Tribute to Jan A.P. Kaczmarek

Jan A. P. Kaczmarek was a Polish-born composer with a tremendous international reputation whose many accolades and awards included an Oscar as well as a National Board of Review Award for 2004’s “Finding Neverland,” the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta in 2007, and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2023 from the Polish Film Academy for his contributions to Polish cinema.

Although he originally studied law and received his degree with the intention of becoming a diplomat, Kaczmarek found his calling in music in the late 1970s, composing for an experimental theater company in Poland and forming his own ensemble, the Orchestra of the Eighth Day, for which he performed multiple instruments.  The ensemble toured Europe for several years and in 1982 released an LP, “Music for the End.”

After settling in the United States in 1989, Kaczmarek continued his theatrical music career writing music for Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum.  During that time he won an Obie and a Drama Desk Award in for the music of the New York Shakespeare Festival’s 1992 production of John Ford’s “Tis Pity She’s A Whore,” directed by JoAnne Akalaitis and starring Val Kilmer and Jeanne Tripplehorn.  Newsday wrote that Jan’s music for the play “undulates with hypnotic force that gets under your skin,” and Frank Rich of The New York Times found it worthy of the films of Bernardo Bertolucci and Luchino Visconti.

Kaczmarek also composed for feature films in Poland and continued to do so after moving to the U.S.  He achieved recognition with scores to such films as “”Bliss,” “Get Low,” “Aimée & Jaguar,” “Lost Souls,” “Edges of the Lord,” “Quo Vadis,” Adrian Lyne’s “Unfaithful,” and “Hachi:  A Dog’s Tale,” as well as multiple projects for Polish director Agnieszka Holland, including “Total Eclipse,” “Washington Square,” “The Third Miracle,” and for television, “Shot in the Heart” and “A Girl Like Me:  The Gwen Araujo Story.”

In addition to his accomplishments in film, television, and theater, Kaczmarek wrote a number of concert works and was commissioned to write symphonic and choral pieces for two historic national occasions in Poland:  “Cantata for Freedom” in 2005, which celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Solidarity movement, and “Oratorio 1956” the following year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a bloody uprising by workers in Poznán against Poland’s totalitarian government.  The premieres of both these works were broadcast live on national television in Poland.

In 2005 Kaczmarek founded the Instytut Rozbitek in Poland, an organization inspired by the Sundance Institute, as a European center for development of new work in the areas of film, theater, music, and new media.  He was also the founder and director of the Transatlantyk Festival, held annually in Łódź.

Kaczmarek died May 21, 2024 in Krakow, Poland.