Emanuel Ax was soloist in HK Gruber's new Piano Concerto, giving first performances in New York and Berlin and travelling on with the work to Zürich, Stockholm, Vienna and Paris over the next year.
HK Gruber’s new Piano Concerto for Emanuel Ax enjoyed first performances with the New York Philharmonic under Alan Gilbert and the Berlin Philharmonic with Simon Rattle. Ax travels with the concerto for further performances in November from co-commissioners the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zürich and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and next March reaches Gruber’s home city with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Paris with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.
The composer’s customary skill at blending genres was noted by the Financial Times’s reviewer in New York, describing how the concerto "toys knowingly with jazz, swing, pop, serialism and even a touch of old-fashioned romanticism…" Soloist Emanuel Ax was praised for his virtuosity at negotiating "the oddly zigzagging chords with infectious aplomb supported by calm energy… The composer, clearly touched by his interpreter’s faithful bravura and bravado, rewarded him during wildly applauded curtain calls with much deserved hugs… the crescendo of approval was well deserved."
"…this is an intricate and provocative score, a 24-minute single movement concerto that unfolds with inexorable sweep and rhythmic persistence, even during some stream-of-consciousness stretches… Stark passages of pointillist writing in the piano turn wild, like avant-garde jazz improvisations. The piano continues to twist and turn, with dreamy harmonies segueing into frenetic, toccata-like eruptions. The orchestra sometimes swells with startling Expressionist angst. Yet for all the gnashing harmonies and splintered phrases, the music is run through with hints of Kurt Weill cabaret… Mr. Ax deftly navigated the concerto’s mercurial quick-cuts in his scintillating and colourful performance…"
New York Times
"Gruber’s lively, attractive piece spoke directly to the audience in accents jazzy one moment and Romantic the next. The performers’ ability to inhabit and project every twist and turn of this one-movement, variations-style concerto was what really made the sale with the audience, whose response went far beyond the respectful applause usually accorded new pieces…The concerto was welcomed into the world with a warm ovation at the end."
New York Classical Review
"HK Gruber’s Piano Concerto moves between improvised free jazz and composed variations. The rhythms and moods of what is, all in all, an absolutely sparkling piece alternate like quicksilver. As dedicatee of the work, Emanuel Ax delivers his exceedingly complicated part with great cool."
"…the Romantic solo concerto is bypassed with a raised eyebrow… From the orchestra echoes of a jazz band are heard, dissolved in pointillist interjections… Gruber know how to entertain just the same as ever."
The Swedish premiere of the Piano Concerto forms a highlight within a major retrospective of Gruber’s works in Stockholm at the Konserthuset’s International Composer Festival (16-24 November). Other first performances in Sweden include the percussion concerto into the open… and the operatic suite Northwind Pictures, together with Dancing in the Dark, Frankenstein!!, the Cello Concerto and Timescapes.
Photo: Jon Super
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