Born in Cracow, Poland. After graduating from secondary school, she studied Physics at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. Since 1965 she has managed the secretariat of her husband, Krzysztof Penderecki.
In 1990 she established and became president of the first Polish private music agency “Heritage Promotion of Music and Art”, and managed it until the middle of 1995.
She has assisted her husband in organizing the Pablo Casals Festival in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where Krzysztof Penderecki was the artistic director during the years 1992-2002.
Elżbieta Penderecki is on the board of several foundations, including the European Mozart Foundation, which wound up its operations in December 1998 and had its headquarters in Poland for four years. She co-organized this foundation and took an active part in its Advisory Committee and Programme Council. She greatly contributed to the establishment of the Sinfonietta Cracovia chamber orchestra, the official orchestra of the Royal City of Cracow. Being its honorary patron together with her husband, she has helped in the promotion and organization of their concerts.
In November 1997, in cooperation with the Studio Art Centre she organized a charity concert for flood victims with the participation of the Sinfonia Varsovia orchestra, Lord Yehudi Menuhin, the National Philharmonic Choir and soloists Izabela Kłosińska, Arto Noras and Ewa Pobłocka.
In 1997 she initiated a series of musical performances entitled “Concerts of the Great Masters – Elżbieta Penderecki Presents”, which presented outstanding artists such as Mstislav Rostropovich, Jessye Norman and Simon Estes. The series was continued in 1998 with recitals by Barbara Hendricks and Stanislav Bunin. In 1999, among the invited guests were Martha Argerich and Krystian Zimerman in Cracow and Olga Borodina, Maxim Vengerov, Shlomo Mintz, Heinrich Schiff and Julian Rachlin in Warsaw.
During 1996-2000 she was Chairperson of the Cracow 2000 Artistic Board – a European City of Culture 2000. In the year 2000, on the occasion of Cracow being a European City of Culture 2000, she brought to Cracow the New York Philharmonic with Kurt Masur, the Norddeutsche Rundfunk with Christoph Eschenbach, the Concentus Musicus with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the Bergen Philharmonic with Simone Young, the Wiener Akademie with Martin Haselböck, the Bundesjugend Orchester conducted by Gerd Albrecht. Together with the Deutsche Stiftung Musikleben and the Deutscher Musikrat she organized a tour of the Bundesjugendorchester “Poland and Germany – Together in the Heart of Europe” under the honorary patronage of the President of Germany Johannes Rau and the President of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski in Cracow, Warsaw, Poznań and Gdańsk.
In March 1997 she organized the first Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival in Cracow. During the following years, among the artists who performed at the festival were: Anne-Sophie Mutter with the Penderecki Festival Orchestra conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki, Juozas Domarkas, Thomas Sanderling, Aldo Ceccato, Leopold Hager, Christoph Eschenbach, John Neal Axelrod, Rudolf Buchbinder, Boris Pergamenschikow, Arto Noras, Barry Douglas, Yuri Bashmet, Shlomo Mintz, Boris Carmeli, Elena Zaremba, Matthias Hölle, Renate Behle, the Chor der Bamberger Symphoniker and La Stagione Frankfurt, the Deutsche Kammerorchester Berlin, the Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra, the Sinfonia Varsovia, the Sinfonietta Cracovia, the Tokyo String Quartet and many other outstanding artists.
In 1988 Elżbieta Penderecki became the Artistic Director of the Krzysztof Penderecki Festival. The musical events of that year were held in Cracow under the patronage of the composer.
In November 1996 Elżbieta Penderecki was awarded the Knight Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. In November 1997 she received the PRO MUSICA VIVA prize, awarded by the Maria Strecker Daelen Foundation in recognition of her outstanding achievements in Polish and international musical life. In January 1998 she became a recipient of the Business Center Club Golden Statuette award. In January 1999 she was awarded the Honorary Medal “For the Outstanding Services to the Cracow Voivodeship” from the Voivode of Cracow, Ryszard Masłowski. That year she received a medal to mark the 40 years of the Fulbright Program in Poland. On this occasion she co-organized a charity symphony concert at the Wielki Theatre in Warsaw.
Elżbieta Penderecki is on the Board of the Łańcut Castle Foundation. She was invited to cooperate with a Polish publishing house, which will prepare, together with the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a promotional campaign of Poland and Poland’s accession to the European Union. For charity work since 1995 for the Prof. Julian Aleksandrowicz Blood Disease Prevention and Treatment Foundation, which supports the Hematological Clinic of the Jagiellonian University’s Collegium Medicum, she was awarded the Prof. Julian Aleksandrowicz Medal in December 2000.
In February 2001, as part of the concert series “The Great Orchestras – Elżbieta Penderecki Presents”, together with the Wielki Theatre in Warsaw she organized the concert of the Cincinnati Symphony orchestra. In May 2001, with the recital of a young pianist from Luxembourg, Francesco Tristano Schlimé she inaugurated in Cracow the piano festival “Masters of the Piano – Great Talents”. The festival was continued in 16-19 September with appearances by Konstantin Scherbakov, Henri Sigfridsson, Filippo Gamba, Kun Woo Paik and Barry Douglas. The first edition of this festival was concluded by Alexander Gindin in November.
Elżbieta Penderecki was twice elected one of the 50 most influential women in Poland by the “Home & Market” monthly. In May 2002 at the Crackfilm Festival in Cracow she received the “Titan of Titans” award for promotion of Poland in the world.
