Today we meet Elzbieta Sikora, a composer based in Paris. Elzbieta tells us about her career, how she has combined that with a family and her plans for the future including being the Artistic Director of MEN festival in Wroclaw, Poland.
BoardroomMum Can you please tell me a little bit about yourself - education, qualifications, how you became a composer?
Elzbieta Sikora My parents, my brother and I moved after the war from Lwow where I was born to Gdansk and latter to Oliwa. We discovered a piano (left by the Germans) in the cellar. The family legend says that when I saw the piano which was pretty much destroyed I decided to be a musician and to play it. I was sent to the music school which was just two streets down our home and all started like this. I wrote my first little composition and called it “The sad bell”. Ten years later I decided to study sound engineering in Warsaw. After graduating I went to Paris and was accepted to study electro-acoustic music composition with Pierre Schaeffer and François Bayle at the famous Groupe de Recherches Musicales. This was the real start of my composer’s life. After composing experimental music for two years I returned to Warsaw and studied more classical, instrumental composition with Tadeusz Baird and Zbigniew Rudzinski. Since then I have been composing instrumental, vocal and electronic music separately or mixed together.
BoardroomMum Were you always clear on what you wanted to do?
Elzbieta Sikora Not really. I even thought of becoming a painter or a film maker! But music was always my priority.
BoardroomMum Can you tell us about your career to this point?
Here are some important landmarks in my career. The first electro-acoustic work “Prénom” in 1968, the chamber opera “Ariadna” in 1978 performed in Warsaw, the invitation to work at IRCAM and the first mixed work “The Orpheus Head II” for flute and tape in 1982, the orchestra piece “Rappel III” with live electronic performed in Paris in 1989. The premieres of the chamber opera “Heartsnatcher” in Warsaw and in Paris in 1995 and 1997. Invitation to be the artistic director of the festival Musica Nova in Wroclaw, Poland in 2009. “Canzona” played in the Alice Tully Hall, New York in 2011 during the “Focus!2011 Polish Modern” festival. The most important event in the recent years was the world premiere of my opera “Madame Curie” in Paris In November 2011. Since then “Madame Curie” became a part of the repertoire of the Baltic Opera in Gdansk, Poland. In September 2014 the Gdansk production of “Madame Curie” was performed in Tianjin, China and the DVD “Madame Curie” was released by DUX. The year 2013 was my 70 jubilee. I was asked to write two new pieces: “Five Miniatures for orchestra” for Polish Radio Orchestra, Warsaw and the second “Twilling, Sonosphère I” for the French ensemble Court Circuit. This was the year with many concerts of my music in Poland and in France. I am now composing a new work commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture, which is due for the beginning of 2016.
BoardroomMum What brought you to Paris?
Elzbieta Sikora I came to Paris with my mother for the first time in 1966 just for a short visit. But the taste of Paris started to please me. I came again a year later, worked a little. And in 1968, with my sound engineer diploma in my pocket, I decided to do some practice at the French Radio. There I met the famous Groupe de Recherches Musicales and stayed for two years studying electro acoustic music composition. Back to Poland I obtained a nine month scholarship from the French Government to study composition in Paris with Betsy Jolas and was commissioned by IRCAM to compose a new work for flute and electronic. I landed in Paris accompanied by my 7 year old son on the 4th of October 1981. I will never forget this date. The 13th of December General Jaruzelski declared the martial law in Poland. I am still living in Paris.
BoardroomMum Are you a mum?
Elzbieta Sikora Yes.
BoardroomMum If so how many children do you have and their ages?
Elzbieta Sikora One. My son is 41.
BoardroomMum Did your approach to your career change when you became a mum?
Not really. I have always seen my mother working. Almost all Polish women worked at that time. Working was natural for me. When my son was born I was still studying composition, worked at the Polish Radio and founded the composers group KEW with my two colleagues. I also wrote many film music at that time and composed my first opera “Ariadna” when he was four. Of course it is neither so simple nor easy to be a mum and a composer at the same time but one must find the way to do it.
BoardroomMum What were the childcare options at the time?
I could easily register my son at the local nursery school, he started to go there but really hated it. Therefore we had to find him a nanny, which was also very easy and she was wonderful. For very small children older than three months one of the possibilities was a special kindergarden plus a lot of care from the grandparents and other family member often available to help.
BoardroomMum What were the challenges being a working mum in your field and in general?
Time, time, time. As I said earlier the working mum was a standard in Poland. No discrimination or almost no. Nevertheless being mum and a composer is a challenge. Composing means that you are busy not only when writing notes on paper or working in the studio but you are busy all the time thinking about composition. No holidays or almost not. You have to find the way to stop thinking all the time about music and to be a real mum for your children. It can be hard to find the good balance.
BoardroomMum Any tips or recommendations for other women out there who wish to do what you have done?
Being a woman composer today is not as exceptional as it was at the beginning of the XX century. I do not like to consider that being both a female and a composer is the problem but I must admit that it is harder for a woman than for a man to really emerge , to make an important career. My tip is: work a lot, persevere and be involved in the musical life, make contacts with musicians, conductors, and managers. Networking is very important.
BoardroomMum Have you won any awards?
Elzbieta Sikora Yes I have won several.
BoardroomMum Would you have done anything differently?
Elzbieta Sikora Yes and no. I would have liked to start to compose earlier. I am always behind “my generation”.
BoardroomMum There is a lot of debate around women in music. What needs to be done to see more female performers/composers/conductors reach their potential and become more widely known?
Elzbieta Sikora This is a big question. May be you should ask a man to answer it? In my opinion the problem will disappear with time but today female conductors, composers, performers still must work harder that men to be widely known. The way to the “career” is still a rather difficult one for women.
BoardroomMum Can you tell us some more about your work today? What inspires you?
Elzbieta Sikora It can be anything. A sound in the street, the see breaking on the sand, birds flying in groups, a child crying or laughing, the leaves falling down or cracking under my feet, the grating of a door, an engine working. And also the phrase of a poem, a fragment of a painting or the shape of a modern architecture building. Inspiration is only a small part of composing. The most important is sitting at the table with pencils and erasers to put notes down on paper or being in the studio working with computer on electronics.
BoardroomMum What are your plans personally and professionally?
Personally I would like to see my husband in good health and feel that my son and my grandson are happy.
Professionally I would like to finish my new chamber music work and to start a new opera. As the Artistic Director of MEN festival in Wroclaw, Poland, I am preparing the next two editions. I am also dreaming of travelling around the world looking for vanishing sounds. My new Zoom recorder is ready.
BoardroomMum Thank you Elzbieta. We wish you every continued success.