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Work of the Week – Peter Eötvös: Alhambra

Peter Eötvös found inspiration for his third violin concerto Alhambra in the picturesque fortress enthroned over the southern Spanish city of Granada from which the work takes its name. The world premiere of the violin concerto will take place on 12 July at the palace of Charles V in the center of Alhambra. Soloist Isabelle Faust and conductor Pablo Heras-Casado – to whom the work is dedicated – will perform with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

The intersection of Spanish and Arabic culture, exemplified by the building, has already become part of the tradition of Western art music, thanks to De Falla, Debussy and Ravel (among many others). The fountains of the palace, its dimension, the surrounding mountains, the amazing sunset of Andalusia: all of this became part of my piece.– Peter Eötvös

Alhambra is composed in a single movement in the manner of a rondo, encapsulating various moods and styles from highly gestural and exciting passages to lyrical and mysterious moments. The name ‘Alhambra’ is inscribed literally into the fabric of the violin concerto via a musical cryptogram that assigns each letter to a particular note. The resultant motif is characterised by the intervals of the fifth and the tritone. The music often centers itself on the note G, adding another symbolic connection to Alhambra and the city of Granada.

Peter Eötvös: Alhambra – A musical discovery of the Spanish castle

A mandolin in scordatura tuning is a curious addition to the instrumentation of the concerto, playing an integral role as accompanist to the solo violin. The combination of instruments serves to reflect the history of Alhambra with its Moorish and European influences.

Following the first performance, Alhambra will receive its UK premiere on 24 July at the BBC Proms while later this year on 7 and 8 September the work can be heard in Berlin.