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Work of the week – Julien-François Zbinden: Divertissement

On 6 May, the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne will perform the Swiss premiere of Julien-François Zbinden’s Divertissement for double bass and orchestra, conducted by Marzena Diakun and with Sebastian Schick, the orchestra’s principal double bassist, as soloist. The concert will take place at the Salle Métropole in Lausanne, where Swiss national Zbinden worked for many years as a pianist and recording director for Lausanne’s radio station.

Zbinden, who celebrated his 100th birthday last year, composed Divertissement between 1948 and 1949 in close collaboration with Hans Fryba, who was then principal double bassist of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. In recognition of his input, Zbinden dedicated the work to Fryba, who premiered the piece with the Nordwestdeutsches Rundfunkorchester in Cologne on 27 February 1951.

Zbinden subsequently produced a cello arrangement of Divertissment, which was premiered on 31 October 1961 with the Norddeutsches Rundfunkorchester, conductor Franz-Paul Decker, and Siegfried Palm as soloist.

Julien-François Zbinden: Neoclassical composer and poet

Although only 14 minutes long, Divertissement contains several contrasting sections. After the orchestra introduces the opening theme, a romantic adagio follows in which the double bass makes its first appearance. Pizzicato strings then mark the start of a playful allegro, joined by the double bass in equally light-hearted fashion. The work then enters a lento passage that borrows themes from the allegro, before transitioning into a romance. The theme for the romance is first introduced by the solo double bass and then passed on to the oboe. While the oboe continues to play this theme, the double bass plays virtuoso variations accompanied by bassoons, horns and trombones. The strings then reintroduce the original allegro and after a short fugue, the orchestra closes with a fortissimo passage. Following a cadenza from the double bass, the work finishes with a short coda.

“Some say I am a neoclassical composer, others a poet. I think I am both. The two primary aspects of my compositional work are the clarity of the elements I use and my systematic approach […] I also try to write cheerful music, as Mozart did in his Divertimenti and numerous finales of his symphonies, as sadness, severity and complexity are not the only hallmarks of genius.”– Julien-François Zbinden