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This year's Aldeburgh Festival includes the UK premieres of Harrison Birtwistle's Keyboard Engine and the complete Three Songs from the Holy Forest.

The Aldeburgh Festival plays host to a pair of Harrison Birtwistle performances on 18 June in a concert conducted by Oliver Knussen: the world premiere of Keyboard Engine and the first UK performance of the complete Three Songs from the Holy Forest. This continues the festival’s close relationship with the composer in recent decades including first performances of The Io Passion, The Corridor, The Cure, Neruda Madrigales and Songs from the Same Earth.

Keyboard Engine is a new 15-minute ‘construction’ for two pianos written for Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich, co-commissioned by Aldeburgh Festival, Carnegie Hall, KölnMusik GmbH, and Cal Performances at the University of California. Following its Aldeburgh premiere, first performances in the USA are scheduled in New York and Chicago in October and Berkeley in November.

The new score is a further exploration of Birtwistle’s fascination with clocks, mechanisms and machines. As Paul Griffiths observes in his programme note: "Speeds are generally fast, the two pianos meshing together or on separate courses. There is a sense, the composer suggests, of a machine that is in hectic activity but stationary. We are not being taken anywhere; we are observing wild action, though this constructed whirlwind can be interrupted by gentle contrapuntal song."

The Three Songs from the Holy Forest are settings for soprano and ensemble of poetry by Robin Blaser, the writer who provided Birtwistle with the libretto of The Last Supper and who was remembered in The Moth Requiem, and the new work again recalls their shared interest in the world of moths.

Other recent Birtwistle premieres include the miniature Intrada for piano and percussion, written for the talents of Nicolas Hodges and Colin Currie, who have performed the work at the Library of Congress in Washington and the Southbank Centre in London.

>  Further information on Work: Keyboard Engine

Photo: Philip Gatward

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