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London enjoys a focus on Brett Dean’s music in the spring including major performances of three of his concertos. The Beethoven-inspired Piano Concerto receives a belated UK premiere by Jonathan Biss with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, while Dean’s London Philharmonic Orchestra residency features the Viola Concerto with Lawrence Power and the UK premiere of his Cello Concerto with Alban Gerhardt.

The recent Piano Concerto by Brett Dean, composed for the Beethoven 250th year in 2020, receives its UK premiere in London on 28 January as the work’s co-commissioning orchestras catch up on performances delayed by the pandemic. Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican with soloist Jonathan Biss, who instigated an imaginative series of newly commissioned works inspired by the five Beethoven concertos.

Dean’s new work, responding to Beethoven’s final ‘Emperor’ Concerto, bears the subtitle Gneixendorf Music – a Winter Journey and references the classical master’s fateful open carriage ride, which led to his illness, pneumonia and death. Dean’s fascination with this final period of the composer’s life was heightened in 2013 when he visited an Austrian house in the village of Gneixendorf where Beethoven had lived and struggled with family conflict and deafness.

Dean describes how “Beethoven’s magnificent edifice needed to be held at arm’s length, but his piece started creeping into my composition and was soon inhabiting it in an unexpected way. Subconscious motivic links were revealed, aspects of the piano figuration came to the surface, and the orchestration is within the paradigm of what Beethoven might have done.”

“The critical expansion to the scoring is that the soloist plays on an upright piano with practice pedal as well as on the expected grand piano. Because of his hearing loss, Beethoven couldn’t perform the Emperor, and I wanted to follow up my work Testament’s exploration of his aural isolation through its rosinless string bows. Here, the soloist starts from the upright piano hidden in the orchestra, with his muffled sound depicting Beethoven’s daily struggle to hear his music.”

> Read the full interview with Brett Dean on the Piano Concerto

Jonathan Biss gave the world premiere of Dean’s Piano Concerto in Stockholm in February 2020 with the French premiere in Lyon following in October of the Beethoven year. After the London performance in January, Biss gives the German premiere in Dresden on 5 February and the Polish premiere in Wroclaw on 3 June. Future rescheduled dates for the concerto are awaited from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Dean’s ongoing composer residency with the London Philharmonic Orchestra not only includes a performance of his Viola Concerto but also the UK premiere of his Cello Concerto. Violist Lawrence Power is soloist in the Viola Concerto on 9 February, stepping into the role the composer himself has taken at over 50 performances since 2005, with Hannu Lintu conducting the LPO at the Royal Festival Hall. The concerto is a showcase for the expressive potential of the instrument, with the soloist shifting between confrontational and collaborative relations with the orchestra, as if acting out an abstract drama.

The UK premiere of the Cello Concerto features Alban Gerhardt as soloist at the Royal Festival Hall on 27 April, with the LPO conducted by its new Principal Conductor Edward Gardner. As a viola player, Dean relished the prospect of composing for the bigger string instrument, “not only because of its dimensions but also the magnificent rich sound it can produce in most registers, which creates yet also concurrently quells a certain ‘violist’s envy’!”

“Alban Gerhardt has always been part of my ‘musical family’ – I knew his father who played in the Berlin Philharmonic and his sister Manon, also a violist, and have played chamber music with Alban for many years including on a series of string quintet tours. I knew from the onset that this would be the purest of my concertos, focusing on the personality at the front of the orchestra, without any programmatic or spatial theatrics. The premise of the work is concerned with music for music’s sake so Cello Concerto, pure and simple, seems exactly the right title. It’s cast in a single movement and, while there are five discernible sections, it flows uninterruptedly across a 25-minute span.”

> Read the full interview with Brett Dean on the Cello Concerto

Alban Gerhardt premiered the concerto in 2018 in Sydney and has also performed it in Berlin, Amsterdam, Minneapolis, New York, Stockholm and Darmstadt to date. Next spring also sees him give the Austrian premiere on 3 February with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra at the Musikverein conducted by Marin Alsop.

The composer’s award-winning opera Hamlet, premiered at Glyndebourne in 2017 and released on DVD by Opus Arte, receives its first US staging at the Metropolitan Opera in 2022 in Neil Armfield’s production, opening in New York on 13 May.

>  Further information on Work: Piano Concerto

Photo: Bettina Stoess

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