‘Bayreuth without the poison.’ Sir Simon Rattle’s description of the Aldeburgh Festival is very apt, especially for events in Snape Maltings. Both summer festivals were founded by composers, and their own music is featured. Both locations are a little out-of-the-way. Even the use of wood in the Festspielhaus and in the Maltings, and the excellent acoustics, are comparable. But while Bayreuth is still exclusively Wagnerian, Aldeburgh offers a marvellous range of post-Britten composers. Yesterday, the focus was Ligeti.
The afternoon’s high protein Ligeti concert had added supplements as optional starters; on offer in the Jerwood Kiln Studio was a new work by Mira Calix: La Poème Rhythmique, partly inspired by Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes – the wind-up, clockwork variety. Calix’s piece, currently in development, will use 100 computer mice, if that is the correct plural, clicked by 100 children while they play a video game. That really will be hands-on new music for kids.
Then, moving to the Britten Studio, Richard Steinitz’s talk gave a good overview of Ligeti and his legacy with excerpts from scores on a screen, and recorded clips.
Followed by – the first concert: Homage to Ligeti. Messiaen’s Appel interstellaire from Des canyons aux étoiles is for solo horn and, it seems, resonance from the grand piano’s strings, the dampers having been removed by placing a large weight on the sustaining pedal. The effect is ethereal, as a lingering halo of sound diffuses after the horn has stopped playing. Marie-Luise Neunecker negotiated the athletic demands of the piece with negligent ease.
Ligeti’s Trio for horn, violin and piano (1982) is a significant work. The second movement uses the ostinato from the Ligeti study Fanfares as a basis; catchy rhythms and acerbic harmonies give it added bite. Joining Neunecker were Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Pekka Kuusisto. What a line-up – literally.The violinist and horn player stood to play, facing each other with 5 music stands for their scores between them. So as well as the players’ musical communication, there was the visual impact of the players’ unconscious choreography while reading the correct page, and Kuusisto’s continally snapping bow-hair. A fabulous performance, crackling with energy.
After the interval were seven Ligeti studies for piano, played by Aimard, the composer’s pianist of choice, and Tamara Stefanovich, an ex-pupil of Aimard. The apostolic succession is in good hands: Stefanovich brings clarity to the dense textures, and technical mastery. Aimard’s performances of these studies are already legendary; this concert was no exception.
Finally – an elderly Bösendorfer took centre stage in the Britten Studio, seemingly playing itself without a pianist. Six of Nancarrow’s studies for player-piano showed us the inspiration for Ligeti’s studies. Jürgen Hocker talked us through them, with great charm, although one or two studies fewer would have been welcome. More Ligeti in the evening – but sadly I couldn’t stay.
Vintage Aldeburgh: exciting repertoire, outstanding players, mind-stretching content. Weather: cold and rainy. Steinway piano immaculately tuned by Graham Cooke, unseen, but present in every note. Composers in the audience included Colin Matthews and composer-pianist Joanna MacGregor, and I spotted one young AYM composer whose music I heard premiered last week in the R2J concert. Britten’s legacy at Snape lives on.