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Work of the Week: Julian Anderson – The Imaginary Museum

On 26 July, Julian Anderson’s new piano concerto, The Imaginary Museum, will receive its world premiere at the BBC Proms with Steven Osborne, to whom the work is dedicated, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and conductor Ilan Volkov. The work was co-commissioned by the BBC, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

The Imaginary Museum is the title of a book by André Malraux who argues that only in our minds can there be a coherent collection of art due to the dispersal of great works in museums around the world.  Inspired by this idea, Anderson evokes an acoustic journey for the most immobile of instruments, the piano. The six movements conjure varied terrains, from the still of the concert hall to the swirl of the sea and even birdsong in the Australian desert. Steven Osborne’s virtuosic and stylistically diverse playing served as further inspiration for these contrasting sections.

A journey for the piano

The acoustics of Anderson’s virtual locations were also important to the sound of the music, represented by a changing musical relationship between the piano and orchestra.  The soloist leads at times, echoing games are played out and, in one instance at the end of the fifth movement, traditional roles are reversed and the orchestra takes the solo with a piano accompaniment.

Linking music to images is potentially contentious or problematic. Although there were images in my mind throughout this work…it’s perfectly viable to listen throughout without giving any thought to anything but the sounds.  This is above all an imaginary museum – the listeners’ imaginations should be let loose in hearing the work. – Julian Anderson 

The Norwegian premiere of The Imaginary Museum will take place on 14 September with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra at the Grieghallen in Bergen, and the piece can be heard with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra next year.


Poto: © John Batten (Julian Anderson)