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Work of the Week – György Ligeti: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra

György Ligeti once referred to his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra as his “artistic credo”. The 25-minute concerto is a tour de force of pianistic discoveries that has captured the imagination of pianists around the world. On 9, 10 and 11 May, Pierre-Laurent Aimard performs the concerto with the San Francisco Symphony, and Ensemble Intercontemporain will also perform it on 10 May in Paris and 11 May in Zurich with pianist Sébastien Vichard.

The period during which Ligeti composed the Piano Concerto was a time of pianistic inspiration for him with the instrument was presenting rich new possibilities. He had also begun work on his Études pour piano and it is unsurprising that several techniques are used in both works. The five movement  Piano Concerto takes his experimentation in the Études and augments the solo piano with orchestral colour, making use of multilayered textural effects and expanded instrumental forces including ocarinas and a slide whistle.

György Ligeti: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra – Pianistic standard repertoire of the 20th century

Ligeti’s Piano Concerto is characterised by its distinctive harmonic profile, created with superimposed scales with unconventional intervals. These, along with its complex rhythmic language, give the illusion of melodic fragments that briefly coalesce before disintegrating back into the larger musical texture.

I consider musical illusions to be important, and are not a goal for me but the foundation for my aesthetical attitude. I prefer musical forms which have a more object-like […] character. Music as ‘frozen’ time, as an object in imaginary space evoked by music in our imagination, as a creation which really develops in time, but in imagination it exists simultaneously in all its moments. The spell of time, enduring its passing by, closing it in a moment of the present is my main intention as a composer. – György Ligeti

In their concert on 10 May, Ensemble Intercontemporain will also perform Ligeti’s Violin Concerto and the Hamburg Concerto for horn and chamber orchestra. The same week, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra performs the Concert Românesc on 9 May and on 10 May the opera Le Grand Macabre will be performed in Hamburg’s new Elbphilharmonie for the first time.