Wolfgang Rihm on his Duo Concerto in an interview with William Robin, New York Times
Could you tell me a bit about the background and origins of the Duo Concerto? How did you come to choose to write a work for violin, cello, and orchestra?
Rihm: I was composer in residence at the Moritzburg Festival in summer 2013. Jan Vogler asked me if I would like to compose a piece for him and his wife with orchestra. I readily agreed, since I was planning to write some konzertant [concerto-like] compositions in the near future – that is, to approach the idea of the concerto from various sides.
What is the significance for you of the message of international reconciliation that is part of the commission for this piece?
Rihm: When I compose I think only of music. All programmatic ideas, subjects and notions combine into an intuitive flux, where they materialize. They can be perceivable but they are not a central factor while I am working.
How does the Duo Concerto fit in with your current musical interests as a composer? You wrote a Trio Concerto in 2014 – is this a current focus for you?
Rihm: As I said, the idea of concerto-like [form] has been strongly inspiring me for some time: Lichtes Spiel and Gedicht des Malers – two new violin concertos, the Horn Concerto, the second Piano Concerto, the Trio Concerto – all of them are primarily motivated by a more vocal conception of the concerto-like notion; the “agonal,” i.e. the combative forms of playing concerto-like music interests me less.
Some of your music in the past has been connected to Brahms, and the most famous precedent for a Double Concerto is by Brahms. Is this work at all in dialogue with Brahms's music, and if so, how might that manifest in the score? If not, was it a deliberate avoidance of that precedent?
Rihm: I believe that Brahms is not a central factor here – rather, I am guided by a kind of Bachian ideal of integral interweaving of the polyphonic flux. Brahms’ Double Concerto has more of the character of a dialog (all the way to a dispute); however, in my piece it is a matter of one single voice, fashioned per se dialogically and consisting of two individuals, singing out.
Jan Vogler and Mira Wang are married, and often perform together Is that something you were conscious of while writing this work, and did you present this relationship in the Duo Concerto? If so, how?
Rihm: Perhaps that thought was part of it; I don’t know. The interweaving of two voices to form a single linear motion carries on in the small orchestra, of course; the soloists are not pitted against a collective, but rather integrated into a sonic event which, for its part, is strongly interwoven and interlinked.
What challenges does a Duo Concerto present that a concerto for a single instrument might not?
Rihm: I believe that ever-present polyphony is the greatest challenge. The interpenetration of the solo voices and the orchestra requires highly sensitive interactive listening, so that the breathing of the lines and the formal parts becomes perspectival and transparent. To a large extent, the piece is conceived in extremely chamber-musical terms.
Could you tell me a little bit about the relationship between violin and cello in this piece? Looking at the score, it seems that they are almost always in dialogue and not frequently presented as individual soloists. What is the significance of this, and how does the duo relate to the orchestra?
Rihm: As I have indicated, the soloists are actually a single “instrument,” dialogically fashioned. In turn, the interlacing is a trigger, the orchestra’s lines which move about these soloists. Everything has a songlike shape, and I hope that the piece makes tangible a kind of organic flux; I believe it substantiates all our musical endeavors.
The repertoire of concertos for violin and cello is relatively limited -- what does it mean for you to contribute to this body of work?
Rihm: I have always very much liked composing for two soloists and orchestra – think of the three Doppelgesänge – I feel greatly stimulated in writing for these very specifically, perspectivally deployed scorings. I haven’t yet clarified for myself that the repertoire is relatively small – so much the better, then, if it grows somewhat.
(c) William Robin, 2015