‘It Has It All’: Taking on a Strange, Immense Piano Concerto

There is a piano concerto, and there is also a piano concerto by Ferruccio Busoni.

Completed in 1904 by the Berliner Philharmoniker and premiered by the virtuoso Liszt composer on the piano, near mystical reputation.It is very difficult, so the most important conductor of the pianist Let’s dare to challenge the 75 minutes and 5 movements. In the last and strangest of them, a male choir entreats listeners to draw closer to Allah by singing the text of his early 19th-century version of “Aladdin” by Danish playwright Adam Orenschläger. To do.

Even if the concerto is performed more frequently than before, it is enough of a repertoire anomaly that the performance is a significant event, one of which is the premiere of the San Francisco Symphony. this weekConductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and pianist Igor Levitt were joined by the San Francisco Symphony Chorus.

In a joint interview, Salonen and Levitt discussed the Today Concerto and Busoni’s bewildering stature. Below is an edited excerpt of the conversation.

My first question is why?

Esa Pekka Salonen May I suggest a counter-question? why not? The last time we played together was many years ago when we had dinner and talked a little bit about what we were going to do next. We happen to love Busoni, so we thought, ok, let’s give it a try. These are easy decisions to make over dinner, but when you actually make a decision, you realize what you’ve done wrong. Still, I am very happy and the more I study the work, the more I like it. That’s actually a very good sign. Because this is not always the case. Some of the ideas are incredible, especially the harmonies.

I can’t tell if it’s a parody, or deadly serious, or what.

Igor Levitt I think both. It’s very festive. I mean, the roof of the building will fly off, right? In “All’Italiana” it is very satirical. It’s incredibly beautiful, funny and solemn. It’s all there.

Busoni has always been one of the role models I’ve never met, his way of thinking about music and especially the way he wrote it, his utopian ideas about what free music really is, what the job of a creator is. I was kind of an idol figure in terms of what I thought about. , it’s about setting your own rules instead of following others’ rules.

As a composer, as a pianist, as a thinker, as a teacher, we are here talking about one of the greatest minds of at least the 20th century. He’s a larger-than-life person, and I think this is a larger-than-life piano concerto.

Although we rarely hear Busoni’s music today, he was still a very important figure in history.

Salonen he He was truly a pioneer and predicted many things that are now commonplace in modern music, such as microtonality. At some point he fantasized about computers, even before the concept of computers existed.

As Finnish musicians, we must say that we are very grateful to him. Because he spent several years in Helsinki. He was a very, very strange bird in the cultural life of Helsinki. And he was a very important influence on Sibelius, because Sibelius suffered from this kind of redneck complex compared to his contemporaries like Richard Strauss.

Busoni and Sibelius became really good friends. I’m sure it was very important to have someone like that as a conversation partner and drinking buddy. They seem to have done quite a bit. They even had a small club, a group of friends who called themselves Lescovites, because Busoni’s dog was called Lesco. Helsinki has bars where they hang out and develop new music for the next century.

Levitt One of the most important teachers in my life was Matti Raecario. Matti is from Helsinki. His Matti paper was on Busoni’s fingerings. He introduced me to this concerto when I was his nineteen. “Fantasia Contrapunticka”. He introduced me to playing Busoni’s piano, but it was a very positional kind of playing, not a graphic kind of playing.

For, for example, to the average pianist who was brought up by the rules and studied in Central Europe or elsewhere, there is no such thing as Ferruccio Busoni, you know only Bach Busoni.you may know him two or he three chorale prelude. that’s it. But I can’t get in touch with the actual man. It was Matty who opened a wonderful door for me to this man’s thoughts and music. So I also know Busoni through Finland.

Salonen Interestingly, the first time I heard Busoni’s work was in the late 1970s, when I was a Donatoni composition student in Siena, Italy.There was a concert in which an Italian pianist played Busoni’s works Arrangement Three piano pieces from Schoenberg’s Opus 11. Transcription of Schoenberg’s piano music for piano. And I thought that was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard in his life.

Igor, is this concerto as difficult as everyone says?

Levitt Yes, this is a work to expand the repertoire of curse words.

What is the hardest part of it all?

Levitt There are moments in the second movement that go beyond acceptable limits in terms of how much effort must be made to achieve a particular result. At the end there is a fairly long passage with asymmetrical and very difficult jumps between the left and right hands. This alone is kind of utopian, but the orchestra is so large that it’s written in such a way that no one in the audience can hear what’s actually being played.

Immediately after the “All’Italiana” cadenza, there is a passage where the pianos run towards each other with huge chords left and right. It’s kind of unattainable, but so what? As a pianist, you are always aware of the fact that you are performing something special.

I don’t think it’s an easy song to conduct. First is balance.

Salonen Well, it’s huge, and as Igor said, there are moments when the piano drowns out if you don’t reduce and organize the dynamics.

Levitt [Laughing] Organize without reducing dynamics.

Salonen However, in Brahms’ piano concerto, there is a moment when the piano sinks into the orchestra, and I think that zooming in and out is part of the expression. It would be very boring if the piano was completely on the surface for 75 minutes all the time. In this case, the piano has different roles.

What is the finale for?

Salonen I have seen many incomprehensible and strange texts used by composers, and this is just like that. I think he intended to write a musical drama based on this Danish text. He didn’t go further than setting the final chorus, which was used in the piano concerto.

The story of this text is very interesting. The playwright was Danish and wrote the text in German, but his German was not very good. He went to Goethe and read it out, read it from the Danish version and translated it into German on the spot. I’m trying to imagine Goethe just sitting there listening to this man in his bad German listening to an endless play. And it took him 3-4 rounds of work with various editors to correct the grammar, and finally came up with a grammatically acceptable version. But Busoni preferred the first version, which contained all the wrong cases and wrong articles.

Levitt Of course he did.

Salonen There is something really wonderful about it. It’s basically the rock in the cave where Aladdin brings the lamp back. The rocks are very grateful and praise the beauty of nature to Allah. And many of them are completely incomprehensible.

Levitt But here again we are talking about one of the great internationalists, Busoni. You are talking about this man with universal education and universal interests. I mean, it’s all incomprehensible, strange and strange, but still not surprising.

Salonen So, we are fans.

Levitt that’s right.

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