Arranging Kurtág – An Interview with Olivier Cuendet
The renowned Swiss composer-conductor Olivier Cuendet has been working with György Kurtág for more than twenty years. One of the fruits of this cooperation, an ensemble version of …concertante…, was premiered on January 16, 2020, in Amsterdam with Asko | Schönberg Ensemble and was repeated in Washington D. C. two weeks later. Plans for a recording of Cuendet’s arrangement of Zwiegespräch for synthesizer and orchestra, and a premiere of a percussion version are also on the schedule.
You’ve arranged three compositions by Kurtág for ensemble up till now: in two cases your arrangements are expansions of the original (Zwiegespräch and Games), the third one is a reduction (…concertante…). Why did you choose these works?
I can’t say that I chose these works, rather they chose me! When I discovered for myself Kurtág’s unique method of constantly reworking his previous compositions and producing new works out of older pieces, especially out of his piano music Játékok (Games), I asked him if I could try to make my own instrumental versions of some of his piano pieces with different technics and improvisation. I tried it with my ensemBle baBel and we performed it also in Budapest. After this first, mostly improvised attempt, he encouraged me to fix some of them into a score: the result was very far from improvisation but it kept the idea of ‘games’ from his Games (Játékok). In the meantime, György Kurtág Jr asked me if I could try to arrange Zwiegespräch and later …concertante… . Both works represent great music but suffered from balance problems: in Zwiegespräch between the string quartet and synthesiser, in …concertante… between the two soloists and a very large symphony orchestra. The challenge was to give the right space to the music and also to reorganise the musical material (Zwiegespräch) or to simplify it (…concertante…).
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Kurtág celebrated in Dortmund
Dortmund Konzerthaus celebrates György Kurtág’s music in six events between 2 and 6 February 2020. The series Zeitinsel (Time Island) reviews the output of “the last living great composer of the 20th century.” Besides vocal and instrumental chamber music, the Westdeutscher Rundfunk Orchestra performs Grabstein für Stephan, a work for guitar and instrument groups, as well as Stele for big orchestra. Such experienced performers of Kurtág’s music will contribute as the Arditti String Quartet, playing four quartets by Kurtág, or Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who blends piano pieces of the Games with Bach. Caroline Melzer will sing Scenes from a Novel and other songs.
György Kurtág and Caroline Melzer, 2017 in Budapest
A special event is dedicated to Benjamin Appl, where the star baritone sings Hölderlin-Gesänge, an opus rarely heard, twice in one evening. Appl came to Budapest in May 2019 to work with Kurtág on the interpretation. A short video documentary has been made about the visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMRCEwPN10k
Farewell to Bálint András Varga (1941–2019)
In retrospect, Hungarian composers see the 1970s and 1980s as a golden age when Bálint András Varga as promotion manager of Editio Musica Budapest worked for the international recognition of their compositions. His impeccable English language skills, his ability to connect and his dedication quickly brought success and helped new Hungarian music, isolated from the outside world for decades, to gain international enthusiasts. His work at Editio Musica Budapest between 1971 and 1990 shaped the profile of the publishing house, just as later that of Universal Edition Wien. He summarized his credo as follows:
“Promotion managers are the publishers’ ambassadors, their faces for the world outside. You must be utterly dependable, inquiries must be answered, scores and recordings posted immediately on receiving requests for them. Also, you must have – as far as possible – a winning personality. Your customers should look forward to your visits, take time for and have faith in you: if you suggest that a composition is worth listening to, they must take you seriously.”
His insatiable curiosity for new compositions and their authors produced many volumes of interviews with Lutosławski, Berio, Xenakis, and his favourite composer, György Kurtág that have been translated to English and will continuously serve as source material for future generations.
Bálint, we shall miss your knowledge, your taste, your advice, and your unique personality!
Quotes and Intimacy - Péter Tornyai’s Premieres in December
On December 1, works for a chamber ensemble by Balázs Futó and Péter Tornyai had their premieres at the Budapest Music Center, and on December 16, Asasello-Quartett will premier string quartets by Máté Balogh and Péter Tornyai in Neuss, Germany. All these works were commissioned by the Kunststiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen and the Péter Eötvös Contemporary Music Foundation. Péter Tornyai has been involved in both events, and he also talked about these new works, previous compositions and plans.
