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Katia a Marielle Labèque • Czech Philharmonic
This entire programme could be given the title “Double”. You will be hearing a unique collection of three different works that share the theme of musical pairs in different forms and treatments.
Double Concerto for two string orchestras, piano, and tympani, H 271
Concerto for two pianos and orchestra, H 292
Symphony No. 2 (“Le Double”)
Katia a Marielle Labèque
Rudolfinum — Dvorak Hall
“Double” or affinity by choice (or otherwise): this is how one might characterise the connections and parallels between works on today’s programme. This also applies to some degree to the fates and artistic creeds of the works’ composers, so that is why “or otherwise” is written in parentheses. Depending upon the context, “double” can mean “dual”, “multiplied by two”, or even a look-alike; in musical terminology, the word meant “variation” during the Baroque period, and in the title of a composition it also refers to a work’s relationship to the concerto grosso genre. All of these meanings of the word “double” are employed by the two composers for the works being played this evening.
Concert on the 24th of January will be broadcasted live on Mezzo Live HD
A musician of tremendous emotional power, depth and expressiveness, Ivo Kahánek has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting artists of his generation and is the Czech Republicʼs most acclaimed pianist. He is universally recognised as one of the foremost interpreters of Romantic piano music and is a particular specialist in Czech repertoire. He possesses a rare gift of creating an immediate and compelling emotional connection with his audiences.
Kahánek came to public attention after winning the Concertino Praga and, in 2004, the Prague Spring International Music Competition. He was subsequently a prize winner at many other competitions (Maria Canals Piano Competition in Barcelona, Vendome Prize in Vienna, Stiftung Tomassoni Wettbewerb in Cologne, Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition in Marienbad, and others).
After his successful debuts at the Beethoven Festival in Bonn and the Prague Spring Festival in Prague Kahánek was invited to perform Martinůʼs Fourth Piano Concerto (“Incantations”) at the 2007 Proms Festival with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jiří Bělohlávek. The performance was broadcast live by the BBC as well as the Czech National Radio station “Vltava”. This truly memorable Proms debut is currently available on Deutsche Grammophon as a digital download.
In 2014, Kahánek was selected by Sir Simon Rattle to perform two critically acclaimed concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic. He is only the second Czech pianist after Rudolf Firkušný to perform with this legendary orchestra. Ivo Kahánek performs regularly with the Czech Philharmonic and has also recently appeared with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Wiener Symphoniker, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Glasgow, Essener Symphoniker, WDR Cologne, Zurich Chamber Orchestra, Prague Symphony Orchestra, Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra, Prague Philharmonia, Brno Philharmonic and many others. He has collaborated with some of the world’s greatest conductors, including maestros Semyon Bychkov, Jakub Hrůša, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Rafael Payare, Pinchas Steinberg, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Jiří Bělohlávek, Tomáš Netopil, Andrey Boreyko, Libor Pešek or Zdeněk Mácal. A passionate chamber musician, he has worked with other instrumentalists, including violinist Daniel Hope, cellist Alissa Weilerstein, violist Paul Neubauer, and the Pavel Haas and Tetzlaff Quartets, or the soprano Martina Janková and tenor Pavel Černoch.
In 2020 he will be touring the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Austria, Poland, Slovakia, and elsewhere, presenting himself as a soloist in piano concertos by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Antonín Dvořák, Bohuslav Martinů, and Béla Bartók accompanied by the Czech Philharmonic, the Essen Philharmonic, the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Prague Symphony Orchestra, the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, and other orchestras. In addition, of course, he will be giving many recitals in cities including Berlin, London, Jeddah, Bratislava, and Prague. He will also appear at international festivals including the BBC Proms (London), the Dvořák Prague International Music Festival, Smetanaʼs Litomyšl and in the subscription series of such orchestras as the Czech Philharmonic, the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra in Pardubice, and the Slovak State Philharmonic in Košice.
