Études symphoniques for piano and orchestra


Piano & orchestra

29 min

• WORLD PREMIERE: 16/03/2023, Rudolfinum (Dvořák Hall), Prague (Czech Republic) – Seong-Jin Cho (piano), Czech Philharmonic, Semyon Bychkov (cond.).
• HUNGARIAN PREMIERE: 31/03/2023, Müpa, Budapest – Seong-Jin Cho (piano), Czech Philharmonic, Semyon Bychkov (cond.).
• CROATIAN PREMIERE: 1/04/2023, Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall, Zagreb – Seong-Jin Cho (piano), Czech Philharmonic, Semyon Bychkov (cond.).
• GERMAN PREMIERE : 20/09/2023, Isarphilharmonie, Munich – Seong-Jin Cho (piano), Münchner Philharmoniker, Semyon Bychkov (cond.).

• COMMISSION: Czech Philharmonic, Münchner Philharmoniker.

• SCORING: – – timp, 2 perc., hp et strings.

• PUBLISHER: Gérard Billaudot.

Beyond exploiting various aspects of piano technique such as chord shifts, clear articulation or polyphonic writing, Études symphoniques – commissioned by Semyon Bychkov for the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra – are also a cycle of four studies in composition technique, integrating every possible form of dialogue between a soloist and an orchestra: extremely tense at times, their interaction may also result in conflicting polyphonic textures or even violent contrasts.

The listener will easily hear reminiscences of JS Bach’s harmonic language in the ethereal atmosphere of the opening chordal motif. Like a leitmotiv, it will reoccur over the course of the next 30 minutes of music, taking a great variety of forms and culminating on the explosive final chords.

Dérives (#1) is a passacaglia deriving (literally) from the above-mentioned chordal motif. However, with its rippling 16th-note arpeggios drawing neo-baroque arabesques and swirls, the piano repeatedly tries to shift toward more syncopated episodes evocative of spirited folk dances. But every attempt is relentlessly interrupted by the passacaglia that eventually brings the piece back to its initial mood.

Furtif (#2) starts as a lively, playful scherzo interrupted by a slower, almost enigmatic modal melody. As the latter unfolds, trying to outperform the increasingly unstoppable scherzo, the two universes intertwine and give the piece a jazzier touch, in which the piano seems to be improvising an imaginary chorus.

Mirage alternates an ecstatic world featuring several melodic lines intertwining in multiple canons within a clear, serene harmonic environment and a more lyrical motif, dramatically emphasized by the piano playing repeated notes. As fragments of romantic phrases – possibly originating from some distant past - keep interrupting fiery pianistic utterances, a certain duality ensues and the piece derives to a climax that sounds like a wild waltz.

A brief episode lets an ornamented piano line twist itself around a trumpet melody in a nocturnal atmosphere reminiscent of the beginning of the cycle. The final Toccata then imposes a more rhythmic, staccato writing that seems an even more dynamic continuation of what had already been suggested in the second etude (Furtif). Only the reoccurrence of the initial chordal motif belies the jubilant spirit by striking a more tragic note in this chord-filled concluding Toccata.

Thierry Escaich