Signs, Games & Messages: Kurtág is celebrated at Bard College

Signs, Games & Messages: Kurtág is celebrated at Bard College

Second annual festival at Bard College on February 24-26, curated by pianist Shai Wosner, highlights U.S. premieres of solo piano works and masterpieces like quartet Officium breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánszky and Messages of the Late Miss R.V. Troussova.

Conceived and curated by pianist Shai Wosner, Signs, Games & Messages is an annual three-day, four-concert festival at Bard College Conservatory of Music that explores the music of Hungarian composer György Kurtág, as well as that of composers who influenced or were influenced by him. Using Kurtág as a point of departure into music regardless of century or style, the Festival places different pieces and composers in a dialogue outside of time.

Reflecting on his inspiration for the festival, Shai Wosner said: “The title of the annual festival—Signs, Games & Messages—taken from the work by Kurtág, captures the essence of his music and how it constantly interacts with other music and unfolds as a series of highly personal and condensed utterances. This year, the program centerpieces are 'messages' that reflect on the fragility of life—in particular the rarely-performed and monumental Sayings of Péter Bornemisza, and the great song cycle Messages of the Late Miss R.V. Troussova. While sometimes late 20th-century music has a reputation for being ‘mathematical’ or ‘cerebral’, Kurtág stands for me as one of the big figures who forged a path for unapologetically visceral music and opened the way for many who came after him.” 

This year’s festival begins on Friday, February 24 with Pierre-Laurent Aimard performing solo piano works by Schubert and Kurtág, including U.S. premieres composed for Aimard by Kurtág during the pandemic and selections from the composer’s Játékok (Games)—short pieces stemming from the Hungarian tradition of blurring the lines between "educational" and "serious/concert" music. The program continues with Kurtág’s rarely performed The Sayings of Péter Bornemisza—a cornerstone of late 20th century repertoire widely considered one of Kurtág’s masterpieces—with Aimard and soprano Tony Arnold. The second program, during the afternoon on February 25, revolves around Bartók's Mikrokosmos (which inspired Kurtag's Games). That same evening, the third program centers on spirituality, juxtaposing Kurtág’s quartet Officium breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánszky with Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15, both of which confront the reality of death and the possibility of renewed life. The final program on February 26 contrasts two song cycles about women: Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -Leben and Kurtág’s Messages of the Late Miss R.V. Troussova, performed by pianist Kayo Iwama, members of the Bard Vocal Ensemble, and the Bard Contemporary Ensemble, conducted by Benjamin Hochman. Schumann’s piece is based on a male-written text that reflects outdated views on women of the time, while Kurtág's cycle is set to 15 poems by Rimma Dalos that are far more current in their sensibility. Heard side by side, the contrasting cycles explore both how the fragmentation in Schumann's music greatly influenced Kurtág's work, and how male-created art has perceived and portrayed a woman’s experiences through time.