Born in Dębicy on 23 November 1933. His father, a lawyer and an enthusiastic violinist, brought his son into contact with music at a very early age. Penderecki was admitted to the Kraków Conservatoire at the age of eighteen, simultaneously studying philosophy, art history and literary history at the local university, and from 1954 studying composition at the Kraków State Academy of Music. In 1958 he completed his studies and was appointed a Professor at the Musikhochschule.
In 1959 Penderecki won 1st prize at the II Warsaw Competition of Young Polish Composers of the Composers’ Union, and one year later his piece Anaklasis was hailed by the press. Other compositions followed in rapid succession, winning major awards such as the UNESCO Award, the Great Arts Award of the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Prix Italia for the St Luke Passion.
From 1966 to 1968 Penderecki taught at the Essen Folkwang Hochschule where he began work on his first opera The Devils of Loudon (based on a book by Aldous Huxley). After its premiere at the Hamburg Staatsoper in 1969, the work was successfully performed at theatres throughout the world. Three more operas followed – Paradise Lost (1978), Die Schwarze Maske (1986) and Ubu Rex (1991).
In 1968 he received a scholarship from the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) in Berlin and in 1970 he was awarded the Prize of the Union of Polish Composers. From 1972 he was rector of the Kraków Musikhochschule and from 1973 to 1978 a Professor at Yale University, New Haven. During this period, Penderecki toured internationally and acquired an international reputation as a conductor of his own and others’ compositions.
Other prizes awarded to Penderecki for his numerous other works include the Prix Arthur Honegger, the Sibelius Prize of the Wihuri Foundation, the National Prize of Poland and the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition.
Many other awards followed, among them the Composition Award of the Promotion Association of the European Industry and Trade in 1988, the Music Award of the City of Duisburg in 1999, the Cannes Classical Award as “Living Composer of the Year” in 2000, the Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts in 2001 and the Romano Guardini Prize of the Catholic Academy in Bavaria in 2002.
Amongst his many other awards and acknowledgements, he is holder of the Grand Cross for Distinguished Services of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, a Chevalier de Saint Georges, recipient of the Austrian Medal for Sciences and Arts, a holder of a Distinguished Citizen Fellowship from the Institute for Advanced Study at the Indiana University Bloomington and the prize of the International Music Council UNESCO for Music and the Order of Cultural Merit of the Principality of Monaco. In 1995 and 1996 he was awarded the Primetime Emmy Award of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Other prestigious prizes include the Japanese Praemium Imperiale (2004) and the Grand-Croix de l’Ordre “Pro Merito Melitensi” (2011).
He also holds a number of academic and other institution-based positions in Germany, Lithuania, Austria, Hong Kong, Spain and Latvia as well as honorary memberships, doctorates and professorships at numerous major academies in London (the Royal Academy of Music), Rome, Stockholm, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Beijing and Washington.
Krzysztof Penderecki continues to compose, and recent works include, among others, Concerto Grosso (2001), Piano Concerto (2002), Symphony No 8 (2007), Concerto for horn and Orchestra (2008), String Quartet No 3, Three Chinese Songs (2008) and A Sea of Dreams Did Breathe on Me for soprano, mezzo-soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra (2010).
Krzysztof Penderecki’s most recent works include the Double Concerto for Violin and Viola (premiered on 22 October 2012 at the Musikverein in Vienna with Janine Jansen and Julian Rachlin as soloists), Missa brevis (commissioned by the Bach Archive Leipzig and premiered on 6 January 2013 by the Thomaskirche Choir in Leipzig), a new version of the opera The Devils of Loudon premiered in Copenhagen on 12 February 2013 and La Follia, a piece for solo violin, commissioned by and written for Anne-Sophie Mutter and premiered at Carnegie Hall in New York on 13 December 2013.
The year 2013 marked Krzysztof Penderecki’s anniversary. On the occasion of his 80zth birthday, many concerts and festivals featuring the composer’s works took place including in St Petersburg, Wrocław, Vilnius, Lvov, Kraków, the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival, the Festival Pablo Casals in Prades, the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, the Ohrid Festival and the Marlboro Music Festival. Concerts were also held in Košice, Berlin, Bonn, Hannover, Ravello and Assisi (the Emilia Romagna Festival), Budapest, Minsk, Prague, Beijing (the Beijing Music Festival), New York, Boston, the Yale University School of Music, Seoul, Caracas and Yerevan.
A festival dedicated to Krzysztof Penderecki’s music was held from 17 and 23 November in Warsaw, with such great artists as Lorin Maazel, Charles Dutoit, Valery Gergiev, Marek Janowski, Lawrence Foster, Long Yu, Leonard Slatkin, Alexander Liebreich and Rafael Payare, and leading Polish conductors including Jacek Kaspszyk, Krzysztof Urbański and Gabriel Chmura. Among the greatest soloists and ensembles performing Krzysztof Penderecki’s music were Anne-Sophie Mutter, Yuri Bashmet, Daniel Müller-Schott and the Shanghai Quartet.
In February 2014 the composer conducted his Polish Requiem in a series of concerts with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and in March 2014 Krzysztof Penderecki was a composer-in-residence at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.
The premiere of Krzysztof Penderecki’s composition Dies illa for soprano, mezzo-soprano, bass, mixed choruses and orchestra, written to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, took place on 9 November 2014 in Brussels as part of a special concert entitled A Thousand Voices for Peace. A new Trumpet Concerto written for Gábor Boldoczki was premiered in Saarbrücken on 3 and 4 May 2015.