Ivo Kahánek has already released thirteen CDs on the Supraphon Music label (with which he has an exclusive contract since 2007) of works by Chopin, Dvořák, Janáček, Martinů, Klein, Kabeláč, Francaix, Ibert and more. A recording of songs by Martinů with singers Martina Janková and Tomáš Král was awarded the prestigious Diapason d’Or and the Selection of the month in the Opernwelt and Opera News magazines. His most recent recording of the piano concertos by Dvořák and Martinů, where he is accompanied by the Bamberger Philharmoniker under the baton of Jakub Hrůša, was selected as the recording of the month in the BBC Music Magazine, Choix de Classique HD, and it was also the recording of the week on BBC Radio 3. At the same time it was included in the nominations for the ICMA Award as well as the BBC Music Magazine Award. He also regularly appears on both Czech Radio and Czech Television.
Ivo Kahánek is a graduate of the Janáček Conservatoire in Ostrava, the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.
Michael Kroutil, born 1982, studied from 1999 to 2001 at the Jaroslav Ježek Conservatory, then attended the Prague Conservatory. In 2003 he began taking private lessons from Karl Mehling, former timpanist of the Gewandhausorchester and a year later from Mark Steful, first timpanist of the same orchestra. Between 2005 and 2007 he studied the timpani and percussion at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Leipzig, and from 2011 attended the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste under the pedagogic guidance of Rainer Seegers, first timpanist of the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Michael Kroutil has performed with a number of renowned German (Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Leipziger Kammerorchester, Mendelssohn Kammerorchester Leipzig, Südwestdeutsche Philharmonie Konstanz, Thüringer Symphoniker, Westsächsisches Symphonieorchester, Deutsche Philharmonie) and Czech orchestras (PKF – Prague Philharmonia, Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of the National Theatre in Prague, the Pardubice Chamber Philharmonic). He has also regularly worked with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 2006 and 2007, Michael Kroutil participated in Gewandhausorchester recording projects for EuroArts. Since 2007 he has been first timpanist of the Czech Philharmonic, and is also a member of the international Solistes Européens Luxembourg.
“The best piano duo in front of an audience today”
New York Times
“The Labèque sisters are tremendous. They are great performers, and great interpreters. And they are wonderful supporters of music – not only modern music, but just music. It is great to work with them”
“Whether Mozart or Stravinsky, their musical line always sounds as if it’s being woven for the very first time... But the illusion of improvisation is the genius of their performances. In all their recordings there is a deceptive sprezzatura that is born of throwing the preparation to the winds and hanging onto each others ears.”
Katia and Marielle Labèque are sibling pianists renowned for their ensemble of synchronicity and energy. Their musical ambitions started at an early age and they rose to international fame with their contemporary rendition of Gershwinʼs Rhapsody in Blue (one of the first gold records in classical music) and have since developed a stunning career with performances worldwide.
They are regular guests with the most prestigious orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus, London Symphony, London Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Filarmonia della Scala, Philadelphia Orchestra, Dresden Staatskapelle, Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam and Vienna Philharmonic, under the direction of Marin Alsop, Alain Altinoglu, Semyon Bychkov, Sir Colin Davis, Gustavo Dudamel, Gustavo Gimeno, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Pietari Inkinen, Louis Langrée, Zubin Mehta, Juanjo Mena, Andres Orozco-Estrada, Seiji Ozawa, Antonio Pappano, Matthias Pintscher, Georges Prêtre, Sir Simon Rattle, Santtu-Matias Rouvali, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Leonard Slatkin, Michael Tilson Thomas and Jaap van Zweden.
They have appeared with Baroque music ensembles such as The English Baroque Soloists with Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Il Giardino Armonico with Giovanni Antonini, Musica Antica with Reinhard Goebel and Venice Baroque with Andrea Marcon, il Pomo d’Oro with Maxim Emelyanychev and also toured with The Age of Enlightenment & Sir Simon Rattle.
