Not wanting to “write myself into a black hole”, Benjamin Britten once explained that “almost every work I have written was created for a certain event and usually also for certain musicians.” Britten’s music that, despite all its sophistication also had the hallmarks of British understatement, sometimes bore the brunt of unfair malice. In 1949, for example, Theodor W. Adorno criticized Britten’s “taste for tastelessness, a simplicity resulting from ignorance, an immaturity which masks as enlightenment and a dearth of technical means.” Today, we listen to Britten’s music with different ears. The English composer wrote his only piano concert in 1938 for another pianist – and his name was: Benjamin Britten! With an unmistakable pleasure in his double talent as a piano virtuoso and composer, Britten created a brilliant piece of music that he – as his most competent and fairest critic – revised seven years later.
Britten’s “Sinfonia da requiem”, on the other hand, was written to commemorate the 2600th anniversary of the founding of the Japanese Empire, but then had its world premiere in New York in 1941: the Japanese government took exception to the composition’s Catholic character.
Britten’s compellingly non-conformist music, which in this piano concert will feature the young English pianist Benjamin Grosvenor as the arguably most fascinating interpreter of Britten, will enter into an exciting dialogue with two other lone wolves of the 20th century: Witold Lutosławski and Leoš Janáček.
Witold Lutosławski [1913-1994]
Jeux vénitiens [1960-61]
for chamber orchestra
Benjamin Britten [1913-1976]
Piano Concerto op. 13 [1938, rev. 1945]
Sinfonia da Requiem op. 20 
Leoš Janáček [1854-1928]
Rhapsody for Orchestra [1915-18]