On May 22 George Benjamin conducted the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin in a programme including his 2008 Duet for piano and orchestra at the Philharmonie in Berlin. Cédric Tiberghien performed the solo part. The concert saw Benjamin conducting his teacher Olivier Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques, works by Dukas and Ligeti, and Janáček’s Sinfonietta.
Benjamin has a longstanding relationship with DSO Berlin, where Kent Nagano, Robin Ticciati, Ilan Volkov, and Benjamin himself have conducted performances of his music, including Ringed by the Flat Horizon, Antara, Palimpsests, Sometime Voices, Sudden Time, and A Mind of Winter. A testament to Benjamin's long-standing relationship with the DSO, this concert as part of their 75th anniversary series marked his only conducting appearance this season, when he has otherwise been hard at work on a new opera.
Benjamin has written of the 12-minute piece:
…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.
Reviewing the concert for Bachtrack, Emma Granier heard in Duet “an enveloping sound, almost swaying in pizzicato passages from the double basses…this roundness was unsettled by the strong interventions from the piano, which asserts its independence in the piece.” Listen to Duet here.
Benjamin will conduct his own music again this summer in the United States, including at the Marlboro Festival in Vermont, where Benjamin is composer-in-residence, and at the Tanglewood Summer School, where he gives the US premiere of Lessons in Love and Violence.