Katia and Marielle have had the privilege of working with many composers including Thomas Adès, Louis Andriessen, Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Bryce Dessner, Philip Glass, Osvaldo Golijov, György Ligeti, Nico Muhly and Olivier Messiaen. At Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles they presented the world premiere of Philip Glass’s new Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel. In spring 2017 also saw the world premiere of Bryce Dessner’s concerto at Royal Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and John Storgards and in June 2020 a new concerto written by Nico Muhly, will receive its world premiere at Lincoln Center with New York Philharmonic and Jaap van Zweden.
The Labèques play in festivals and renowned venues worldwide including the Vienna Musikverein, Hamburg Musikhalle, Munich Philharmonie, Carnegie Hall, Royal Festival Hall, La Scala, Berlin Philharmonie, Blossom, Hollywood Bowl, Lucerne, BBC Proms, Ravinia, Tanglewood and Salzburg. An audience of more than 33,000 attended a gala concert with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir Simon Rattle at Berlin’s Waldbühne, now available on DVD (EuroArts). A record audience of more then 100.000 attended the Vienna Summer Night Concert in Schönbrunn (now available on CD and DVD by Sony). More than 1.5 million viewers followed the event worldwide on TV.
For their own label, KML Recordings, they have released a CD Box “Sisters”. Previous releases include a Gershwin/Bernstein album, and their project Minimalist Dream House (50 years of Minimalist music). The DVD “The Labèque Way, a letter to Katia and Marielle by Alessandro Baricco” produced by El Deseo (Pedro and Augustin Almodóvar) and filmed by Félix Cábez is released by EuroArts. Their biography “Une vie à quatre mains” by Renaud Machart is published by Buchet-Chastel.
Labèque’s label KML Recordings joined the historical label Deutsche Grammophon, their first collaboration being Stravinskyʼs Rite of Spring and Debussyʼs Epigraphes Antiques, followed by “Love Stories” with music by Leonard Bernstein and David Chalmin, “Amoria” a journey to their Basque roots covering five centuries of music, “Moondog”, a tribute to Louis Thomas Hardin, one of the true geniuses of his time. They just released a new album “El Chan” dedicated entirely to American composer Bryce Dessner, including his Concerto for two pianos with Orchestre de Paris conducted by Matthias Pintscher. The album is dedicated to the film director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritú, who created the album cover artwork.
Most recent performances include concerts with the New York Philharmonic, Camerata Salzburg, Elb Philharmonie Hamburg and Thom Yorke, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Semyon Bychkov, Dresden Staatskapelle at Easter Festival Salzburg with Andres Orozco-Estrada , Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and Berlin Philharmonic, including return visits to the Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Hollywood Bowl and Cincinnati Symphony. At the invitation of the Philharmonie Hall in Paris for a special “Week End”, attention was focused on “Amoria”, “Invocations” and their new project for two guitars and two pianos with David Chalmin and Bryce Dessner including a piece written for them by Thom Yorke “Don’t fear the Light” with Thom Yorke as special guest.
“This was a testament not only to Mahler, but also to Mr. Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic... this was a moving and intelligent reading of the Resurrection, dramatic in the opening and finale, sweet and playful in the inner movements, and sublime in the setting of Urlicht...”
The New York Times
Semyon Bychkov's tenure as Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic was initiated with concerts in Prague, London, New York and Washington marking the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovak independence in 2018. Since the culmination of The Tchaikovsky Project in 2019 – a 7-CD box set released by Decca Classics and a series of international residencies – Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic have been focusing on the symphonic works of Mahler with performances and recordings scheduled both at home and abroad.
During the 2021/22 season, Mahler’s First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Seventh Symphonies will all be heard internationally including on tour at the Grafenegg Festival in Austria during the summer. The Czech Philharmonic’s 126th season’s subscription concerts in October will open with Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. In the spring, a Czech Festival at Vienna’s Musikverein featuring Smetana’s Má vlast – recorded by Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic during lockdown - alongside works by Kabeláč, Dvořák, Martinů and Janáček will be followed by an extensive European tour including concerts at the Philharmonie in Berlin, Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie and two concerts at London’s Barbican Centre.
