Creator of center for Polish music
Wanda Wilk, a philanthropist, musicologist and devoted champion of Polish classical music who co-founded the Polish Music Center at USC, has died. She was 88.
Wilk died Feb. 18 at her Los Angeles home after a long illness, according to an announcement from the Polish Music Center at USC’s Thornton School of Music.
With her husband, Dr. Stefan P. Wilk, she endowed the Polish Music Center in 1984 and it opened a year later.
With its focus on contemporary composers, it has become home to the largest public collection of Polish music materials outside Poland. The center contains approximately 10,000 items including books, scores, manuscripts, recordings, periodicals and other documents.
Wanda Wilk served as the center’s director for the first 10 years of its operation and initiated the center’s manuscript collection by soliciting gifts of original scores from composer Witold Lutoslawski and composer and conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.
Over the years, her generosity helped facilitate on-campus concerts by some of the leading names in contemporary Polish music. In October 1997, she hosted the reclusive composer Henryk Gorecki’s residency on campus. Times music critic Mark Swed wrote that the USC Symphony Orchestra’s reading of the composer’s Third Symphony with Gorecki conducting was the “cultural event of the year” in Southern California.
“She absolutely succeeded in her dream of establishing a center for Polish music,” Marek Zebrowski, the center’s current director, told The Times. “She built a wonderful library and an unprecedented manuscript collection including works from the pantheon of 20th century Polish composers.”
Robert Cutietta, dean of the Thornton School of Music, called Wilk “a remarkable individual, driven by her tireless passion and inspirational vision for ensuring that the music of her beloved Poland was introduced to and embraced by a new generation of young musicians.”
“It is clear that the Polish Music Center exists and will continue to exist as a direct result of her love for education, music and her heritage,” Cutietta said in a statement.
She was born Wanda Harasimowicz in Hamtramck, Mich., on Jan. 13, 1921. She was valedictorian of her high school class and graduated at 15. She went on to Wayne State University, earning a degree in music. She taught for several years in Detroit’s public school system. In 1949, she moved with her parents to Southern California, where she enrolled in a master’s degree program at USC but interrupted her studies to teach. She returned to USC in 1974 to finish her degree, long after she married and became a mother and homemaker.
Her master’s thesis was a bibliography on Polish music and led to a summer session at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. She completed her thesis and received her degree from USC in 1976.
Struck by the lack of reference materials on Polish music at USC, Wilk started developing an idea that would eventually become the Polish Music Center. In 1984, Wilk and her husband endowed the center, which was then called the Polish Music Reference Center at USC. (It was renamed the Polish Music Center in 2000). It was housed initially in the university’s music library but has moved to other spots on campus over the years as it has grown.
As director of the center, Wilk lectured on Polish music at the center, local universities, and Polish American associations. She also was a concert pianist and performed frequently in the area.
Wilk established the Friends of Polish Music, a fundraising and outreach group, in 1981. Under its auspices, she wrote a monograph on composer Karol Szymanowski on his centenary in 1982, the first of several in the Polish Music History Series. She served as editor in chief for the series, which includes works on Chopin and additional volumes on Szymanowski. She retired as director of the center in 1996, but continued her participation in its activities as its honorary director.
Her husband died last March. Survivors include her daughter, Diane Wilk-Burch; three grandchildren; and a nephew she helped raise, Dr. Kenneth A. Harris.
Funeral services will be held at 9:30 a.m. today at the Church of the Hills, Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, 6300 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles.
Instead of flowers, her family suggests that donations be sent in her memory to the Polish Music Center, Thornton School of Music, USC, 840 W. 34th St., Los Angeles, CA 90089-0851.