Jonathan Biss Gives US Premiere of Brett Dean’s Piano Concerto
Brett Dean’s Beethoven-inspired piano concerto receives its US premiere in February with pianist Jonathan Biss, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Francesco Lecce-Chong in Minnesota.
Brett Dean's Piano Concerto travels to Minnesota on February 10-12 for its US premiere with pianist Jonathan Biss, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. The work was co-commissioned by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra alongside Orchestre National de Lyon, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, BBC Radio 3, NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic, and Dresden Philharmonie. It received its world premiere in February 2020 with Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra during Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year.
The Times called the work “terrific” after its UK premiere with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in January 2022, stating: “It takes a brave composer to emulate the mad rhythmic rush of, say, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, but Dean manages it here.”
The new concerto bears the subtitle Gneixendorf Music–A Winter’s Journey in reference to a brief and tumultuous period towards the end of Beethoven’s life when he stayed in Gneixendorf, Austria, while visiting his brother. Struggling with family conflict and loss of hearing, Beethoven eventually left the village in a fateful open-carriage ride that led to illness and the composer’s eventual death. Dean became fascinated with this biographical period in Beethoven’s personal life when he visited Beethoven’s home in Gneixendorf, Austria, and was inspired by the remarkable biographical story of this period. He states: “My new concerto is an attempt to enter into the state of mind of the composer as he confronts profound familial conflicts as well as failing health towards the very end of his life.”
The work is part of Jonathan Biss’s large-scale project, Beethoven/5, which commissioned five new concertos to be paired with Beethoven’s five piano concertos. Dean’s piece is paired with Beethoven’s final “Emperor” Concerto, which will also be presented on the program in February. While the scoring mostly follows that of the “Emperor” Concerto, Dean makes the unusual choice to have the soloist alternate between an upright piano and grand piano throughout the piece. The upright piano is hidden in the orchestra, creating a muffled sound that suggests Beethoven’s struggle to hear his own music.
> Listen to Biss and Dean in conversation on Wigmore Hall Podcasts
Dean describes how “Beethoven’s magnificent edifice needed to be held at arm’s length, but his piece started creeping into my composition and was soon inhabiting it in an unexpected way. Subconscious motivic links were revealed, aspects of the piano figuration came to the surface, and the orchestration is within the paradigm of what Beethoven might have done.”
Brett Dean has explored Beethoven in some of his earlier works, including his Testament, which shines a light on the classical master’s loss of hearing. He continues that exploration in the piano concerto, stating, “Because of his hearing loss, Beethoven couldn’t perform the Emperor, and I wanted to follow up my work Testament’s exploration of his aural isolation through its rosinless string bows.”
> Read the full interview with Brett Dean on the Piano Concerto
February 10 at 8:00pm CST
February 11 at 8:00pm CST
Ordway Concert Hall | Saint Paul, MN
February 12 at 2:00pm CST
Tedd Mann Concert Hall | Minneapolis, MN
Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Jonathan Biss, piano
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART Selections from Ballet Music from Idomeneo, Rè di Creta
BRETT DEAN Piano Concerto (Gneixendorf Music - A Winter's Journey) (US Premiere)
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN Concerto No. 5 for Piano and Orchestra, “Emperor”
> Further information on Work: Piano Concerto
Photo: Bettina Stoess