Both of your new works are somehow in dialogue with the history of music. Is this kind of relationship to the past a temporary phenomenon or a permanent topic in your art?
(Photo: István Kurcsák)
My composition for chamber ensemble, New Anamorphoses, also has a long history. I apply a technique known from visual arts, the creation of images that seem “meaningful” or “meaningless” from different perspectives to music, so that the “meaningful” perspective appears as a specific piece of music or musical style already known to the audience. When I built the first movement on Purcell's Fantasia upon One Note, I distorted the musical perspective so that another single sound would become a single continuous sound. By the way, I sent an older version of this movement to my former teacher, Zoltán Jeney, and I learned from his reply that he was dealing with a similar "tuning" of Bach chorals back then. Among other things, this prompted me to recommend the new work to him and his memory.
Success for Elia's Octet in Nice
On Sunday 27 October, the festival Musique d’aujourd’hui à demain, the contemporary music festival of the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra, ended at the Chagall Museum in Nice. For this important occasion, two Italian musicians were invited: the conductor Andrea Vitello and the composer Alessio Elia. The concert program consisted of the Octets for wind instruments by Stravinsky, Péter Eötvös and Elia himself, performed by the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Vitello.
By Alessio Elia, a Rome-born composer who lives in Budapest, considered "a unicum in the compositional landscape of our times" (Corriere della Musica), the piece Octet was performed, a work that employs a peculiar compositional technique developed by the composer and called by him polysystemism, which integrates different tuning systems and rhythmic prolation. The piece is also a profound listening experience that integrates within the language the exploration of the sound as an acoustic phenomenon.
Here on his French debut, Maestro Andrea Vitello, came to international prominence thanks to the recent recording of the pieces presented in this concert, made for Warner Classics with the musicians of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Vitello's interpretation brings to light the peculiar details of the three pieces in the program, bringing out the intimate nature that animates and characterizes them. The great success of the public takes on a particular significance in this concert hall, designed by Chagall precisely for the performance of the music by contemporary composers. (TGMusic.it)
Farewell to Zoltán Jeney
Zoltán Jeney, an outstanding personality in Hungarian composing, passed on October 27 at the age of 76.
He was one of the leading personalities of the experimental art movement that evolved in Hungary in the 1970s and 80s. In his early compositions, as elements of form, melody, rhythm and the tone system, he made frequent use of non-musical basic materials such as text quotations, chess game moves, solitaire game moves, telex text rhythms and other systems. From the 1980s onwards he began once again to apply counterpoint methods reminiscent of the Baroque and pre-Baroque periods, and in addition, there appeared in his music an archaic style of tone production that in its declamation and melody formation drew on both Gregorian traditions and those of Hungarian folk music. Although in technical terms, all his works pass on and sum up the basic principles developed in earlier decades of his activity, his works written in the last decades of his life have already overtly contained the emotional freedom and sensual immediacy that he deliberately concealed behind rigorous constructions.
He had close contact with UMP Editio Musica Budapest for over fifty years since the publication of his first work in 1968, but many common plans have not yet been realized and must be completed in his absence, in line with his spirit.
His oeuvre will be taken care and we will keep him in our memory.
In memoriam Márta Kurtág (1927-2019)
Pianist Márta Kurtág, György Kurtág's wife, his companion of inspiration and creation, passed away on October 17, 2019. She was 92, of which she spent 72 years on the side of her husband. She was the first critic of every composition in progress, the first consultant of every single musical idea, and a performing partner in Kurtág's piano works for solo and duet.
Farewell to Miklós Kocsár
We bid farewell to the composer Miklós Kocsár, a teacher of generations, and a respected figure in the musical public life, who passed at the age of 86,
His career began with chamber music, especially music for wind instruments. He wrote songs, cantatas, masses, oratorios, orchestral pieces and solo instrumental pieces, while a considerable proportion of his œuvre consists of choral compositions. His works are sung worldwide; he was a celebrated composer for choirs, guest of honour at choir competitions. Many of his choral pieces were composed to verses by Hungarian poets; at different periods of his life, the works of different poets have occupied his attention. He composed his works for children's choir to verses by Sándor Weöres; in his pieces for female and mixed choirs, he has used verses by Gyula Juhász, László Nagy, Imre Csanádi and Sándor Kányádi, among others. Characteristic features of his compositions are his quest for beauty of sound and his insistence on strict formal proportions.
