Across November and January Amalie Stalheim and David Huang give an extensive Swedish tour of Anders Hillborg’s Duo for cello and piano (2013 rev. 2019)¸ beginning on 18 November at Särö’s kammarmusiksällskap before visiting venues in Olofström, Ängelholm, Falkenberg, Karlskrona, Lund and Växjö – see here for full details.

The 16-minute piece is Hillborg’s most substantial chamber work and calls for enormous virtuosity from its performers. It opens with a recitative-like passage for cello alone, before exploding into a feverish cadenza shadowed by piano. Frantic passagework is offset by intensely lyrical gestures, utilising soaring glissandi - an emblematic figure of Hillborg’s string writing. A calmer and more texturally spare middle section follows, characterised by relative lyrical simplicity punctuated with playful “talking” from the cello. Duo concludes with brilliant, toccata-like writing for piano and cello, before a haunting coda that recedes into the distance.

The 2013 work was originally commissioned by Commissioned by Symphony Center Presents Chicago, LA Philharmonic Association, Gustavo Dudamel Music Director, California Performances, and Carnegie Hall. The world premiere took place in September 2018 in Sweden at the Utvandrarnas Hus, Växjö, from Jakob Koranyi and Juho Pohjonen. The US premiere was given at Walt Disney Hall by Kevin Kwan Loucks and Eric Byers in June 2019; it made its UK debut as part of the BBC 2020 Total Immersion deep dive in to Hillborg’s work at the Barbican.  

The piece had a jazzy feel, with late-night piano melodies spiralling through a stellar sky, contrasted by the low groaning of earthbound cello. When the piano subsided for a spell, Byers pushed out some beautifully spare, sad lines on cello.

LA Weekly (Falling James), 5 June 2019

In September Stalheim gave the Icelandic premiere of Hillborg’s Cello Concerto in Reykjavík with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Eva Ollikainen, and previously gave the Scandinavian premiere of the piece with James Gaffigan and the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra in March 2021. In October 2022 she also performed an excerpt from the piece with Tobias Ringborg and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra at the Birgit Nilsson prize ceremony.

The concerto was written for Nicolas Altstaedt and premiered in October 2020 with the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Fabien Gabel. Like Hillborg’s recent Viola Concerto for Lawrence Power and Piano Concerto No.2 for Emanuel Ax, the 27-minute work is cast in one unbroken movement. It is characterised by the intimacy of its scoring - much of the piece is written for strings alone, with dazzling virtuosity eschewed in favour of long, yearning cantabile lines. On 26 April Stalheim will give the Finnish premiere of the work with the Turku Philharmonic, conducted by Emilia Hoving.