”For me, composition consists of the enchantment of the audience through sound,” says Peter Eötvös, who will be conducting the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra for the first time. One of the most noteworthy composers of our day, Eötvös went to study under Zoltán Kodály at the age of 14 and continues in his footsteps as a composer, conductor and teacher. Commissioned by the four biggest orchestras in Italy, Alle vittime senza nome reflects the refugee crisis – the anonymous passengers crowded onto boats and at the mercy of the waves.
Three Grammy nominations, two ECHO prizes, ICMA and Gramophone awards; numerous accolades for opera, film and orchestral music including Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts at des Lettres (France), Italy’s Golden Lion Award and the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award (UK). Hungarian Péter Eötvös (b. 1944) is one of the greatest composer-conductors of the turn of the century. Winning his first composition prize when he was only 11, he studied at the Budapest Academy of Music and there quickly disassociated himself from contemporary trends. Later, he worked as an improvising film accompanist and composed a wealth of utility music before leaning towards the modernist school of composers such as Stockhausen and Boulez. In the 1970s, he was introduced to the goldmine of electronic music, established himself as a contemporary composer and began his career as a conductor. He was Music Director of the Ensemble InterContemporain 1978–1991 and is regularly re-invited to guest conduct the most important orchestras and opera houses. In 1991, he established the International Eötvös Institute and in 2004 the Eötvös Contemporary Music Foundation in Budapest to support young composers and conductors.
Even as a child, Leticia Moreno felt compelled to play the violin. She also did ballet, painting and horse-riding, but the violin always came first. It may be unforgiving and complex, have virtually no margin of error and make producing a beautiful sound infinitely difficult, but it lets the player express her own personality. This is what appeals to the Spanish violinist. Her career has been set on a steep upward curve over the past decade or so. Having honed her art under the guidance of Mstislav Rostropovich, Maxim Vengerov and Zakhar Bron, she was awarded the Rising Star ECHO prize in 2012. In recent years she has been the soloist with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, the Houston Symphony, the Washington National and other orchestras and has recorded on the DG label. Earlier this year, she performed Péter Eötvös’s second violin concerto with the Porto Symphony Orchestra and the composer conducting. For more than a decade now she has played a Nicolò Gagliano violin from 1762.
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Péter Eötvös: Alle vittime senza nome
Alle vittime senza nome (To the Nameless Victims) by Péter Eötvös is dedicated to the African and Middle Eastern refugees fleeing from war and persecution. In 2015, Eötvös saw pictures in the news of desperate people and families dressed in rags drifting for days on the waves of the Mediterranean. “I observed the poignant images,” he says. “Not only the faces of individuals, but also the incredibly dense mass of people crowded together on these vessels. The images are transformed in the composition into tender melodies played on solo instruments and dense masses of sound performed by the whole orchestra.” The work is in three movements and the varied phases illustrate the unpredictable journey by sea.
On completing the piece, Eötvös noticed that its rhythmic and thematic dramaturgy would also lend itself to a choreography. It could thus be the first “Danced Requiem” in the history of music, but that would point too strongly to the Roman Catholic tradition. He prefers a title that embraces all ethnic origins and religions. Eötvös conducted the premiere by the La Scala Symphony Orchestra in 2017.
Péter Eötvös: DoReMi, Violin Concerto No. 2
After 60 years of composing, Péter Eötvös liked the idea of returning to where he began as a youngster: putting sounds above or next to each other like building blocks. DoReMi (Doh-Ray-Me) means the beginning of music, he says. “We’ve learned it from nursery rhymes and ancient melodies, and we can hear a hierarchal relationship. One of the sounds occurs more frequently and gets the main role, while the other two merely accompany it.” Being wedged between Doh and Me, Ray seems to want to escape from the pressure of the other two. If it succeeds, it gets the central position so that everything revolves around it. “This is certainly just the starting point of my violin concerto. While a child is occupied with shaping, I am interested in misshaping.” The theme of Doh-Ray-Me is the world constituted of simple things, easing the tensions, freeing from the ties. “The rest is to be listened to...” The theme also hints at the violinist who commissioned and premiered the work: Midori.
Claude Debussy: Tarantelle styrienne (orch. Maurice Ravel)
For centuries, Europe was plagued by a mysterious disease. The first reports date from the 7th century, and the worst case occurred in Strasbourg in 1518, when a certain Frau Troffea suddenly began dancing in the street. Within a week, dozens were afflicted, and the only cure the authorities could think of was to hire a band of musicians to accompany the sufferers in the hope of a miraculous recovery. As many as 15 people a day died of exhaustion and heart attacks.
In Italy, the epidemic centred on the Taranto region, where the source was declared to be the Lycosa tarantula, a poisonous spider whose sting made people dance. The accompanying music became known as a tarantella. Modern medicine has disproved the theory of the origin of the disease. Be that as it may, Claude Debussy composed the short Tarantelle styrienne in 1890, on his return from the trip to Italy that was part of his prize for winning the Prix de Rome. Breaking with tradition, he also borrowed Slav melodies from the Steiermark (Lat. Styria) region of Southern Austria. Maurice Ravel orchestrated the piece in 1922.
Zoltán Kodály: Háry János Suite
Zoltán Kodály (1882–1967) used the national awakening to further his aspirations as both a composer and a collector of folk music. He travelled from village to village with a phonograph, recording what had previously been only oral tradition, and in doing so guaranteed the authenticity of the material he used in his own compositions. The orchestral suite from the play with music Háry János (1926) is definitely his most popular work. It tells of a retired soldier who spends his days spinning tales in a tavern and begins with an orchestral sneeze; according to folk tradition, this means the stories should be taken with a pinch of salt. The first movement takes János to the imperial court, where he falls for and is rejected by Napoleon’s wife Marie-Louise. The second is a military parade in Vienna. In the third, János feels homesick but cannot leave because Napoleon has heard rumours of his wife’s infidelity. In the fourth, János defeats Napoleon’s army with his own hands. An Intermezzo recalls his victory in Hungarian melodies, and in the sixth movement the Emperor and his court pay homage to him and he returns to his home village.