One of the most anticipated new operas on the horizon is György Kurtág's setting of Samuel Beckett's Endgame, which, after multiple delays, is now projected to be premiered no sooner than 2015. That this 88-year-old composer can continue to generate headlines with such an ambitious project is testimony to a long career that has combined playfulness, perfectionism, and a highly intellectual bent.
Kurtág is a composer to whom thoughts and words are important: he often spins his music off of texts—by writers and thinkers ranging from Samuel Beckett to 18th-century scientist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg.
This is also a man deeply dedicated to playfulness: the umbrella term Játékok (Games) has now been applied to 8 volumes of an ongoing series of his music for piano since 1973, and he has created Hommage works dedicated to a hall of fame where Robert Schumann and Nancy Sinatra provocatively coexist.
"The idea of composing Játékok [Games] was suggested by children playing spontaneously, children for whom the piano still means a toy. They experiment with it, caress it, attack it and run their fingers over it. They pile up seemingly disconnected sounds, and if this happens to arouse their musical instinct they look consciously for some of the harmonies found by chance and keep repeating them."
—from György Kurtág's Foreword to Játékok
In tonight's concert, students and faculty from NEC's Contemporary Improvisation program will perform and riff on Kurtág's music, sources, and notions, under the guidance of Anthony Coleman. These improvising musicians represent a course of artistic development that exemplifies the qualities valued by Kurtág: "Playing is just playing. It requires a great deal of freedom and initiative from the performer."
Anthony Coleman writes: "Finding that privileged space where Composition and Improvisation interact is one of my principal interests and fascinations. Could we rescue the space of 'Serious Play' found in these Játékok (Games)?" Using 13 of the Játékok, Coleman and his cohorts will roll the dice to create many separate musical events in the course of this playful evening.
A conversation between Coleman and violist Kim Kashashian, "Visions of Kurtág," sets things off at 7:30pm. Coleman dreams of a "Post-Classical" approach to Kurtág. Kashkashian's long-term engagement with performing his music includes her 2012 Grammy Award for Kurtág and Ligeti: Music for Viola (ECM). Then at 8pm, the games begin!
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Doors open 30 minutes prior to the concert's start time.