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This year’s Ruhr Piano Festival included a focus on composer York Höller with the world premiere of his new Double Concerto for cello and piano by the Cologne Chamber Orchestra.

York Höller wrote his new Double Concerto for cello, piano and orchestra to a commission from the Ruhr Piano Festival, the latest in a series of projects by the composer for the festival. The score was premiered on 13 June and was dedicated to the performing couple Marie-Elisabeth Hecker and Martin Helmchen. The beginning of the composition process coincided with the outbreak of the Corona pandemic - an event that, according to Höller, initially had a paralysing effect on his work. Eventually, however, the Double Concerto provided a means of overcoming the crisis in a powerful and creative way.

As always with Höller, it is based on a so-called ‘Klanggestalt’, which according to the composer "together with the basic chords it contains and the principle of permanent development, determines the structure of the entire work". Compositionally challenging was the handling of the three-movement classical form, together with the "constantly shifting relationships between the two solo instruments on the one hand and the orchestra on the other. The different musical characters of the three movements are clear to be heard and, especially in the most expressive moments, pose considerable technical challenges for the soloists".

On the occasion of the premiere in the Stadthalle Mülheim/Ruhr with the Cologne Chamber Orchestra under Christoph Poppen, the critic of the NRZ found that Höller had written a "truly outstanding concerto" for the soloist duo. "It is a treat beyond compare when the two protagonists toss sound formations back and forth, sometimes rhythmically, sometimes lyrically. They may seem to be caught by the orchestra, sometimes interweaving with each other in the closest possible way, or drifting off into spherical shimmering realms, but may also quickly return to the fore dramatically." Höller gives both musicians enough space for their skills and for the tonal range of their instruments, which shine with many different playing techniques. "With their varied and exciting refinement, the new sounds are immensely inspiring", the reviewer concludes.

The online magazine O-Ton said that Höller's "multi-layered" sound language in the Double Concerto underpinned his reputation as one of the leading sound magicians of New Music: "The smallest motifs develop. Layers of sound overlap or are strung together. Broken polyphonies correspond or contrast with scales and tone repetitions. The changing processes, which occur quickly and gradually, take place on the three levels of cello, piano and orchestra, alternating one after the other or proceeding in counterpoint. Multifaceted harmonies - not to be confused with tonal – emerge in mesmerising fashion, ranging from the highly sensitive and contemplative to eruptive sound images."

On 18 June the same performers gave a follow-up concert at the Cologne Philharmonie and the work will be heard again on 28 September at the Kronberg Academy in the Taunus Hills near Frankfurt, where the two soloists will be accompanied by the Kremerata Baltica. In a further Höller event at the Ruhr Piano Festival, the pianist Marie-Elisabeth Hecker gave a recital at Haus Fuhr in Essen, where she performed three keyboard works by the composer written across half a century: the cycle Monogramme, completed in 2003, Piano Sonata No.3 dating from 2011 and Five Pieces for Piano from 1964, the composer's official Opus 1.

The next world premiere of a work by York Höller is scheduled for 9 December this year: the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne under Ilan Volkov will present his Beethoven Paraphrase, a work commissioned by the WDR for the series ‘Musik der Zeit’, which was originally written as a contribution to the Beethoven Year 2020 and then, like so many things, had to be postponed due to the pandemic.

>  Further information on Work: Doppelkonzert

Photo: Christian Palm, by kind permission of the Rurh Piano Festival

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