Bintel Blog

Hungarian Jewish Composer György Kurtág Hits the Mainstream

By Benjamin Ivry

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On October 15th, the University of Rochester Press will publish “György Kurtág: Three Interviews and Ligeti Homages”, a tribute to the 83-year-old Hungarian Jewish composer with many charming details about his life, such as that around age six, he hoped to write a “Jewish symphony in E minor with the title ‘Eternal Hope.’”

Although this work never came to fruition, he would eventually produce dozens of spikily stimulating works. Among them, “Signs, Games and Messages for string duo — Eine Blume für Tabea…” from 2000, was written after Israeli conductor David Shallon died tragically of an asthma attack that year while on a concert tour of Japan, leaving behind two children and a young wife, the gifted violist Tabea Zimmermann. Kurtág’s “Flower for Tabea” was a touching memorial tribute to a musician lost too soon.

Meanwhile, other thriving young performers are touring the world with Kurtág’s music. In his latest CD from EMI Classics Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes includes a number of solo works by Kurtág, played with typical sober Nordic gravity and quirky grace. The young Jewish-American pianist Jonathan Biss also has a new CD from Wigmore Hall Live featuring Kurtág played in a sensitively classical style, like a departed old master. For those who like their Kurtág live and livelier, on October 17 at the 92nd Street Y a former Kurtág student from Hungary, Dénes Várjon, will perform the master’s works as part of a varied recital program.

Watch Kurtág below as he expresses himself vivaciously in paprika-accented French from a September 26 press conference in Venice.

Jonathan Biss will be playing Kurtág at his Canadian recital debut on October 29 in Ontario as well as at a November 1st recital in Portland, Oregon.


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