A familiar feel to the unknown
Detlev Glanert’s Double Concerto has a timely resonance, finds Rowena Smith
Back in 2002 a new fund was set up to help up-and-coming musicians develop their international careers. While many such organisations have precise stipulations about what the chosen candidates can and can’t do with their money, the Borletti-Buitoni Trust is rather different. Its awards can be used towards whatever is felt to be necessary to both nurture the musical growth of the recipient, be it an ensemble or a soloist, and to increase public recognition of their work. This could range from helping to buy a new instrument, funding a European agent, paying for a debut recording. The Leopold String Trio, who recently performed in Edinburgh, put their money towards a London concert series; pianist Jonathan Biss, last weekend’s soloist with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, used his award to fund a sabbatical away from the piano studying English literature. Meanwhile, for piano duo Philip Moore and Simon CrawfordPhillips, who received a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship in 2004, the award meant commissioning a double piano concerto. “We’dliketodomoreworkwithorchestras,” says Moore, whose partnership with Crawford-Phillips was formed in 1995 when the two were students at the Royal Academy of Music. “The problem is there isn’t very much repertoire for two pianos and orchestra. The best known works are probably the pieces by Mozart, Poulenc and Bartok, though there are also concertos by Martinu and Mendelssohn, but none of it is done very often.”
Of course, to this list can now be added the fruit of the duo’s award: the Double Concerto by Detlev Glanert, which receives its premiere in Glasgow with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra tonight. Though the Hamburg-born composer is not a household name in the UK, he is one of the most highly regarded figures of contemporary music in continental Europe, particularly in the field of music theatre – his most recent opera Caligula was premiered last year in Frankfurt to considerable acclaim.
The BBC SSO already has an association with Glanert; the orchestra and then chief conductor Osmo Vanska premiered his Third Symphony at the BBC Proms in 1996, a work it later performed again with the conductor of tonight’s concert, Martin Brabbins. More recently, in 2006 – again at the Proms – it gave the first performance of Glanert’s arrangement of the Four Serious Songs by Brahms. It was this relationship that led to the orchestra coming on board when the Borletti-Buitoni Trust was looking for a co-commissioner for the project.
Commissioning new music is an expensive and drawn-out process with little guarantee of what will be the end result, and only the composer’s previous works to go by as an example of what it will probably be like. “When it comes to trust recipients thinking about having new works written, the musicians always tend to mention the same star names, people who are often booked up with work for the next decade,” says Borletti-Buitoni trust executive director Susan Rivers. “We try to steer the recipients towards the right composer for them, one who will be interested in the commission and write something worthwhile.” IttooktheGlanertprojectmorethanthree years to come to fruition and I’m now in Hanover to see the beginning of the final stage of that process. Moore and Crawford-Phillips are giving a recital and Glanert has come from his home in Berlin so that he can hear a f irst play-through of the solo parts before the rehearsals in Glasgow in the days before the premiere.
Glanert turns out to be a surprisingly jolly individual for someone whose work has a reputation for exploring the darker sides of the human condition. His Double Concerto promises to be something of a departure from this theme, inspired as it is by pictures from the Pathfinder mission to the surface of Mars. “What fascinated me about those images was that it’s not a lunar landscape at all, but rather it looks more like a very strange landscape on earth,” Glanert explains. “What also caught my attention was that the names given to those landscapes: Elysium Mons, Orcus Patera and so on are all references to European – Greek and Roman – myth. Behind this is the fact that mankind can only define the unknown with the help of the known. This, in a way, is the physical fountain of the concerto.”
After the concert, in which Moore and Crawford-Phillips play two-piano works by Debussy, Rachmaninov and Brahms, Glanert discusses the way in which each of the composers writes for the doublepiano combination – whether as a dialogue or a composite instrument. In his own
concerto, Glanert says he uses the doubleness of both pianos in several ways. “In one way it can be the super piano – the piano with four hands, in another it can be the double piano, one piano plus another. This allows you to play with the two pianos; like taking a picture of the same scene from different angles. There are enormous musical possibilities to play with.”
Glanert goes on to describe the concerto as a “trialogue” – two pianos talking with the orchestra. “It’s two similar people talking to another person,” he says. “Sometimes they take the same position in the discussion, sometimes they are against each other. At other times the orchestra takes the part of each side and it goes full circle – it’s full of constantly shifting coalitions.”
In the Hanover play-through the concerto comes across as rather playful, full of shimmering, shifting passages that at times seem to recall familiar pieces of music. Glanert describes these references as allusions: “It’s a technique I’ve used for a long time,” he says. “You hear a melody or harmony that sounds, for example, like a Rachmaninov reference, but you never find it, not even in a close way.”
Glanert has previously written a concerto for solo piano, “a real warhorse,” he says laughing, having just been told the English word for the 19th-century piano concerto. “If you paint a picture of a hero and double it, it becomes really bitty and less powerful,” he says. “What interested me about writing the Double Concerto is that a double hero is no hero at all – you have to do something different.” Detlev Glanert’s Double Piano Concerto is premiered tonight at Glasgow City Hall.
Simon Crawford-Phillips, left, and Philip MoorecommissionedGermancomposer Detlev Glanert’s double piano concerto with an award from the Borletti-Buitoni Trust