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la Biennale di Venezia
Main Visual Music EN (new)


SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg

Saturday 24 September at 8:00 p.m.
Teatro alle Tese
Béla Bartók (1881-1945) Tanz-Suite for orchestra (1923, 18’)
Peter Eötvös (1944) Konzert für zwei Klaviere (2007, 20’) Italian premiere
Peter Eötvös Replica for viola and orchestra (1998, 15’)
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) Agon (1953-57, 23’)
piano Andreas Grau and Götz Schumacher
viola Geneviève Strosser
conductor Peter Eötvös
Dedicated to the composer and conductor Peter Eötvös, who will receive the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement during the course of the evening, the inaugural concert of the 55th Festival will feature one of the finest German orchestras, the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg which, since the 1950’s, has made the history of the Festival of Donaueschingen with over 400 premiere performances. The orchestra, which has conquered a “central position in European culture”, according to Sylvain Cambreling, will be conducted on this occasion by Eötvös himself.
Heir to the strong musical tradition of Hungary, which boasts figures such as Bartòk, Ligeti and Kurtàg, Peter Eötvös has personally experienced all the most important adventures in musical research since the Sixties. “A precocious conductor with considerable talent – reads the motivation for the award – he served for many years as assistant to Karlheinz Stockhausen, as both a composer and very early on as the preferred conductor for his works, including the important compositions created at La Scala thirty years ago (one of which was Donnerstag aus Licht, 1981). Boulez too, in the Seventies, named him musical director of the newly founded Ensemble InterContemporain. These extraordinary experiences at the side of the greatest composers immersed him into a plentiful river of musical thought and practice, preparing an absolutely complete musician and craftsman, who over the past twenty years has demonstrated extraordinarily fertile creative power as a composer. In both his callings, Eötvös brings together an exceptionally fine ear and level of knowledge, with iconoclastic and experimental delight”.
The concert pays due tribute to Bartok’s influence on Eötvös’ music with the performance of Tanz-Suite, a piece that is rarely performed today, but which brought Bartòk sudden popularity, in a programme with Konzert fur zwei Klaviere and Replica by Eötvös, to demonstrate the bonds with the lessons of the past and at the same time its most advanced developments. The concert will end on the notes of the Agon by Stravinsky, a score for the ballet, a genre in which the Russian composer experimented many of his most important musical innovations.
Commissioned for the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the union between the cities of Buda and Pest in 1923, in which two other great figures in Hungarian music, Ernö Dohnányi and Zoltán Kódaly, participated by Bartòk’s side, Tanz-suite is a tribute to the popular tradition of the Balkans and brings to a close the composer’s maturation on these materials, his capacity to metabolize the codes of folk language and restore them in a new and original form. At its debut, the reaction to the piece was lukewarm at best, but after it was performed in Prague in 1925 (at the SIMC Festival), it was played at least 50 times within the space of one year. Yet after this exploit, the performances of Tanz-Suite became increasingly rare. Like a real suite, the piece strings together five dances – of Slovakian, Hungarian, Wallachian and Arabic origin – connected by a ritornello tune that serves as a leitmotif, though sometimes they are combined. “Thus for example, the melody of the first theme of the first piece is reminiscent of the most ancient Arab popular music, whereas the rhythm reconnects to that of Eastern Europe. The theme of the ritornello is so faithful to certain popular Hungarian melodies, it could fool even an expert scholar. The character of the second piece is Hungarian, whereas the third alternates Hungarian and Wallachian elements” (B.Bartók).
Konzert für zwei Klaviere by Eötvös consciously echoes the lesson of the Hungarian Maestro in the use of parallel scales and in the combination of piano and percussions. The origin of the five-movement concerto is a piece written in 2005, CAP-KO, conceived for the 125th anniversary of the birth of Béla Bartók, a piece that yielded several different versions. The title is an acronym for “Concerto for acoustic piano, keyboard and orchestra”, where the digital keyboard added a note to the one played by the pianist in intervals determined only by the composer, so as to create an effect of multiplication and, at least apparently, of the pianist’s virtuosity. The entirely acoustic version, dated 2007, challenges the soloists to achieve the same degree of precision using no more than their four hands, without technological aid.
