Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest
Lahav Shani, conductor
Ligeti | Pijper | Mahler
An organ, three pianos and eight horns. The huge cast for Willem Pijper’s Second Symphony deterred concert producers from performing it in his own time. Which makes it all the more exciting to be able to experience this rediscovery from the Dutch symphonic repertoire now in Berlin, performed by the Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest under Lahav Shani, in combination with works by Gustav Mahler and György Ligeti.
Willem Pijper was one of the leading Dutch composers in the first half of the 20th century – an innovative spirit, who would become one of the leading exponents of polytonality and was audibly influenced by Gustav Mahler: the tenor horn required behind the stage in his Second Symphony recalls his music (the “prophet from Mahler’s Seventh Symphony”, Pijper claimed) as do the mandolins that are specified in a long cast list. Willem Mengelberg, who had conducted the world premiere of Pijper’s First Symphony, turned down the Second – because of its gigantic cast whose requirements include an organ, three pianos, celesta and eight horns. Pijper himself took over, and on 2 November 1922 at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw he presented his monumental and thrilling work to a surprised public. The first movement has a rhythmic force in no way inferior to that of Igor Stravinsky’s “Sacre”, while the second, with its broken sequence of dances as if reflected in a hollow mirror, has an unreal quality. After Pijper’s death, his pupil Karel Mengelberg completed a reduced version, in order to make it easier to perform (the original version requires at least 116 musicians). However, this felt like a mutilation. Almost one hundred years after the premiere of Pijper’s Second, Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest under the direction of its Principal Conductor Lahav Shani now performs the piece in its original version. After the interval, we will hear the music of Pijper’s idol: the First Symphony of Gustav Mahler, whose beginning of “natural sounds”, in the words of György Ligeti, “creates the imagination of an empty space”, before signal motifs are heard from a variety of different distances and directions. The Hungarian composer has acknowledged the influence of Mahler’s musical spatialisation – including on his revolutionary orchestral piece “Atmosphères”, a finely woven, micro-polyphonic fabric without melody or rhythm, that unfolds an overwhelming physicality in a spatially-conceived sound sculpture.