Since 1972 he taught composition at the Béla Bartók Music Conservatoire. From 1974 until 1983 he was head of the folk music section of Hungarian Radio, then until 1995, he worked as deputy head of their General Department of Music. In recognition of his achievements as a composer, in 1973 and in 1980 he was awarded the Erkel Prize, in 1987 the title of Artist of Merit, in 1992 the Bartók-Pásztory Prize, in 2000 the Kossuth Prize, in 2014 the title of Artist of the Nation.
Before the premiere of Alabama March: A talk with Máté Balogh
Máté Balogh's Alabama March was commissioned by the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra of Alabama. The premiere will take place on September 27, 2019, in Huntsville. We asked the composer about composing for orchestra, his relationship with tradition, and the meeting of different cultures.
How did it come to this commission?
Last December, Gergely Vajda, the chief conductor of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, asked me to compose a short piece to mark the 200th anniversary of the founding of State of Alabama. It immediately occurred to me that I was going to write a symphonic march. I liked the idea so much that I completed it in two days. In hindsight, it occurred to me that maybe Weill's Alabama Song from Mahagonny might influence me. At the Franz Liszt Music Academy, I was teaching the history of Sprechgesang, so I did a lot of work with Weill at the time.
March is an existing musical movement and it helped a lot; it has a traditional instrumentation structure that provided security. I used the soloistic melody types used in the genre, partly the usual accompaniment figures. In an earlier piece of mine, Pseudomarsch, I used similar motifs. Although that work was only for brass band, I was not thinking of chamber music, but rather of bulky sound. With Pseudomarsch I won first prize at a composer competition in 2017; since then it has been recorded by the Hungarian Radio, has been broadcast several times, and in the meantime, I have received commissions from brass bands to compose marches – thus, to put it overstated, composing marches has become almost my trademark.
György Kurtág awarded by the J. F. Kennedy Center
The J. F. Kennedy Center of Washington D.C., among other Hungarian artists, awarded György Kurtág this year's Gold Medal for the Performing Arts. Deborah F. Rutter, president of J. F. Kennedy Center, emphasized at the ceremony, held at the US Embassy in Budapest, that György Kurtág's music influenced people across continents. The award was taken over by Dr Tünde Mózes-Szitha, general manager of UMP Editio Musica in Budapest.
Ambassador Cornstein, Iván Fischer, Éva Marton, Deborah F. Rutter, Ádám Fischer, Tünde Mózes-Szitha, and Stepánka and Karel Komárek (Photo: US Embassy / Attila Németh)
Salon Budapest – Contemporary Hungarian Chamber Music in Montréal
György Kurtág's Opera in Amsterdam
Leigh Melrose (Clov) and Frode Olsen (Hamm) (Photo: Ruth Walz)
Four months after its premiere in La Scala, on March 6, Kurtág’ Fin de partie was revisited in the Dutch National Opera. The cast was identical with that of the world premiere: Frode Olsen (Hamm), Leigh Melrose (Clov), Hilary Summers (Nell) and Leonardo Cortellazzi (Nagg); the Nederlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Markus Stenz, the performance was directed by Pierre Audi.
Enthusiastic press echoes underline Kurtág’s masterly handling of voices and orchestra, his dramatic verve and absolute fidelity to Beckett’s text. As John Rockwell puts it: “A more perfect marriage of text and music could hardly be imagined. … Kurtág’s music has long been concise; yet as the opera goes on, the music seems to expand, wrapping the characters and their lines in warm, elegiac sadness. By the end – maybe throughout – it is very, very beautiful.”
