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Tabea Zimmermann is soloist in the new Viola Concerto by York Höller, premiered at the ACHT BRÜCKEN festival in Cologne in May and receiving its Asian premiere with the Seoul Philharmonic in October.

With his new Viola Concerto York Höller celebrates the centenary of his composition teacher Bernd Alois Zimmermann at a special concert in Cologne on 6 May, repeated on 7 May. The performances at the Philharmonie in Höller's home city are a highlight of the ACHT BRÜCKEN festival with viola soloist Tabea Zimmermann and the Gürzenich-Orchester conducted by François-Xavier Roth, General Music Director of the City of Cologne. Höller's new work is programmed with Zimmermann's classic Musique pour les soupers du Roi Ubu and music by Wagner.

The 20-minute Viola Concerto, composed by Höller in 2016-17, was co-commissioned by ACHT BRÜCKEN / Musik für Köln and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, with funding from the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation. The work's Asian premiere follows on 26 October at the Arts Centre in Seoul conducted by Roland Kluttig and again with Tabea Zimmermann as soloist.

The music of Bernd Alois Zimmermann provided the initial link between York Höller and his future soloist as he first heard Tabea Zimmermann in his teacher's Antiphons for viola and small orchestra. His admiration grew as he heard her in chamber music and on recordings, particularly impressed by her equal skills in Classical-Romantic repertoire as well as contemporary music. This led to his approach to the violist when the prospect for a new commissioned concerto materialised.

Höller explains that he does not quote any musical material composed by Zimmermann, as his style does not follow his teacher's interest in collaging quotations from musical history. However there are deeper 'subcutaneous' connections in terms of structural thinking, the use of traditional forms such as sonata, chaconne, ricercar or rondo, and their shared belief in expressive necessity: "like Zimmermann I've defended the right to expression, combining structural order with intuition and spontaneity".

As well as being a centenary tribute to Zimmermann the work also contains a memorial to Pierre Boulez. In an interview in The Strad Höller describes how he heard of the death of Boulez when embarking on composition of the central slow movement: "He was one of the most important and most consistent patrons of my music, to whom I felt a strong connection both artistically and personally. This sad news immediately evoked with intensity the memory of that famous poem by the French symbolist Paul Verlaine, the Chanson d'automne, whose beginning reads: 'Les sanglots longs / des violons / de l'automne / blessent mon cœur / d'une langueur / monotone.' For me, the 'violon de l'automne', the autumn violin, is more than just a poetic sound symbol, but the most succinct and beautiful metaphor for the viola in general."

York Höller was the subject of the Contemporary Composers series in the April issue of Gramophone, written by Richard Whitehouse. This extensive feature surveys the composer's life and music, from his earliest works in the 1960s, through scores fusing acoustic and electronic elements, to key works including the opera The Master and Margarita (1984-89), Aura (1991-92) and Pensées (1990-93). Recording highlights selected by Gramophone from the composer's discography include the Col Legno recording of the Bulgakov opera conducted by Lothar Zagrosek, the Neos recording of the Grawemeyer Award-winning Sphären under the baton of Semyon Bychkov, and the EDA collection of piano works with an impressive assembly of keyboard players including the composer himself.

>  Further information on Work: Konzert für Viola und Orchester

Photo: Hanne Engwald

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