Georgy Ligeti’s 1985 Piano Concerto is no arpeggio in the park. In fact, when introducing it Saturday night at Turner Hall, Present Music’s Kevin Stalheim called it “probably the most difficult piece” the group has ever played. The ensemble went on to play the hell out of it – a fitting farewell to pianist Philip […]
Georgy Ligeti’s 1985 Piano Concerto is no arpeggio in the park. In fact, when introducing it Saturday night at Turner Hall, Present Music’s Kevin Stalheim called it “probably the most difficult piece” the group has ever played. The ensemble went on to play the hell out of it – a fitting farewell to pianist Philip Bush, who is retiring from PM after 15 years. The piano is front and center for almost the entire piece, the music’s kinetic and harmonic backbone. But it’s a very flexible spine. Ligeti’s trademark embrace of polyrhythms is evident throughout, and the piano’s relentless pulse is often the backdrop for slow, lyrical flourishes that take their own time.
The rush-hour energy of the first movement collapses into a long, long single bowed note on the bass violin. But the simplicity doesn’t last long. The music soon erupts into a frenzy of dog-whistle-high pitches. And Ligeti loves to play with a kind of pointillistic musical space, where silence is irregularly broken by everything from percussive tweeps and clicks to rich, full harmonic cadences. The irregular challenges of the music made it a great send off – both soloist and orchestra felt a sigh of relief.
The bulk of the rest of the program was given over to Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of Sergei, but an interesting composer in his own right. In his music for string quartet, Prokofiev shows a love for percussive, dynamic contrast. There’s a lot of delicate pizzicato plucking. And at other times, bows bounce against the strings. But there’s still an embrace of gorgeous melody.
In the closing piece, “Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra,” Prokofiev matches a full ensemble with a Turntable DJ, a “concerto” that had gimmick written all over it. I’m not sure it ever transcended that – the soloist has a very limited sonic palette to work with. But later in the piece, Prokofiev allows him several cadenzas of sorts, in which he mixes and mashes samples of orchestra riffs that we’ve just heard. Jordan “DJ Madhatter” Lee had a great time, and so did the audience.