Especially recognised for his interpretations of the core repertoire, Bychkov has also worked closely with many extraordinary contemporary composers including Luciano Berio, Henri Dutilleux and Maurizio Kagel. In recent seasons he has collaborated with René Staar, Thomas Larcher, Richard Dubignon, Detlev Glanert and Julian Anderson, conducting premières of their works with the Vienna Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms. Highlights of the new season include the German première of Larcher’s Piano Concerto with dedicatee Kirill Gerstein in Berlin, the Czech première of Bryce Dessner’s Mari and the world première of Anderson’s Prague Panoramas, also presented in Prague. The three new works are amongst fourteen commissions initiated by Bychkov at the start of his tenure with the Czech Philharmonic.
In common with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov has one foot firmly in the culture of the East and the other in the West. Born in St Petersburg in 1952, Bychkov emigrated to the United States in 1975 and has lived in Europe since the mid-1980's. Singled out for an extraordinarily privileged musical education from the age of 5, Bychkov studied piano before winning his place at the Glinka Choir School where, aged 13, he received his first lesson in conducting. He was 17 when he was accepted at the Leningrad Conservatory to study with the legendary Ilya Musin and, within three years had won the influential Rachmaninov Conducting Competition. Denied the prize of conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic, Bychkov left the former Soviet Union.
By the time Bychkov returned to St Petersburg in 1989 as the Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor, he had enjoyed success in the US as Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic. His international career, which began in France with Opéra de Lyon and at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, took off with a series of high-profile cancellations which resulted in invitations to conduct the New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestras. In 1989, he was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris; in 1997, Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne; and the following year, Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper.
Bychkov’s symphonic and operatic repertoire is wide-ranging. He conducts in all the major houses including La Scala, Opéra national de Paris, Dresden Semperoper, Wiener Staatsoper, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and Teatro Real. Madrid. While Principal Guest Conductor of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, his productions of Janáček’s Jenůfa, Schubert’s Fierrabras, Puccini’s La bohème, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov each won the prestigious Premio Abbiati. New productions in Vienna included Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Daphne, Wagner’s Lohengrin and Parsifal, and Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina; while in London, he made his debut with a new production of Strauss’ Elektra, and subsequently conducted new productions of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten and Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Recent productions include Wagner’s Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival and Strauss’s Elektra at the Wiener Staatsoper.
On the concert platform, the combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy has ensured that Bychkov’s performances are highly anticipated. In the UK, in addition to regular performances with the London Symphony Orchestra, his honorary titles at the Royal Academy of Music and the BBC Symphony Orchestra - with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms – reflect the warmth of the relationships. In Europe, he tours frequently with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Munich Philharmonic, as well as being a frequent guest of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Orchestre National de France and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; in the US, he can be heard with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Symphony, Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras. This season, in addition to extensive concert commitments with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov's guest conducting engagements include further performances of Mahler’s symphonies with the Orchestre de Paris, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Berlin, Oslo and LA Philharmonic Orchestras, and Strauss’s Elektra at the Opéra national de Paris.
Bychkov made extensive recordings for Philips with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. Later, his 13-year collaboration (1997-2010) with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne produced a series of benchmark recordings that included works by Strauss (Elektra, Daphne, Ein Heldenleben, Metamorphosen, Alpensinfonie, Till Eulenspiegel), Mahler (Symphony No. 3, Das Lied von der Erde), Shostakovich (Symphony Nos. 4, 7, 8, 10, 11), Rachmaninov (The Bells, Symphonic Dances, Symphony No. 2), Verdi (Requiem), a complete cycle of Brahms Symphonies, and works by Detlev Glanert and York Höller. His recording of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was recommended by BBC’s Radio 3’s Building a Library (2020); Wagner’s Lohengrin was BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Year (2010); and Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna
Philharmonic was BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Month (2018).
In 2015, Semyon Bychkov was named Conductor of the Year by the International Opera Awards.
