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Kurtag in Concert

Théâtre Municipal de Lausanne
01/20/1999 -  
György Kurtág : Játékok (Games), Officium breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánszky opus 28, Hommage à Tristan, Versetto organum apocryfum, Rosznay Ilona in memoriam, Summaia B.P. mondásai (the sayings of Summaia B.P.), Samuel Beckett. What is the Word opus 30b
Márta and György Kurtág (piano), Ildikó Monyók (alto), René Meyer clarinet bass/double-bass, Sylvain Lombard -oboe/english horn)
Orchestre du Conservatoire de Genève, Ensemble vocale Séquence, Olivier Cuendet (direction)

A Transylvanian wind of culture was blowing through Lausanne this week with the remarked presence of one of the worlds leading contemporary composer and great pedagogue György Kurtág. The composer gave Master classes with his wife at the Lausanne conservatoire, not forgetting to give a lesson to little Lausannois’ as well. His visit to the Swiss town was crowned by an impressive concert last night where the couple showed their illustrative talent of interpreters of György’s music.

Kurtág is considered as a unique composer, refusing to belong to any trend nor serial, nor minimalist, nor neo… He is simply himself and his music represents his own history, and that of his colleagues and friends. It is strongly rooted in the past, in memory, in History. This past is glorious and is in continuity with the tradition of Hungarian contemporary music. More precisely Transylvanian culture. Kurtág, like Bartók and Ligeti, is born in Transylvania (now a region of Rumania) that was and still is one of the centres of Hungarian as well as Rumanian culture. His performance with his wife of Játékok (Games) for piano and four-hand piano was not only beautiful but also intelligent and moving. The work is cut by four Bach sonatinas, beautifully interpreted by the Kurtág couple, as a memorial to the father of modern music. These sonatinas bring a recurring serenity between Kurtág’s compositions. Is it by chance that, in Hungarian, the word szerény, pronounced and written in a similar way as the English word serene, means modest? For Kurtág is truly modest to come back always to master Bach and to dedicate each of the short games to a composer or a friend.

The second part gave way to orchestral compositions interpreted by the strings of the Orchestre du Conservatoire de Genève and members of the Contrechamps ensemble specialised in contemporary music. The warm strings of the orchestra played Kurtág’s transcribed Opus breve, originally for a string quartet. The new director of the Lausanne Concervatoire, Olivier Cuendet, who made the transcription, conducted the Opus.

But the highlight of this second part was undoubtedly What is the Word! Samuel Beckett’s words put into music and uttered in a stammering and shaking way and in Hungarian by Ildikó Monyók, and in English by the vocal ensemble Séquence. The conductor was facing the public and the main part of the orchestra was above us on the balconies. The piece was composed for Ildikó who lost the faculty of speech and regained it after seven years of hard work. At the beginning of her recovery, she could only sing and Kurtág asked her to interpret many of his compositions. There is strong link to be found between Beckett’s text and Ildikó’s fight for words.

There would be still lot to say about such evocative music, full of human experiences, past and present. This music is not only interesting to hear but it is also fascinating to see. It is indeed a visual as well as an auditive art. It can only be understood wholly if it is performed in public. Once one is part of it, and literally surrounded by it, one can only be moved by its intensity and meaning.

Zoltan Bécsi



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