Ligeti’s Trio for horn, violin, and piano is subtitled “Hommage à Brahms” since it was commissioned, in 1982, as a companion piece to Brahms’ trio for the same instruments. This is a rare instrumental combination owing to radical disparities in color, volume, and methods of tone production that challenge the composer to balance and blend their sounds. It was probably this quality that acted as one of the inspirations for this piece, which marked a turning point in the career of this composer. Ligeti does not consciously emulate Brahms in this work; if anyone, it is Beethoven who serves as a distant presence.
Alan Feinberg, curator of the House Blend concert series at PS 21 in Chatham, has interesting ideas about how to bring together seemingly disparate repertory to provoke new perspectives. My second reaction to the unusual programming of the second concert was “what do these pieces have to do with each other?” (My first reaction was “Cool: I get to hear Biber, Wolpe, and Nancarrow, all in the same program?”) It makes you think as you listen, which is not a bad thing if what you are thinking about is the music you are (carefully) listening to; and the thoughts accumulate as you listen. My thought about the Biber Passacaglia for solo violin, composed in 1676 and a powerful precursor to Bach’s solo violin music, was this: Biber makes the violin sound like several voices singing in counterpoint. This is not something the violin normally does, but after Biber, it became conceivable.