Gloomy Sunday Variations: a new orchestral composition by Gergely Vajda
In 1933, at the time of the Great Depression, Hungarian musician Rezső Seress wrote the hit Gloomy Sunday, which soon became world famous. In connection with the adhering urban legends, the song is known as a Hungarian Suicide Song. The title of this song was borrowed by Gergely Vajda’s new orchestral composition, which was premiered on February 11 by the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Grand Hall of the Budapest Academy of Music. Whether the variations borrowed more than the title, the opinions were divided after listening to the new work. The author says, “all the sounds and chords come from the original Seress melody and its most common harmonization,” but actually it is not easy to recognize them. “As a starting point for my work,” Vajda continues, “I was looking for a ‘standard,’ as jazz terminology would call it, which is known worldwide but is also Hungarian-related, and whose melody is familiar to the listener, even if they cannot name the title or the author. However, the famous, notorious hit of Rezső Seress does not appear in its entirety in my piece, so the audience is constantly forced to search for it, which, I hope, turns the process of listening into a game in the noblest sense of the word.
The composition is dedicated for the 75th birthday of Péter Eötvös, and it also refers to an opera on Seress that Eötvös planned but never realized. The dedicatee thanked Gergely Vajda: “The gloomy Sunday became a cheerful Monday because I have listened to and read it all today, and one enjoys himself so greatly before jumping into the Danube. Completely new for me is this Gergő Seress – Zappa’s pieces for synclavier had this kind of frivolity.”
Photo: Bálint Hrotkó / Péter Eötvös Foundation
Hesperus by Máté Bella premiered in Paris
On 16 February, Ensemble intercontemporain premiered Máté Bella’s Hesperus for viola and chamber ensemble at Radio France's Présence Festival. The composition was commissioned by EIC, soloist was Odile Auboin, the concert was conducted by Dylan Corlay.
Photo: Ensemble intercontemporain
About Hesperus, Máté Bella wrote: "In Greek mythology, the name Hesperus refers to the evening star, or the planet Venus, that appears in the evening sky after sunset. In this work, I primarily use low dynamics and fast, almost meccanico rhythm. For a long time, I have been interested in writing slow and long musical processes where we progress from noise-like musical elements to sounds, or from sounds to noise. The tone of the work aims to create a world for the listener, where they are looking at a scintillating star in the night sky. I chose the apparatus to create sounds that are soft and smooth, as if I was painting with watercolour on a great canvas. The viola solo emerges from this timbre with its lyric or dramatic melodies. In the piece, I also experiment with creating undetermined sound with metric notation. The rhythm does not have a pulsation in the classic sense, the described time signature is primarily to help synchronizing the performers.”
Announcing the release of Péter Wolf's Wolf-temperiertes Klavier
The model for the Wolf-temperiertes Klavier, as the title might suggest, is Johann Sebastian Bach’s keyboard cycle Das Wohltemperirte Clavier. In line with this, Péter Wolf’s collection of 24 piano pieces uses each of the twelve notes of the octave from C to B as home keys (both major and minor) for the movements. It differs from the Bach work in having no fugues, only freely composed praeludia, or as Chopin would have called them, preludes. Péter Wolf is more strongly linked to Chopin and the Romantic and twentieth-century prelude tradition he engendered than directly to Bach, insofar as etude-like virtuoso movements are interspersed with meditative, sentimental pieces in a series that takes us through the world of 24 keys, and the piano technique required is closer to the age of Romanticism than to the Baroque.
Announcing the release of Zoltán Kodály: Choral Works for Mixed Voices
Universal Music Piblishing Editio Musica Budapest is proud to announce the release of the extended and revised edition of Zoltán Kodály: Choral Works for Mixed Voices.
Seventy-five years after their first release, the time has come for Kodály’s collected choral works for mixed voices to appear in a completely new, expanded edition. This collection contains six compositions that were not included in earlier editions. It is printed in a slightly larger format than previous editions and is available in a hardcover version as well as a softcover version for practical purposes. We whole-heartedly recommend the canvas-bound edition to libraries, collectors, and Kodály enthusiasts alike.
This is the most complete and most authentic collection of Kodály’s mixed choruses to date, and it contains new easily-legible music scores and an informative epilogue written by Péter Erdei.
More information on the publications can be found here.