Dvojkoncert pro dva smyčcové orchestry, klavír a tympány H. 271
In his Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani, H 271 (the title page of the autograph score is in French: “Double concert pour cordes, piano et timbales”) and his Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, H 292 (in his correspondence, the composer also called it his “Double Piano Concerto”), Bohuslav Martinů drew inspiration from duality, doubling, and the possibilities that arise from them, as well as from the Baroque concerto grosso genre. In a reminiscence, the composer described his conception of “double” as follows: “My work on the Concerto for Two Pianos has gone successfully. To tell the truth, I’m a concerto grosso kind of person. The descriptions of this form in nearly all textbooks are superficial, perhaps except for the fact that the soloists and orchestra alternate. [...] Where the symphonic form is retained, resorting to emotional elements is actually required, [...] while the concerto grosso allows strict order, a limitation or equilibrium of emotional elements, the limitation and appropriate balancing of gradations and dynamics, and an entirely different, strict structure of thematic organisation; in short, a different world. [...] The Concerto for Two Pianos is the ‘ideal type’ for this form.” The composer’s statement can be applied in general to all of his concertante works of this kind, and his Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani is undoubtedly one of the most successful.
“I’m exploding, choking, weeping”, declared Arthur Honegger in tears as he embraced Bohuslav Martinů at the world premiere of the Double Concerto in Basel on 9 February 1940. Apart from captivation with the composition, the moving circumstances of the work’s creation certainly also played a role: sympathy for the tragedy that had struck Czechoslovakia and its inhabitants, which the composer seems (even to us today) to have sensed in advance and written into the music. Martinů began composing his Double Concerto in August 1938, and he finished it on 29 September 1938, on the day of the Munich Agreement that broke up the Czechoslovak state. He composed it for Paul Sacher and his Basel Chamber Orchestra. The composer adapted the work’s instrumentation to the possibilities of that orchestra. Martinů was staying with Sacher at the time when he finished the Double Concerto, and he dedicated the work to him with a pithy description of its creation: “To my dear friend Paul Sacher to commemorate the quiet and fearful days spent at Schönenberg amongst the deer and the threat of the war.” The anxiety and the threat of war are understandable, but what about the deer? The composer’s wife Charlotte recalled that while staying with Sacher, they often observed “with radiant vision” how the deer “hid quietly behind the trees” and made “graceful movements”. That experience of tranquillity in the mountainous Swiss landscape – also a symbol of fragility – stands against the background of the anxiety from the approaching catastrophe. In a reminiscence about her husband’s composition, Mrs. Martinů mysteriously added that the Double Concerto, “in the middle of the third movement are the footsteps of approaching deer”. It is left to the imagination to find exactly where in the music this happens.
Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra H 292
Martinů was commissioned to composed the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra by the husband and wife Pierre Luboschutz and Genia Nemenoff, who together constituted a piano duo. Martinů met them in 1942 in the USA at the summer orchestral festival in Tanglewood, where he taught composition. He wrote the concerto during the first two months of 1943, and he dedicated it to the couple. In the programme for the world premiere on 5 November 1943 in Philadelphia (with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugen Ormandy and the dedicatees as the soloists), Martinů wrote: “In the Concerto, [...] I have used the pianos for the first time in the purely ʻsoloʼ sense, with the orchestra as accompaniment. The form is free; it leans rather toward the Concerto grosso. It demands virtuosity, brilliant piano technique, and the timbre of the same two instruments calls forth new colours and new sonorities.” In this way, he distanced himself from earlier concertante compositions in which he had also used two pianos in solo episodes: the Concerto grosso, H 263 (1937) and the Tre ricercari, H 267 (1938). The Belgian piano duo of Janine Reding-Piette and Henry Piette (also a married couple) enjoyed tremendous success with this Concerto from the mid-1950s onwards. They were “electrified” by the work, and they asked Martinů to compose a second concerto for two pianos and orchestra for them. Although the composer is said to have agreed, the work ultimately was never written because of his deteriorating health. After one performance, a critic wrote enthusiastically: “This concerto will be like the Tour de France; it’s going on a Tour du monde.” It seems that the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra is the “ideal type” not only for the concerto grosso form, as the composer commented, but also for piano duos consisting of close relatives, which is again the case at this evening’s performance.
