Cédric Tiberghien says he has been “absolutely obsessed” with playing the piano since his earliest childhood. As a 14-year-old, he began studying at the Conservatoire de Paris where he was awarded the Premier Prix after just three years. His successes in international competitions culminated at the Concours Long-Thibaud-Crespin in Paris in 1998, when Cédric Tiberghien won the first prize – and no less than five special prizes! A spectacular international career followed that has taken the French pianist to the world’s major concert halls. For his solo debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Cédric Tiberghien has chosen Maurice Ravel’s piano concerto for the left hand, a technically immensely demanding work which balances dramatic outbursts, sonorous lyricism and rousing jazz effects.
The concert, conducted by George Benjamin, opens with Pierre Boulez’s composition Cummings ist der Dichter, whose title is based on a misunderstanding: When Boulez was asked by a concert promoter what the piece was called, he wrote in not very good German, “ʻI do not have a title yet, and I can only tell you that Cummings is the poet I have chosen.ʼ The reply from a secretary, who had certainly misunderstood my letter, was: Quant à votre œuvre “Cummings est le Poète”, en allemand: “Cummings ist der Dichter”. I thought that there could not be a better title than the one that came about by chance.” The vocal part is taken by the ensemble ChorWerk Ruhr, one of Germany’s foremost chamber choirs.
The programme continues with György Ligeti’s Clocks and Clouds, a no less complex composition, which uses diatonic melody and harmony coloured by microintervals: “The periodic, polyrhythmic sound-complexes melt into diffuse, liquid states and vice versa. The abstract “text” of the piece is notated in the International Phonetic Alphabet and serves the rhythmic articulation and the transformation of timbre” (Ligeti). The concert closes with George Benjamin’s orchestral work Palimpsests, the first part of which was written for Boulez’s 75th birthday. The title refers to an ancient or medieval manuscript on which the original text has been scraped off and then overwritten – consequently, the various levels of writing remain recognisable and provide mysterious insights into the past. Benjamin’s two-part work also plays “with these the different layers superimposed over each other,” as the composer explained.