

He became known as one of Bruckner’s finest interpreters, mining his works for his farewell as music director in 1979. But the maestro never said goodbye, really, conducting the orchestra annually and in times of strife.

He didn’t mean for the October 2016 concerts to be a farewell, either. He wasn’t one for celebrations or schmaltz. Instead, Skrowaczewski looked ahead, forever tweaking, digging deeper. As newspaper articles asked whether the concerts would “be his last,” Skrowaczewski added conducting dates to his 2017 calendar.

Even from Friday to Saturday, his translation of the Bruckner symphony changed, said Frederick Harris Jr., his biographer. “He kept molding that sonic clay.”

In the final movement, Skrowaczewski took chances, stretched out phrases, built to a big, bold ending.

“Like a bolt of lightning,” Harris said. “It’s kind of scary, the power at the end of that symphony.”

In March, the orchestra memorialized their maestro at Orchestra Hall, keeping the speeches short, but playing with depth. Then, they closed with Bruckner.

Jenna Ross