“The first movement opens with a trio of snare drums, placed on the sides and in the middle. Their pitch varies according to the exact spot where the stick hits the drums. In this way, I composed a three-part melodic counterpoint for drums. As the soloists and the orchestra enter, this counterpoint expands in range and becomes highly diversified in timbre. Towards the end, the rapid sixteenth-note runs played of the strings make an unmistakable allusion to Bartók, by recalling the last movement of the Concerto for Orchestra. Most of the second movement is dominated by a perpetual parallel motion for two pianos. I use a large number of different scales to generate a high level of kinetic energy. The runs are punctuated by intermittent percussion solos and complemented by orchestral countermelodies moving in long connected (legato) notes. The third movement follows without a break: more static, characterized by sharp rhythmic attacks and an especially prominent low brass. The tempo gradually increases and the piano parts pick up great rhythmic momentum, reaching a climax towards the end of the movement. I titled the third movement: “Bartók crosses the ocean”. This movement has a slow tempo throughout. The steady chord progressions of the two pianos, proceeding in even eighth-notes, are set against the shorter melodic phrases of the horns and trumpets. The music briefly becomes more agitated as we hear a momentary fortissimo outburst of the full orchestra. Then a quiet piano duo concludes the movement, with a single three-note “farewell” motif from the first trumpet. The last movement is another mad rush, with the two pianists and the three percussionists in the leading roles. The rhythms are more irregular than before, with offbeat accents and complex alternations between notes and rests adding to the excitement all the way to the end” (Peter Laki/Peter Eötvös).
The next piece, Replica, a word Eötvös uses in the sense of “reply”, reveals ties to his most successful work, The Three Sisters inspired by Chekhov’s play, because the two works were written in chronological proximity. The relationship between the two works is built on the farewells, the motif that closes each of the opera’s three parts and also characterizes the concerto, and is built musically on the effect of instrumental theatre that progressively develops in the concerto – where the actors are the instruments, and the accordion plays a prominent role. The traditional seating plan of the orchestra has been changed: the winds are placed upstage, in front of the strings, the five violas are arranged in a kind of halo around the soloist, with whom they have an intense dialogue. “Yet the drama does not unfold in superficial “dramatic” gestures but rather in the endless combinations of timbres and registers, placed in even sharper relief by the relatively slow tempo. The continuous monologue of the solo instrument appears in a new light each time the simultaneous orchestral commentary changes. The viola finds its “ideal companion” – to use Griffith’s expression – in the flugelhorn. When their voices entwine in a duet, following the most tragic outburst in the piece, is one of the most gripping moments in the work. But their relationship is not to last in the end, the solo viola remains irrevocably alone, and disappears in the dark, evoked by the maracas (played by the violinists) as the imaginary curtain falls” (Birgit Gotzes).
Stravinsky’s last composition for the ballet, Agon was commissioned by impresario Lincoln Kirstein and by George Balanchine for the New York City Ballet. After his wonderfully successful experience with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and Vaslav Nijinsky, Stravinsky’s name is tied to another Russian-born choreographer, Balanchine, equally destined to revolutionize the world of ballet and to produce some of his masterpieces to the music of the composer, his fellow countryman, such as Apollon Musagète in 1928 and Orpheus in 1948. Destined to be part of the history of contemporary ballet, Agon, presented in its world premiere performance on November 27th 1957 in New York, stages a real competitive exhibition between 12 dancers to music composed for a 112-element orchestra. The piece, which belongs to Stravinsky’s so-called serial phase, which he addresses with his usual originality, is an anthology of his entire artistic biography, with suggestions that evoke his many sources of inspiration and his infinite expressive range.
Peter Eötvös (Székelyudvarhely – Transylvania, 1944). He graduated with a diploma in composition from the Music Academy of Budapest and in conducting from the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne. Between 1968 and 1976 he performed with the Stockhausen Ensemble and from 1971 to 1979 he collaborated with the electronic music studio of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne.
In 1978, upon invitation by Pierre Boulez, he conducted the inaugural concert for IRCAM and the following year he was named musical director of the Ensemble InterContemporain, a position he held until 1991. He has worked with the most important radio orchestras in Europe and has been invited to conduct the most important theatres and musical institutions in the world - Teatro alla Scala, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, La Monnaie, Glyndebourne Opera Festival, Théâtre du Châtelet, Biennale di Venezia – working with directors such as Luca Ronconi, Robert Altman, Klaus-Michael Grüber, Robert Wilson, Nikolaus Lehnhof, Ushio Amagatsu.
His principal successes in opera, often inspired by the classics of literature, include: Three Sisters (2002) from Chekhov, which made its debut at Aix-en-Provence, Le Balcon (2001/02) from Jean Genet, Angels in America (2004) from the cult book by Tony Kushner, Love and Other Demons (2008) inspired by a short story by Gabriel García Márquez, which made its debut at the Glyndebourne Festival, Die Tragödie des Teufels (2010), which made its debut at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich.
His symphonic compositions include: Atlantis (1995), zeroPoints (1999), a tribute to Boulez, Shadows (1996), CAP-KO (2005/07), of which there are three different versions, and is dedicated to Béla Bartók, Jet Stream (2002) for trumpet and orchestra and Seven (2006/07) for violin and orchestra. The many awards and honours he has received include: Prix Claude-Rostand (1998), Grand Prix de la Critique (1998) and Victoires de la Musique Classique et du Jazz (1999) for Three Sisters; Prix de Composition Musicale from the Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco (2008) for Seven; the Bartók Prize (1997); the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award (2002); Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2003); Cannes Classical Award (2004) in the category “best living composer” at MIDEM; the Frankfurt Music Prize (2007).