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The Wigmore Hall concludes Brett Dean’s composer residency in style with a day of three concerts featuring his chamber music on 20 April. The morning concert includes the first complete performance of Dean’s Homage Etudes by pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, who recently unveiled the latest Liszt-themed homage Faustian Pact.

Brett Dean has been Composer in Residence this season at the Wigmore Hall with 17 works programmed by leading musicians. The series ends with a day of three concerts on 20 April embracing piano music, string quartets and chamber music featuring Dean as violist as well as composer.

The morning concert at 11.00 am sees pianist Benjamin Grosvenor give the first complete performance of Dean’s Homage Etudes (2009-23), nine piano tributes to fellow composers Bach, Kurtág, Janácek, Lutoslawski, Liszt and Brahms. The most recent is Faustian Pact, written for Benjamin Grosvenor who unveiled the work at a concert in Lucerne in January, gave the US premiere in Chicago in March and offers the UK premiere here. Grosvenor also gives the world premiere of Dean’s Music for Drakenstein, dating from 2018 but unperformed to date, and embeds the Brahms homages within other works by the pianistic master.

As Brett Dean notes about the Homage Etudes, “in most cases these are, not surprisingly, homages to recognised pianist-composers such as Beethoven, Liszt, Brahms and Kurtág. However there are a couple of others in there, eg. Lutoslawski and Janácek, who aren’t especially known for their piano music but whose piano output has nevertheless fascinated me over the years. Hence they are meant as etudes not only for the performer but also for me as composer.”

The newest piano piece, Faustian Pact, was composed in 2023 and commissioned by Festival Le Piano Symphonique and the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Wigmore Hall and Symphony Center Presents, Chicago. It is described by Dean as “a homage to that most mercurial of pianist-composers, Franz Liszt. Through my years as an orchestral musician, encounters with Liszt’s music were largely limited to warhorses such as his piano concertos and Les Preludes. Spending time more recently studying works such as the Transcendental Etudes and the B minor Sonata has been an ear-, eye- and mind-opening experience. My Faustian Pact pays homage to this marvellously inventive mind in a musical argument that touches on Liszt’s harmonic quirkiness and originality as well as his daringly phosphorescent pianism and surprising moments of mystical reflection.”

“Benjamin Grosvenor is simply one of the great pianists of our time and it’s a great pleasure and honour to work with him. He’d played my Brahms Etudes already back in the 2018/19 season, then premiered the new Lisztian one a couple of months ago (written for him) and now he’s doing the whole set, a dream for a composer!”

The central concert at 3.00 pm features Dean’s Hamlet-themed String Quartet No.2 ‘And once I played Ophelia’ with the Doric String Quartet joined by soprano Jennifer France, together with String Quartet No.3 ‘Hidden Agendas’, premiered by the quartet in 2019. The programme also sees Dean performing as violist with the Doric players in Brahms’s String Quintet in G op.111.

The final concert at 7.30 pm is a feast of chamber music from the Renaissance through to the contemporary, reflecting Dean’s wide musical tastes. The Nash Ensemble shares the platform with harpsichordist Xiaowen Shang, and Dean as violist paired with Lawrence Power in George Benjamin’s Viola, Viola. Works by Dean include some birthday… for two violas and cello (1992), Byrdsong Studies for harpsichord and pre-recorded voices (2021) and Approach (Prelude to a Canon) (2017) leading into the finale, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.6, with its spotlight on multiple violas.

> Brett Dean day at the Wigmore Hall

Brett Dean’s acclaimed opera Hamlet receives its first Sydney staging in July this year featuring Opera Australia and with Allan Clayton returning to the title role. The composer is currently working on a new stagework for premiere in 2026.

>  Further information on Work: Faustian Pact (Hommage à Liszt)

Photo: Bettina Stoess

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