Symfonie č. 2 „Le Double“
As I indicated in the introduction, there are some connections and parallels between Dutilleux and Martinů. Dutilleux studied at the Paris Conservatoire from 1933 to 1938 at a time when Martinů was also in Paris. He, too, was enchanted by Debussy and enthusiastically studied the works of Igor Stravinsky and Albert Roussel (as Martinů did, studying on his own). He was a great friend of Marcel Mihalovici, to whom Martinů was also very close, and it was Mihalovici who apparently introduced Dutilleux to Martinů’s compositions. At the time, Dutilleux was also imperilled by the Nazi regime, and during the Second World War he was a politically engaged artist – he served in the musical wing of the National Front, which sympathised with the resistance movement. He, too, composed works for Paul Sacher and his orchestra and dedicated them to him (Mystère de l’Instant, 1989, for harpsichord, string orchestra and percussion). Incidentally, he went about composing the work excitedly, because he knew and greatly admired the Double Concerto that Martinů had dedicated to Sacher, and in his own composition he wished to come to terms with Martinů’s work.
Dutilleux composed two symphonies. His Symphony No. 2 (“Le double”) was one of fourteen works commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation for the celebrating of the 75th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) in 1956, and it is dedicated to Koussevitzky and his wife Natalie. Charles Munch, the music director of the BSO at the time, was entrusted with commissioning and choosing the compositions. (Martinů, a close friend of Munch, composed two works for the anniversary celebrations: Symphony No. 6 – Fantaises symphoniques, H 343, and The Parables, H 367.) Charles Munch conducted the world premiere of Dutilleux’s Symphony No. 2 on 11 December 1959 in New York with the BSO.
In his Symphony No. 2, Dutilleux divided the players into a large orchestra and a small one with 12 soloists, in which all of the families of instruments are represented (woodwinds – oboe, clarinet, bassoon; brass – trumpet and trombone; strings – 2 violins, viola, and cello; plucked instruments – harpsichord; percussion – timpani and celesta). According to the composer, the work was composed in a state of “ecstasy, [...] it really is an extremely intense work, and perhaps even somehow anxious”. Although the composition was commissioned in 1954 and was written between 1955 and 1959, the sketches reveal an urgent, persistent search for form and timbre – the instrumentation and number of players in the small orchestra changed twice (e.g. the guitar was replaced by harpsichord). The composer was also dissatisfied with the title: at first he called it a “Concerto for Large and Small Orchestra” and later a “Concerto for Two Orchestras”. Dutilleux was a perfectionist, and he revised the work several times (for example, he made changes to the orchestration involving the harpsichord, the use of which he called a kind of “nostalgia” for the eighteenth century).
Concerning the work’s form and instrumentation, Dutilleux said that although the division of a group of 12 soloists placed in a semicircle in front of the conductor and the rest of the orchestra might evoke a traditional concerto grosso, he was actually attempting to escape from the form, “the prefabricated dimension of which seems to be incompatible with the today’s [musical] language. I have attempted to avoid the stumbling block of a rather archaic form.” The players of the small orchestra do not have individual solos as such; the whole that is created in combination represents the composition’s solo element. The small orchestra converses with the large one, but it is also combined and confronted with the larger group, and their overlapping creates many opportunities for the plentiful use of polyrhythm and polytonality. Each of the symphony’s movements is monothematic and tends towards variations. “A certain character of sound produced by the large orchestra finds an equivalent in the chamber orchestra in the manner of mirroring, or else one of the orchestras suddenly gives way and allows room for the vibrations of the other.” In a way, the small orchestra is a reflection of the large one, like a kind of “double”.