Roxanna Panufnik

(b. 24 April 1968)

Roxanna Panufnik is an English composer and the daughter of composer Andrzej Panufnik. She studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Her works span many genres and include opera, ballet, music theatre, choral, chamber, film and television music.

Panufnik’s music has been described as owing nothing to the current fads of music and admired for ‘interweaving her very direct emotionality with elegant harmonies’.

Her works are very popular across the globe, the most frequently performed pieces are Westminster Mass (1997), which was commissioned for the Westminster Cathedral Choir for the celebration of Cardinal Hume’s 75th birthday; her newest opera The Music Programme (1999) written for the Polish National Opera’s millenium season. The world premiere took place in Warsaw in 2000 and the UK premiere one month later. Her settings of Vikram Seth’s Beastly Tales (2001-2) for solo voices and orchestra, the first of which was commissioned for Patricia Rozario and the City of London Sinfonia by the BBC, are also performed regularly.

In being yourself you do stand out from the crowd.

Panufnik has experienced much success with her vocal music. The International Record Review describes her as ‘one of the finest contemporary vocal composers around. No matter how demanding the subject matter, she always seems to find a way to set words that sit hand-in-glove with the text’.

Her other two operas include Time Piece (1995) for three female voices, two male voices, guitar and cello with a text by Christina Jones. The story revolves around a museum curator, Miss Patina, who works in the upper floor of a museum which houses the largest collection of clocks in the country. A mysterious visitor stops by and all the clocks are silenced. The opera was commissioned by the Theatre Royal and Opera Works and lasts just seven minutes. Panufnik’s next opera Inkle and Yarico (1996) was adapted from the original harpsichord score by Dr. Samuel Arnold and commissioned and premiered by the Holders Seas in Barbados in 1997. It features an authentic 18th century array of steel pans. The opera is based on a Barbadian legend and was one of the first anti-slavery plays of the 18th century.

I’m not afraid to wear my heart on my sleeve and I always do it in a big way. I don’t know whether that is the Polish side of me or the woman side of me.

Panufnik’s most recent choral works include Heav’nly Harmony (2015) for mixed choir. This is a dramatically upbeat work with texts taken from Dryden’s Ode to St Cecilia. The Tablet of your Heart (2015), commissioned by The Tablet Magazine, features a larger choir and organ and uses text from Proverbs. In 2014 she composed three choral works, Kyrie after Byrd based on Byrd’s five part Mass, Since we Parted which features some instrumentalists also and St Pancras Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis (2014) about long-distance love between a man and a woman separated by the events of World War I.

After a period of 15 years without a chamber/instrumental music composition, Panufnik composed five works between 2014 and 2015 including Dances with Derwid (2014) for piano quintet, COMAchord (2014) for flexible wind/brass ensemble, Down the Rabbit Hole (2014) for violin and piano, Shosholoza (2015) for double bass and piano and Hora Bessarabia (2015) for violin solo. These works vary from upbeat fanfares to reflections on Alice in Wonderland and from gypsy music and South African song to tangos and foxtrots.

Some of her other notable compositions include the chamber work Letters from Burma (2004) for oboe and string quartet, written for Douglas Boyd and the Vellinger String Quartet; and the ballet Leda (2003)written for the English National Ballet and Wratislavia Cantans. Her concertos are also quite interesting and diverse and include Powers & Dominions for harp and Abraham (2004) for violin. Abraham, commissioned by the Savannah Music Festival for Daniel Hope, is particularly intriguing as it combines Christian, Islamic and Jewish music. From this concerto, an overture Three Paths to Peace (2008) was formed following a commission from the World Orchestra for Peace. The overture was premiered in Jerusalem under the direction of Valery Gergiev. The European premiere took place in 2014 at the BBC Proms, with the same musicians and conductor.

Above: Roxanna Panufnik with father, the Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik, courtesy of Camilla Jessel Panufnip FRPS

Panufnik’s oratorio Dance of Life (2011), available in Latin and in Estonian, was recently premiered by the Tallinn Philharmonic Orchestra and multiple Tallinn choirs. The oratorio was commissioned to mark and celebrate their success as European Capital of Culture 2011. Warner Classics released an English recording of this work in 2014.

The London Mozart Players and violinist Tasmin Little premiered her Four World Seasons (2007-11) to launch their Music Nation Weekend. A brilliant album by Chandos, Messages, includes Panufnik’s Memories of my Father (2014), commissioned and recorded by the Brodsky Quartet. This group also gave premieres in the UK, Poland and the Netherlands. Movements of the work are featured between works by her father Andrzej Panufnik. The album also shows how different Andrezej and Roxanna are, yet they ‘both love to use crunchy harmonies in which major and minor meet and greet, and there’s a delicacy, a finesse to the sound’. Roxanna’s music can also be described as more free-spirited that that of her father.

The music that I was singing in choirs tended to be faith based like Bach and Mozart, so that obviously had a huge influence on me.

The coming years include many fascinating projects such as a commission for the 2017 season of the Garsington Opera and the recording of Four World Seasons with Tasmin Little and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The album will also be released by Chandos.

Panufnik is currently the Associate Composer with the London Mozart Players. In addition to Chandos and Warner Classics, her works have also been recorded by labels such as Signum and EMI Classics. Her music is published by Peter’s Edition Ltd.

Header image courtesy of Roxanna Panufnik
Small images courtesy of Cork Choral and Joyful Company of Singers

Andrzej Panufnik

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