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Pierre-Laurent Aimard is soloist in Harrison Birtwistle's new Responses for piano and orchestra, travelling from its premiere in Munich on 24 October to Porto, London and Boston, and rounding off this year's 80th birthday celebrations.

Harrison Birtwistle’s new work for piano and orchestra, Responses, receives international premieres as his 80th birthday year draws to a close. Written for Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the concerto is Birtwistle’s second for the instrument, following Antiphonies of 1992. The premiere in Munich on 24 October opens the Bavarian Radio Orchestra’s Musica Viva series at the Herkulessaal in the Residenz palace, conducted by Stefan Asbury.

In an interview with Jonathan Cross, Birtwistle describes how the concerto’s subtitle Sweet disorder and the carefully careless, taken from an essay collection by Princeton architect Robert Maxwell, is "the essence of what I’m doing… It’s a resonant phrase. I identify with his ideas on modernism but I take it on a simple level too."

In the decades since Antiphonies, Birtwistle has written a sequence of piano works that range from solo mechanistic fantasies such as Harrison’s Clocks or Gigue Machine to chamber pieces with keyboard, establishing connections with the classical masters. The recent Piano Trio’s intimacy is important for the mood of the new concerto: "There’s quite a lot of chamber scoring here, intricate, delicate."

Birtwistle explains how Responses also grew from the Gabrieli-inspired In Broken Images, with its spatial blocks of material: "The whole piece is about hocket: it’s full of it. The piano is able to play one of the voices of the hocket, so allowing it to be heard throughout… The piano here is like a frame and the orchestral response is the window. The rhythmical gesture of the piano is always the same, but the notes are different on each of the seven repetitions. It’s like a set of variations."

Further performances of Responses by co-commissioners follow with the Orquesta Sinfonica do Porto Casa da Música and Peter Eötvös (1 November), the London Philharmonic Orchestra with Vladimir Jurowski (6 December) and the Boston Symphony (12 February), all with Aimard as soloist. The LPO’s performance at the Southbank Centre is part of a three-day Birtwistle celebration in London to round-off the Birtwistle year (5-7 December), including a London Sinfonietta concert with In Broken Images and Theseus Game.

In addition to performances of Responses, Birtwistle at 80 highlights include ‘Sir Harry’s Song’, presented by the Hochschule in Hannover. The two days of concerts include songs and chamber music, culminating in a programme with the German premiere of Cantus Iambeus plus the composer's Meditations on Paul Celan, Pulse Shadows, conducted by Stefan Asbury (25-26 October). A three-day Birtwistle celebration at Cambridge University features the Arditti Quartet and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (6-8 Nov)

> Munich concert info
> Porto concert info
> London concert info
> Boston concert info
> View an Online Score of Responses

>  Further information on Work: Responses

Photo: Hanya Chlala/ArenaPAL

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