In June 2002, Elżbieta Penderecki was conferred the anniversary European Culture Award 2002 by the KulturForum Europa for her achievements as the “Ambassador of Poland in opening Europe to the East”.The official conferral took place on 9 September 2002.
On 28 March 2003 Elżbieta Penderecki was awarded the Golden Cross of Merit of the Republic of Austria by the President of the Republic of Austria. It was conferred on 14 April by the Austrian Consul General at a concert organized as part of the 7th Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival. At the close of the festival in April 2003, the Mayor of Cracow and the Cracow City Council awarded Elżbieta Penderecki the Golden Medal Cracow 2000 “in acknowledgement of the promotion of Cracow by organizing one of the major cultural events in Poland and the world, the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival”.
The Ludwig van Beethoven Association was established in September 2003. She became its President. Since 2004, the Ludwig van Beethoven Festival has been organized by the Association in Warsaw.
Recent awards of Elżbieta Penderecki include the Bertelsmann Award (2006), the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Lithuania (February 2007), the Commander of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity (April 2007), Music Ambassador Award from the Pro Musica Viva Stiftung in Mainz (November 2007), Honorary Doctor of the Armenian Branch of the International Academy of Science of Nature and Society (2008), Bernardo O’Higgins Order (2008), Honorary Distinction from the Embassy of Venezuela (2008). Elżbieta Penderecki became member of the Board of Trustees of the Aram Khachaturian International Competition (2009) and Advisor of the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (2009). In February 2010, she received the “Golden Thought” award for her contribution to the development of Polish science and culture.
Elżbieta Penderecki, at an annual meeting at Yale University School of Music, was awarded the Samuel Simons Sanford Medal from Yale School of Music “for distinguished service to music”. The medal was conferred by the Dean of the Yale School of Music, Prof. Robert Blocker.
On 16 November 2010, Elżbieta Penderecki was honoured by the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs with the Bene Merito distinction for activities strengthening Poland’s position in the international arena.
On 28 February 2011, Elżbieta Penderecka was conferred the highest distinction of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta awarded to women, the Cross Pro Merito Melitensi with Badge.
On 19 April 2011, the Minister of Culture and National Heritage awarded the Gloria Artis medal to Elżbieta Penderecka for her long-term work for the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival and for taking care of major music events.
On 1 October 2011, during the inauguration of the academic year at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Mrs. Elżbieta Penderecka was presented with the Jagiellonian University Person of Merit Award from Prof. Karol Musioł, Rector of the Jagiellonian University.
On 3 December, during the 7th Author’s Evening with Prof. Antoni Krzeski at Fabryka Trzciny in Warsaw, Elżbieta Penderecka was honoured with the Amicus Rhinologiae Polonicae (Friend of the Polish Rhinology Society) distinction
In 2012, on the occasion of the May 3 National Holiday, the President of the Republic of Poland, Bronisław Komorowski, presented Elżbieta Penderecka with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta for outstanding services in promoting and propagating Polish and world culture, and for achievements in artistic and creative work.
In October 2012, Mrs Penderecka received the Federal Cross of Merit on Ribbon of the Federal Republic of Germany, which is awarded by the German President for services for the common good, in this case for her contribution to Polish-German relations.
In January 2013, Elżbieta Penderecki received the Polityka’s Passports Creator of Culture Award 2012 for creating important music events, in particular the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival; for bringing to light the manuscripts of great composers stored at the Jagiellonian Library; for providing patronage for the Sinfonietta Cracovia and Beethoven Academy Orchestra; and for her outstanding services to Polish musical life.
In April 2013 Elżbieta Penderecka received the title of “Friend of Warmia and Mazury” from the Marshal of the Warmińsko-Mazurskie Voivodeship, Jacek Protas, for promoting the region of Warmia, Mazury and Powiśle and the artistic achievements of the Feliks Nowowiejski Warmia and Mazury Philharmonic Orchestra in Poland and internationally.
In September 2016 Elżbieta Penderecka was honoured with the Gold Medal from the Minister of Culture of Armenia. The distinction was awarded on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival for presenting Armenian music in Poland and around the world. In November that year, during a festive Gala organized by Global Compact Poland – the UN Secretary General Initiative commemorating the UN Day, Elżbieta Penderecka was awarded with the Architect of Sustainable Development statuette. In this way, the jury decided to appreciate her contribution to promoting Polish cultural heritage in Poland and around the world.
In October 2019, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Spain in Poland decorated Elżbieta Penderecka with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Civil Merit, awarded by His Royal Highness the King of Spain for her contribution to promoting Spanish culture in Poland. In 2020, Elżbieta Penderecka was awarded the title of “Promoter of Poland” from the “Teraz Polska” Polish Promotional Emblem Foundation.
Together with her husband, the late Krzysztof Penderecki, Elżbieta Penderecka is the creator of the Krzysztof Penderecki European Centre for Music in Lusławice – a unique centre for the development of young musical talent. Elżbieta Penderecka is President of the Board of the Ludwig van Beethoven Association, and General Director of the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival. On 29 December 2020, she was appointed by Prof. Piotr Gliński, the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, as President of the Programme Council of the Krzysztof Penderecki European Centre for Music. She is also a member of European Union Youth Orchestra (EUYO) Advisory Council.