George Benjamin's new Duet for Piano and Orchestra was premiered by Pierre-Laurent Aimard with the Cleveland Orchestra under Franz Welser-Moest on August 30 in Lucerne, and then in Cleveland on September 25. The 14 minute work (a Roche commission) was widely acclaimed.
Here is what the composer had to say about the piece:
"With its vast range and virtuosic capacities the piano is in its own right almost the equivalent of an orchestra. So this Duet is an encounter between two equal partners, partners whose capacities, however, diverge in numerous essential ways. The piano can transverse over seven octaves with the greatest ease and, with the help of the sustaining pedal, accumulate harmonies containing literally dozens of notes. These are feats with which no orchestral instrument can compete. And yet every note of the piano begins to die away immediately after being struck, a characteristic so different from the legato capacities of string and wind instruments.
I have attempted to cross the divide between the soloist and the orchestra by finding compatible areas between them, specifically by dividing the piano into a few distinct registers with timbral equivalents in the orchestra. At the same time the piano remains an alien figure in the orchestral landscape and often treads an independent path through instrumental textures that can seem intentionally oblivious of it.
The orchestra employed is somewhat reduced, above all by the absence of violins. A certain prominence is given to the piano's nearest relatives in tuned percussion and, especially, the harp.
This Duet is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Pierre-Laurent Aimard, my friend since the earliest days of my studies in Paris."
George Benjamin, August 2008