22 Jul 2023

Surfaces of Sound

On the occasion of
György Ligeti's 100th birthday

The series “Time with Ligeti” celebrates the ground-breaking composer’s 100th birthday in eleven concerts.

“To me, he embodies independence and inventiveness” – thus, the French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard characterizes György Ligeti. Since 2023 marks the centenary of the birth of the composer renowned for his epochal sound-surface works and his anti-anti-opera Le Grand Macabre, the Salzburg Festival dedicates eleven concerts to him, conveying insights into his musical and stylistic richness and versatility. Aimard, who is profoundly familiar with Ligeti’s oeuvre, is among the featured artists. These also include Tabea Zimmermann, Isabelle Faust, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, the Quatuor Ébène and the Camerata Salzburg. The latter performs excerpts from the opera Le Grand Macabre, arranged by Elgar Howarth, in which Kopatchinskaja takes on the solo parts for voice and violin.

The Bavarian Radio Chorus presents Lux aeterna. The Vienna Philharmonic also joins the musical celebrations, performing Lontano and Atmosphères under the baton of Franz Welser-Möst. These Ligeti works for large orchestra are combined with Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen and Also sprach Zarathustra.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard will give several concerts with Ligeti’s music at the Salzburg Festival; one of them features his Études pour piano. A joint appearance with harpsichordist Florian Birsak and the Minguet Quartet will include Musica ricercata for piano and Continuum for Harpsichord as well as the String Quartet No. 2 by Ligeti. Aimard frequently worked with Ligeti and was a personal friend as well; the composer dedicated several pieces to him. Aimard recalls: “He had the courage to follow his convictions. His broad education was as original as he was as a human being.” At the same time, the pianist recalls their work together: “His demands were notoriously feared, but they concerned mainly himself and his craft, which he put to use serving his overflowing imagination. His life was marked by personal tragedies, which he faced with a strong sense of humour and absurdity.”

Trusting the subconscious. Another artist who is closely familiar with Ligeti’s work and will perform at the Salzburg Festival as part of “Time with Ligeti” is the violist Tabea Zimmermann. She recounts that she was always struck by “the fire that burned within him. He seemed like a restless seeker to me, never sparing himself or the people around him.”
Zimmermann will perform Ligeti’s Sonata for Solo Viola at this year’s Festival. Ligeti dedicated the outside movements to her, and she was the first artist to perform the complete work in 1994. Asked whether her view of the piece has changed over the years, she responds: “I went through several phases of my artistic development together with the Solo Sonata, and I’m sure these are reflected in the interpretation. Before the world premiere, the technical difficulty of these six movements, each challenging in a very different way, was the focus,” the violist recounts.
“After a while, I suffered various phases of fear, wanted to please Ligeti, but had not arrived at the point where I could confidently assume that I could do what he demanded and wanted from me.” She recalls that she “also let the Solo Sonata mature during various periods, entrusting it to my subconscious, working on many individual problems with students, and was therefore better able to observe the music from the outside, somewhat detached from my own difficulties. This helped me enormously in finding a new approach and returning to the Sonata’s issues with new relish.” At the same time, she recognized early on that playing contemporary works offers a great opportunity “to participate in the process of composing, and learn from it”. Thus, several concerts of the series will include “first-hand” Ligeti interpretations.

Theresa Steininger
Translation: Alexa Nieschlag

First published on 20.05. 2023 in Die Presse Kultur Spezial: Salzburger Festspiele