On a visiting fellowship at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, in 1967, Hans Werner Henze witnessed the outbreak of student protests against the Vietnam War. This experience politicised the composer, who then actively took up solidarity with the West-German student protest movement. Together with his partner Fausto Moroni, Henze spent several months in Cuba cutting sugarcane, and working in factories and on plantations. This was the context for the composition of Henze’s 6th Symphony, written for two chamber orchestras.
Henze employs new instruments: amplified solo violin, banjo and guitar, electric organ and an extensive percussion battery. The work’s harmony is edgy, its tone more strident than in his earlier symphonies. “The work is ‘about’ all the countries of the third world and our disturbed relation to them and their culture. (…) In the third part, Cuban national rhythms are quoted”, Henze has commented on his symphony.
The brilliantly virtuosic works of Sergei Rachmaninoff doubtless represented the very aspects of the music industry that Henze most detested at that time. Rachmaninoff composed his Piano Concerto in D Minor No. 3 for his US debut. It was first performed in New York in 1909, during a triumphant US concert tour. Rachmaninoff hoped that the popularity he enjoyed in America would secure him a living during his years of exile, both in 1918, following the October Revolution, and after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. But he never settled entirely in the USA, living a secluded life with his family, speaking English only poorly, and employing only Russians in his household. When Rachmaninoff finally took American citizenship in the final year of his life, it was primarily for reasons of inheritance.
Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto, which he presented in 1909 as the visiting card for his first US visit, is one of the longest piano concertos in the history of the genre, lasting over 40 minutes, and at the same time one of the technically most demanding. Pianist Nikolai Lugansky takes up the challenge this year at Musikfest Berlin 2012, accompanied by the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin (RSB) under Marek Janowski.