On Brahms, Brett Dean, and the Concerto
David Robertson returns to Sydney in late August for Brahms Revelation: A Sydney Symphony Orchestra Mini-Festival. In two programs, over two weeks, August 22 – September 3, he explores the idea of the concerto, with performances of the Brahms Double Concerto, Piano Concerto No. 1, and the world premiere of Brett Dean’s Cello Concerto. In a letter to the SSO audience, DR delves into the dichotomy of concertos old and new, and the revelation of Brahms especially.
A few weeks ago I received, fresh from the composer’s desk, the score for Brett Dean’s new Cello Concerto. There is possibly nothing more exciting for a conductor than to be present at the birth of a new work. Equally exciting is to be conducting the world premiere in Sydney with the fine musicians of the SSO and the absolutely amazing cellist Alban Gerhardt.
Of course, last year when we were planning this two-week festival, we had no idea what Brett’s concerto would sound like, or what it might be called. But we did know that Brett looks at a piece of music almost as a philosophical exploration. It doesn’t matter whether he gives the piece a descriptive title like Fire Music or a generic one like ‘concerto’, his music is never without its deeper connotations, exploring something that is deeply felt and perhaps not all that easy to put into words.
And what’s interesting about Brahms, especially in his concertos, is that he writes music that isn’t merely a way of showing what the soloist is made of, but is a place for deep musical arguments. So when I knew that Brett was writing a concerto, it was immediately clear that Brahms was the composer to pair it with.
Brahms showed that a concerto can be a display of virtuosity without needing to reduce the importance of the musical discourse. In fact his First Piano Concerto is absolutely a symphonic utterance – but with a piano in the middle, which must have confused his contemporaries – and in the second program it takes the place of the symphony. For the first program we’ve chosen the Fourth Symphony, which is fascinating because it’s a work that is in certain ways very historical, deeply rooted in musical tradition, and yet at the same time is pushing the concepts of music forward, making it an ideal companion to the new cello concerto.
SYDNEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA:
Brahms Revelation, Program I, August 22-25
Brahms Revelation, Program II, August 29-September 3