‘It Has It All’: Taking over a Unusual, Immense Piano Concerto

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There are piano concertos, after which there’s Ferruccio Busoni’s Piano Concerto.

Accomplished and premiered in 1904 by the Berlin Philharmonic with the composer, a virtuoso of Lisztian means, on the piano, the piece retains a close to mystical popularity. It’s so troublesome that solely probably the most commanding of pianists dare tackle its 75 minutes and 5 actions. Within the final and oddest of them, a male refrain implores listeners to attract near Allah, singing from the textual content of an early Nineteenth-century model of “Aladdin” by the Danish playwright Adam Oehlenschläger.

If the concerto is carried out extra typically than it was, it’s nonetheless sufficient of an anomaly within the repertoire that performances are a major occasion, one in all which is its San Francisco Symphony premiere this week, with the conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and the pianist Igor Levit, joined by the lads of the San Francisco Symphony Refrain.

In a joint interview, Salonen and Levit spoke concerning the concerto and Busoni’s confounding stature immediately. Listed below are edited excerpts from the dialog.

My first query is, why?

ESA-PEKKA SALONEN Could I suggest a counter-question? Why not? Final time we carried out collectively, which was a few years in the past, we had somewhat chat over dinner about what to do subsequent. We each occur to like the Busoni, and we thought, OK, let’s do it. These are choices which can be simply revamped dinner, after which whenever you get to it, you understand what you’ve executed. Nonetheless, I’m very completely happy, and the extra I research the piece the extra I prefer it, which is definitely an excellent signal, as a result of it’s not at all times like that. Among the concepts, particularly harmonic concepts, are unimaginable.

I can’t make up my thoughts whether or not it’s a parody, or lethal severe, or what.

IGOR LEVIT I feel it’s each. It’s extremely celebratory. I imply, the roof flies off the constructing, proper? Within the “All’Italiana,” it’s very satirical. It’s extremely lovely, it’s humorous, it’s solemn. It has all of it.

Busoni has at all times been a type of position fashions I by no means met, in a means like an idol determine, concerning the best way he thought and particularly wrote about music, his utopian concept about what free music really is, his concept about what the creator’s job is, which is to arrange your personal guidelines and never observe the principles of others.

As a composer, as a pianist, as a thinker, instructor, we’re talking right here of some of the unimaginable minds of no less than the twentieth century. He was this larger-than-life determine, and I feel it’s a larger-than-life piano concerto.

We infrequently hear Busoni’s music now, and but he was so vital traditionally.

SALONEN He actually was a trailblazer, and he predicted numerous issues that are actually commonplace in modern music, like microtonality. He even in some unspecified time in the future was fantasizing about computer systems, earlier than the idea even existed.

As a Finnish musician, I need to say that we’re very grateful to him, as a result of he spent a few years in Helsinki. He was a really, very unusual hen in Helsinki cultural life. And he was an extremely essential affect to Sibelius, as a result of Sibelius suffered from this sort of nation boy complicated in comparison with contemporaries like Richard Strauss.

Busoni and Sibelius turned actually good buddies. I’m completely positive that to have any individual like that as a dialog accomplice and consuming buddy — they did fairly a little bit of that apparently — was extremely essential. They even had somewhat membership, a gaggle of buddies who referred to as themselves Leskovites, as a result of Busoni’s canine was referred to as Lesko. There’s a bar in Helsinki the place they frolicked and developed the brand new music for the following century.

LEVIT One of the crucial essential academics I had in my life was Matti Raekallio. Matti is from Helsinki. Matti’s thesis was on Busoni’s fingering. He launched me to the concerto once I was 19. He launched me to the “Fantasia Contrappuntistica.” He launched me to the best way Busoni would play the piano, which is a really positional form of taking part in, and never a graphic form of taking part in.

For, let’s say, a traditional piano participant, who grew up with guidelines and who studied in Central Europe or wherever, there is no such thing as a such factor as Ferruccio Busoni, all is Bach-Busoni. You would possibly know two or three of his chorale preludes. That’s it. However you don’t get in contact with the precise man. It was Matti who opened this unimaginable door for me into the considering of the person and to the music. So even I do know Busoni via Finland.

SALONEN It’s humorous: The primary time I ever heard something by Busoni was once I was a composition pupil in Siena, Italy, with Donatoni again within the late ’70s. There was a live performance when some Italian pianist performed Busoni’s association of Schoenberg’s Opus 11, three piano items. He organized Schoenberg’s piano items for the piano. And I assumed that was the silliest factor I’d ever heard in my life.

Igor, is the concerto as laborious as everybody says it’s?

LEVIT Yeah, this can be a piece to widen your curse phrases repertoire.

What are the toughest issues in it?

LEVIT There are moments within the second motion that, I imply, they’re simply past what ought to be acceptable by way of how a lot you must work to realize a sure outcome. Towards the top, there’s this reasonably lengthy passage with extremely troublesome jumps, that are asymmetrical between the left hand and the precise hand. This alone is form of utopian, and it’s additionally written such that nobody within the viewers will really hear what you’re doing, as a result of the orchestra is so huge.

There’s a spot within the “All’Italiana,” proper after the cadenza, the place the piano has these big chords in left and proper they usually run towards one another. It’s type of unachievable, and but, so what? You continually are conscious of the truth that you as a pianist, are in the course of taking part in one thing extraordinary.

It doesn’t strike me as a straightforward piece to conduct, both. The balances, for one factor.

SALONEN Effectively, it’s huge, and as Igor stated, there are moments that should you don’t scale back the dynamics and kind it out, the piano will likely be drowned.

LEVIT [Laughing] Please don’t scale back the dynamics and kind it out.

SALONEN However there are moments in Brahms’s piano concertos the place the piano form of sinks into the orchestra, and I feel a part of the expression is that zoom-in, zoom-out factor. It could be very boring should you had 75 minutes of the piano being fully on the floor at each second. And on this case, the piano has completely different roles.

What’s the finale there for?

SALONEN I’ve seen many incomprehensible, bizarre texts in my life that composers have used, however this one is true up there. I feel he was planning to jot down a music-dramatic work primarily based on the textual content by this Danish man. He by no means acquired additional than setting the ultimate refrain, after which that discovered its means into the Piano Concerto.

The story of this textual content is so humorous, as a result of the playwright was Danish, and he wrote the textual content in German, however his German was not nice. He went and browse it out loud to Goethe, and he learn it out of the Danish model and translated it into German on the fly. I’m attempting to think about Goethe simply sitting there listening to this man undergo this countless play, in unhealthy German. After which numerous editors went via three or 4 rounds to repair the grammar, and eventually, there’s a model that’s grammatically acceptable. Nevertheless, Busoni favored the primary model with all of the unsuitable instances and unsuitable articles.

LEVIT After all he did.

SALONEN And there’s one thing actually fabulous about that. It’s principally the boulders within the cave the place Aladdin takes the lamp again to. The boulders are very grateful, they usually reward Allah for the fantastic thing about nature. And a variety of it’s fully incomprehensible.

LEVIT However then once more we’re talking about Busoni, who was one of many nice internationalists. You’re speaking about this universally educated and universally man. So it’s all incomprehensible and odd and peculiar, and but not shocking in anyway.

SALONEN So, we’re followers.

LEVIT Precisely.

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