Commissioned by Roche for the 2008 Lucerne Festival, George Benjamin’s Duet for piano and orchestra plays for just 12 minutes, but its expressive and emotional effects are on the largest scale. In the piece Benjamin succeeds in crossing 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, Benjamin’s friend since the earliest days of his studies in Paris.
‘Benjamin’s Duet sounds like no other piece he has ever written – and no other piano concerto in the repertoire. Its premiere revealed music of startling concentration… Most strikingly of all, in the centre of the work, Benjamin writes music of stark intensity, distilled to its essentials: individual notes and chords in the piano part and ghostly flickers of string writing, with staccato tremors in the cellos and harmonics in the violas. There was a physical sense of the music being wrenched into another dimension.’
The Guardian (Tom Service), 2 September 2008