György Kurtág, one of the world’s foremost composers, will perform the world premiere of his Hommage à Bartók for Two and Four Hands, a work commissioned by the Library of Congress, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2009
, in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium. The Hungarian composer’s performance – as part of his first visit to the United States in his 82 years – harks back to a storied performance at the Library of Congress by Kurtág’s late countryman Béla Bartók (1881-1945), who, with violinist Joseph Szigeti, performed the Bartók Sonata No. 2 for violin and piano from the same stage in 1940.
The Kurtág performance, and his visit, are part of a New York and Washington, D.C. tour organized by the Hungarian Cultural Center of New York in conjunction with Extremely Hungary, a yearlong festival of performances and exhibitions celebrating the country’s contemporary arts and its impact on American culture. Kurtág will be joined in the performance by his wife, the eminent pianist Márta Kurtág; the program also will feature the Keller Quartet.
Kurtág’s new piece, commissioned by the Library’s Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation, pays homage to Bartók, whom Kurtág holds in particular reverence. Also to be performed Feb. 7 will be selections from Kurtág’s Játékok (Games), his 6 Moments Musicaux, and Bartók’s Fifth String Quartet, also a Coolidge commission. The roster of nearly 100 commissions from the Coolidge Foundation includes such major works as Igor Stravinsky’s Appollon Musagete; Maurice Ravel’s Chansons Madecasses; the third and fourth string quartets of Arnold Schoenberg; Samuel Barber’s Hermit Songs; Sofia Gubaidulina’s Dancer on a Tightrope; and Aaron Copland’s iconic ballet, Appalachian Spring.
“We are greatly looking forward to the premiere of this major Library of Congress commission from one of the world’s most eminent composers,” said Susan H. Vita, chief of the Library of Congress’ Music Division. “The opportunity to present a master composer in a performance of his own work is a rare and memorable one.
“The Kurtágs’ performance makes a wonderful connection to the famous Bartok-Szigeti concert here, a landmark event in the Coolidge Auditorium’s long history of musical milestones.”
Tickets for the Feb. 7 performance will become available Dec. 24, 2008. There is no charge for the tickets, which are required for admission. They are distributed by TicketMaster at (202) 397-SEAT, (301) 808-6900, (410) 547-SEAT and (703) 573-SEAT; each ticket carries a nominal service charge of $2.75, with additional charges for phone orders and handling.
Kurtág was 20 when he began his studies at the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest, where he met his wife and became friends with fellow composer György Ligeti. Kurtág lived in Paris in 1957 and 1958, studying with Olivier Messiaen and Darius Milhaud; he returned to Budapest in 1959. For nearly a decade, he worked with the National Philharmonia in Budapest as a repetiteur and in 1967 he was appointed professor of piano – and later, of chamber music – at the Liszt Academy, where he taught until 1993.
He began to gain international acclaim with his piece Messages of the Late Miss R.V. Troussova, for soprano and chamber ensemble; it premiered in Paris in 1981. He was composer-in-residence at the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra from 1993-1995 and with the Vienna Konzerthausgesellschaft in 1995. Kurtág took up residence in the Netherlands in the late 1990s, lived in Berlin in 1998 and 1999, and moved to Paris from 1999-2001. Since 2002, the Kurtágs have lived near Bordeaux in France.
For his 80th birthday in February, 2006, the Budapest Music Centre held a festival honoring Kurtág. Special programs featuring his music were also held that year in Berlin, Vienna, Paris and the Netherlands.
The Feb. 7 concert will be broadcast in the U.S. as part of the Concerts from the Library of Congress series, now heard on more than 180 stations. National Public Radio, the European Broadcasting Union, and Hungarian Radio will collaborate to make the performance available to European audiences.
Established in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. It seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its Web site at www.loc.gov
and via interactive exhibitions on a new, personalized Web site at myLOC.gov
The Library’s unparalleled music holdings include more than 22 million individual items, including manuscripts, scores, sound recordings, books, libretti, music-related periodicals and microforms, copyright deposits and musical instruments. Manuscripts of note include those of European masters such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms and those of American masters such as Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and Leonard Bernstein; the collections cover all genres of American music. Many of these collections are available at www.loc.gov/performingarts/encyclopedia/
The world premiere performance of Hommage à Bartók for Two and Four Hands at the Library of Congress is part of Extremely Hungary, a yearlong festival showcasing contemporary Hungarian visual, performing, and literary arts in New York and Washington, D.C. throughout 2009. The festival is organized by the Hungarian Cultural Center in New York, which sponsors a range of programs celebrating Hungary’s past, present and future, and is made possible in part by funding from the Hungarian Ministry of Education and Culture. For more information, please visit the festival’s Web site at www.extremelyhungary.org