Kurtág's opera Fin de partie premiered in Teatro alla Scala
Leigh Melrose (Clov) és Frode Olsen (Hamm); fotó: Ruth Walz
On November 15, Teatro alla Scala premiered György Kurtág’s opera Samuel Beckett: Fin de partie, scènes et monologues. In the long-awaited opera Kurtág set Beckett’s drama, which he had seen as a theater performance in 1957 in Paris. The textbook was compiled by the composer, using about half of the playwright’s play, strictly following the process of the drama.
The cast of the world premiere included Frode Olsen (Hamm), Leigh Melrose (Clov), Hilary Summers (Nell) and Leonardo Cortellazzi (Nagg); the orchestra of La Scala was conducted by Markus Stenz, the performance was directed by Pierre Audi.
The performance was created as a joint production with the Dutch National Opera, and further performances will be shown in Amsterdam on March 6, 8, and 10, 2019.
Kurtág, listening to Beckett
This year, the 27th Milano Musica Festival – connected to Kurtág’s opera Samuel Beckett: Fin de partie, to be presented at La Scala on November 15th – focuses on the oeuvre of György Kurtág. From October 21st to November 26th, 22 concerts provide an overview of the composer's work: instrumental and vocal pieces, chamber and orchestral music. The festival presents Kurtág's conversations with his forerunners and contemporaries (Bach, Schubert, Bartók, Stravinsky, Ligeti) and the emergence of important topics of modernity in his art. In connection with the opera, special attention is paid to the works related to Beckett's writings, such as What is the Word or Pascal Dusapin’s Watt for trombone and orchestra.
Gergely Madaras with the Kurtág-couple and György Kurtág Jr.
At the opening concert, La Scala's orchestra was directed by Gergely Madaras. György Kurtág Jr., who also played on synthesizer, presented Zwiegespräch, written together with his father; the original string quartet parts of Kurtág have been set for orchestra by Olivier Cuendet. In this composition – as one of the critics claimed – "two ways of thinking and performing music" came into dialogue with each other. Two days later Quartetto Prometeo performed Italian premiere of some compositions for string quartets (Secreta – In memoriam László Dobszay, Clov’s last monologue) besides Hommage à András Mihály – 12 microludes and 6 Moments musicaux.
György Kurtág Jr. and Gergely Madaras in La Scala (photo by Margherita Busacca)
In the forthcoming concerts in November there come performances of such well-known compositions like Messages of the Late R. V Troussova (sung by Natalia Zagorinskaya, directed by Andrea Pestalozza) and rarely heard works, such as the choir compositions Omaggio Luigi Nono and the Eight Choruses to Poems by Dezső Tandori (the vocal ensemble Les Cris de Paris is directed by Geoffroy Jourdain).
A vocal chamber concert with Sophie Klussmann encompasses almost four decades, presenting Seven Songs on poems by Amy Károlyi and Einige Sätze aus den Sudelbüchern von Georg Friedrich Lichtenbergs, followed by Scenes from a novel. Particular attention should be paid to the concert of the RAI Symphony Orchestra, in which Heinz Holliger conducts Stele and Pierre-Laurent Aimard presents the world premiere of some piano pieces from the forthcoming 10th volume of Games for piano.
Works for clarinet by Gergely Vajda on a new CD
Three compositions by Gergely Vajda, Clarinet Symphony
for two clarinets and orchestra, Alice Études
for clarinet and string quartet, and Persistent Dreams
for solo clarinet, have been recorded on a new CD
, released by the Budapest Music Center Records. This offered the occasion to ask Gergely Vajda about his versatility.
Clarinettist, composer, conductor – you have all these in your biography. Which is your priority order of these three “c”-s?
I think creating something from nothing is probably the “king” of all activities, that’s how you can get closest to “Creation” as a human being.
New signing: Alessio Elia
was called "the rising star of a new generation” by Elena Abbado. Besides his Italian home country, Elia studied in Germany, Norway and Hungary. He has been supporting his composing activity with scientific research, which is related to different tuning systems that he labels as "polysystemism". His orchestral and chamber music works have been performed in many places and he has received commissions in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Hungary. His Octet
for wind instruments was commissioned by the wind ensemble of La Scala, Milan, and has recently been released on CD by Warner Classics
Gergely Vajda's Bartók-Pásztory Award
Gergely Vajda composer, conductor has been awarded the prestigious Bartók-Pásztory Prize of 2018, donated by the Budapest Music Academy. Gergely Vajda's quintet for clarinet and strings, Alice études, inspired by Lewis Carroll's books, has recently appeared in our catalogue.
