The International Festival of Orthodox Church Music „Hajnówka” has been organized every year since 1982. The Festival’s organizer is the „Orthodox Church Music” Foundation in Hajnówka.
The aim of the International Festival of Orthodox Church Music „Hajnówka” is to present the great artistic and spiritual values of Orthodox Church music. The Festival’s program also creates an opportunity for discussions, meetings, an exchange of experiences, and establishing new relationships between participants coming from different environments — thus, it becomes enriched with aesthetic and educational objectives. The repertoire presented during the Festival is a historical cross-section of music ranging from the beginnings of Christianity to contemporary compositions — including those by Polish composers (S. Moniuszko, J. Kozlowski, K. Szymanowski, K. Gorski, M. Rogowski, P. Jańczak, P. Lukaszewski, R. Twardowski, K. Penderecki).
The Festival is organized as a competition, with participation from amateur and professional choirs from around the world, including leading Polish choirs. It includes choirs regardless of their nationality and religion: Catholics, Greek Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Old Believers, as well as Muslims, Buddhists and Jews. The Festival’s openness, as well as the variety of repertoire and culture on display, is an example of mutual respect and tolerance, affirming the idea of this event being the Musical Forum for the East and West. By 2019, 895 choirs from 41 countries (from Europe, Australia, Asia, North America and Africa) participated in this event, which is also known as the „The Festival of the Singing Soul”.
The Festival is organized under the Patronage of the President of Poland as well as the Patronage of the Polish Minister of Culture, under the Artistic Patronage of prof. Krzysztof Penderecki, Polish Composers’ Union and under the Patronage of the President of Bialystok City.
Media patronage includes the Polish Television in Warsaw, Polish Radio in Warsaw, Bialystok Television, department of Polish Radio in Bialystok and other regional media.
The roots of the International Festival of Orthodox Church Music „Hajnówka” reach back to 1978-1982. The original intent of the originator and organizer of the event — Mikołaj Buszko — was to organize a competition for church choirs in January — this was prevented by martial law being declared at the time. The organizers decided to move the event to the month of May. From that point on, the even grew in importance from one year to the next. It quickly moved on from being a review of local parish choirs, gaining international status. In 1995, the Ministry of Culture proclaimed it as having the 0th category, thus putting the festival on a par with the Chopin Competition and the International Festival of Contemporary Music „Warsaw Autumn”. Today, it is the only festival of church music in the world with that degree of tradition and importance. The „Hajnówka” Festival inspired the creation of a number of similar festivals in Poland and abroad, such as in Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Russia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine…
Hajnówka, the birthplace of the Festival, has been the location of festival audition for 21 of its editions. Since 2003, it has been held in Bialystok.
There are a number of accompanying events one should name among the Festival’s traditions — exhibitions and seminars, but primarily associated concerts that take place in many Polish cities, including Warsaw, Kraków, Częstochowa, Gdańsk, Gliwice, Gniezno, Lublin, Torun, and Wroclaw.
For many years, the Foundation’s efforts have gone towards presenting outstanding works of Orthodox music, or music inspired by the Orthodox faith each year — music which is rarely performed in Poland and around the world, and has never been performed during the Festival. Examples of such performances include, „Song of Cherubs”, „Hymn to St. Daniel” and „Jutrznia” by K. Penderecki, „Liturgy” by P. Tchaikovsky and A. Greczaninov, „Concert of Orthodox music” by J. Tavener, „Night Vigil” by A. Arhangelsky and S. Rachmaninov, „Liturgy gala” by L. Dyczko, „Little Orthodox Liturgy” and „Liturgy of Kyiv” by R. Twardowski, as well as unknown works by other Polish composers such as S. Moniuszko, R. Rogowski, K. Szymanowski, K. Gorski and J. Kozlowski. This venues greatest success was the concert of „Morning Prayer” by Krzysztof Penderecki, which is performed extremely rare due to its high degree of complexity. In 2006, the Foundation managed to premiere it twice — in Bialystok and in Russia (Smolny Cathedral in St. Petersburg).
The „Contemporary composers for Krzysztof Penderecki” concert was also a unique event — it inaugurated the XXXII Festival in 2013 and Krzysztof Penderecki’s 80th Jubilee celebration. The Master, as well as prominent composers from Belarus, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Russia and Ukraine witnessed premiere performances of their songs, dedicated to the Jubilant and composed specifically for this occasion. It was also the first performance of K. Penderecki’s Psalm 129 — „Iz głubiny wozzwach”, prepared for the ceremony.
This Festival also witnessed the Polish premiere of „St Matthew Passion” by Russian composer, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev).