Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music, The By Jakelski, Lisa
The Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music (Warszawska Jesień) is one of Europe’s longest-running festivals of contemporary music. With two exceptions (1957 and 1982), the festival has taken place annually since 1956. During the Cold War, the festival was an important venue for transnational connections. In the early 2010s, it remains one of Poland’s liveliest cultural institutions. Tadeusz Baird and Kazimierz Serocki are often credited as the Warsaw Autumn’s initiators, yet the idea for the festival came from the Polish Composers’ Union as a whole. The timing of their proposal reflected the expanded possibilities of the mid-1950s, when hard-line Stalinist policies were giving way to the limited political and cultural reforms of the Thaw. Many composers hungered for the restoration of foreign contacts that had been severed by Poland’s occupation during World War II and its subsequent absorption into the Soviet bloc. They hoped that an international festival of contemporary composition would counteract years of isolation and bring Polish musical life into the modern age. Crucial early support came from higher-ups in Poland’s communist party, who approved of the Warsaw Autumn festival based on its potential as an arena for Cold War competition. And the festival delivered: the first institution of its kind, it featured an eclectic line-up of compositions and performers from both the American and Soviet zones of influence.