Two stage works of the composer will be performed in the following months: his opera Barbie Blue will have a concert performance on June 5 in Budapest, and his puppet opera The Giant Baby will be premiered at the Armel Festival on 3 July in Vienna and then, on 7 July in Budapest.
Kurtág – Cuendet: Games for ensemble has been published
György Kurtág has barely written instrumental works for chamber ensemble, a formation otherwise favored by contemporary composers. Hence, the arrangements of the Swiss composer-conductor Olivier Cuendet from Kurtág’s emblematic collection for piano, Games, represent a significant enrichment of the repertoire. The sequence of 34 pieces can be performed consecutively as an inherent cycle or in different combinations. “The selection is highly subjective – writes Cuendet –, some pieces sounded orchestral already to me when I played them on the piano, others spoke to me through their simplicity or complexity.” These arrangements, authorized by Kurtág, use a flexible orchestration whose range reaches from 4-5 instruments up to a full ensemble of ca 15 musicians.
More about the publication
The well awaited 9th volume of GAMES by György Kurtág is published
The piano series entitled Games, written from 1973 onwards, was conceived originally as a piano method. Its early volumes introduced children to the basic elements in piano-playing and musical thinking, and, more importantly still, taught them to play music without inhibitions. As the years went by, the view of the series lost its didactic character. It came to be seen as a document from Kurtág’s workshop, offering a key to his grander symphonic, chamber and vocal works as well. This change is exemplified in the subtitle Diary entries, personal messages added from the fifth volume onwards.
The pieces in the ninth volume date from 1989‒2009, except the youthful Apple blossom, written in 1947. The movements, often aphoristic in their briefness, conceal associations with various aspects of European music history. Many of them are hommage or in memoriam pieces, or subjective personal messages to friends, colleagues, beloved family members or students, and thereby to all music-loving people.
Works by Kurtág, Eötvös and young Hungarian composers in Zürich
The beginning of Máté Balogh’s, Máté Bella’s, Péter Tornyai’s and Balázs Horváth’s musical career is in many ways tied to Péter Eötvös, who was their driving force in the past few years. It is therefore no surprise that the majority of the programme of the Peter Eötvös Contemporary Music Foundation’s (which Eötvös founded in 2004) concert in Zurich on 26 June consists of works composed between 2010 and 2016 by these young composers. Jam Quartet by Máté Balogh, Chuang Tzu’s Dream by Máté Bella, QuatreQuatuors by Péter Tornyai will be performed for the first time in Switzerland, pikokosmos = millikosmos by Balázs Horváth will be premiered in Zurich. The audience in the Tonhalle will hear the music of three generations. Apart from the Swiss premiere of Eötvös’s da capo (Mit Fragmenten aus W. A. Mozart’s Fragmenten), Kurtág’s Brefs Messages will also be performed. The program is conducted by Eötvös himself, performed by the THReNSeMBle, the ensemble of the Contemporary Music Foundation.
More on the concert...
Premieres in Frankfurt – The Works of László Tihanyi and Gergely Vajda
The Frankfurt Radio Symphony will perform a program of Hungarian compositions on 5th May. The title of the concert is 'Eötvös’ Ungarn', and it is a part of the three year cooperation in which Péter Eötvös participates as curator in the work of the orchestra. The programme includes József Sári’s Concertino
for orchestra, Levitatio
n for two clarinets, accordion and strings by Péter Eötvös, Passacaglie
for viola and orchestra by László Tihanyi and Drums Drums Drums
for timpani, drumset, bass drum and orchestra by Gergely Vajda. The last two works were recently published by Editio Musica Budapest. Vajda Gergely is a part of the programme not only as a composer, but he is also going to make his debut as conductor with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony. The concert is going to be recorded and broadcast by Radio Hr2 on 16 May 2017.