Tamara Stefanovich has recorded Oliver Knussen’s solo piano piece Prayer Bell Sketch, part of a new disc with Pierre-Laurent Aimard released on 23 September through Pentatone featuring Olivier Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen. You can hear her recording of Prayer Bell Sketch here.
The 1997 work grew from a conversation between Knussen and Toru Takemitsu, when Takemitsu shared the title of a piece planned for Peter Serkin, ‘Prayer Bell’. Takemitsu was known to conceive the title of a piece before composing it. Knussen’s piece serves as a memorial to his friend, whose music he championed. He wrote of Prayer Bell Sketch,
Following his death in 1996, I spent much time trying to imagine a Prayer Bell in memory of Toru, and came to the conclusion that he was probably right – so what eventually emerged during three days in Tokyo last September is a Prayer Bell Sketch, recollections and rearrangements of a few simple bell sounds which, to me, resonate with memories of a dear friend and wonderful composer.
The first performance was given by Peter Serkin at the (then) new Takemitsu Memorial Concert Hall in Tokyo Opera City on 22 September 1997.
Stefanovich recently played the 5-minute piece as an encore following a performance of Stravinsky’s Movements in September 2021, in a concert with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra conducted by George Benjamin at Berlin’s Philharmonie, described by Mark Berry as “a gentler and more sensual, yet constantly surprising journey”.
October sees Knussen performances by the Chicago-based Grossman Ensemble (Ophelia Dances, Book 1 and Songs without Voices, as well as Augusta Read Thomas’ tribute to Knussen Dance Mobile) and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Finnegan Downie Dear (Songs and a Sea Interlude with soprano Olivia Warburton).