New recordings of works by Farkas and Kurtág

Recent months’ releases include selections of solo and chamber works by Ferenc Farkas and his former student, György Kurtág, published by UMP Editio Musica Budapest, performed by excellent musicians.

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György Kurtág at 95

Every note he writes is essential. There is never an idea of small talk. There is never an idea of wanting to please somebody or an audience. For him, there is only the truth, the essential, that you never can lie when you make music.” – That’s how Heinz Holliger recently summed up the life and work of his friend and fellow musician György Kurtág who soon turns 95. Holliger’s short, considered statements echo Kurtág’s notoriously aphoristic musical style.

You never come too late” – said Kurtág once, referring to his slow, meticulous working method. He dates his mature composer career from 1958 when after one year stay in Paris, he returned to his Hungarian isolation behind the iron curtain being aware of his task of life, and, as he put decades later, “that outward circumstance cannot influence what is now happening to me.

This more than sixty-year-old notion is valid even today since Kurtág follows unshakably his own path. The fame of his unique musicality as a composer and as a teacher first has been revealed only for a small circle of Hungarian enthusiast. Sayings of Péter Bornemisza remained unnoticed in Darmstadt in 1968. Not so the premiere of the Messages of the Late R. V. Troussova fifteen years later in Paris, recorded under the baton of Pierre Boulez. And since then the camp of the Kurtágians has gradually grown to uncountable. Even if the centre of his output is unalterable, the musical manifestations are astoundingly varied: from aethereal to vulgar, from gentle to cruel, from menacing to grotesque. The common feature in this whole spectrum is that the gestures always communicate in a direct and unambiguous manner.

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Kurtág’s opera in Valencia

György Kurtág’s opera Samuel Beckett: Fin de partie comes to stage in Les Arts of Valencia on October 28. „The last masterpiece of the 20th century”, as Alex Ross labelled this masterpiece, had its premiere in La Scala in November 2018, and then the production came some months later to Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam. After in 2020 two further performances (in Budapest and in London on BBC Proms) had to be postponed due to the COVID pandemic, the Spanish premier is the third station of the tour of the original cast: Frode Olsen (Hamm) Leigh Melrose (Clov), Hilary Summers (Nell), Leonardo Cortellazzi (Nagg), the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana is directed by Markus Stenz, stage direction by Pierre Audi. Further performances are expected on June 10, 2021, with the New York Philharmonic and on June 24, 2021, in Theater Dortmund.

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Kurtág at BBC Proms

Kurtág’s work for piano and instrumental groups …quasi una fantasia… was performed at the BBC Proms on 30 August at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The soloist was Dame Mitsuko Uchida, and the London Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Sir Simon Rattle at an event held to the exclusion of the audience, which could be followed solely on radio and television.

"I wanted the musicians to not be able to discuss how bad the music was during rehearsals," said György Kurtág at his own expense in reference to this work, which calls for the use of orchestra scattered throughout the concert hall sounding from different directions and heights, which prophetically predicted today's expectations of social distance.

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Just released: Kurtág's Signs, Games and Messages for flute

The new volume of Signs, Games and Messages by György Kurtág differs in some respect from the previous ones: It contains not only single solo and chamber music pieces for flute but also a substantial cycle that has remained hidden from the public for nearly twenty years: Scenes for solo flute, written in September 1997 and dedicated to Ádám Szokolay, which had its premiere in 2016 on the composer's 90th birthday. Each movement in the cycle reformulates familiar gestures of Kurtág's music: it develops pensive, impetuous, ethereal or playful characters.

One of the jewels of the volume belongs to Kurtág’s preparations of his opera, Samuel Beckett: Fin de partie: Clov’s farewell song with the accompaniment of a single bass flute.

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Arranging Kurtág – An Interview with Olivier Cuendet

The renowned Swiss composer-conductor Olivier Cuendet has been working with György Kurtág for more than twenty years. One of the fruits of this cooperation, an ensemble version of …concertante…, was premiered on January 16, 2020, in Amsterdam with Asko | Schönberg Ensemble and was repeated in Washington D. C. two weeks later. Plans for a recording of Cuendet’s arrangement of Zwiegespräch for synthesizer and orchestra, and a premiere of a percussion version are also on the schedule.

How did you get acquainted with Kurtág’s music? What were its characteristics that most affected you?

Some 25 years ago I scheduled Grabstein für Stephan with the Kammerorchester Basel and, due to a common friend, I could work with Kurtág for the first time, as he assisted to some rehearsals and one concert. We understood each other very well from the first moment on, and he liked my way of performing Haydn! His deep roots in classical music and his natural and unique way to combine this heritage with atonality, together with his most innovative technique of composing are the most fascinating sides of Kurtág’s music for me. Another point is the extreme expressivity and organicity of each phrase and each piece he composes: there is no single note that doesn’t speak or tell something in his whole oeuvre! 


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Kurtág celebrated in Dortmund

Dortmund Konzerthaus celebrates György Kurtág’s music in six events between 2 and 6 February 2020. The series Zeitinsel (Time Island) reviews the output of “the last living great composer of the 20th century.” Besides vocal and instrumental chamber music, the Westdeutscher Rundfunk Orchestra performs Grabstein für Stephan, a work for guitar and instrument groups, as well as Stele for big orchestra. Such experienced performers of Kurtág’s music will contribute as the Arditti String Quartet, playing four quartets by Kurtág, or Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who blends piano pieces of the Games with Bach. Caroline Melzer will sing Scenes from a Novel and other songs.

A special event is dedicated to Benjamin Appl, where the star baritone sings Hölderlin-Gesänge, an opus rarely heard, twice in one evening. Appl came to Budapest in May 2019 to work with Kurtág on the interpretation. A short video documentary has been made about the visit.

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