Concerto for two pianos and double orchestra "Battlefield", Op.54 (world premiere; LA Phil commission)
Length: c. 25 minutes
Orchestration: Orchestra I – piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 4 horns, 2 trumpets (+ off-stage trumpet), timpani, percussion (triangle, small Chinese cymbal, nails cymbal, suspended cymbal, crash cymbals, tom-toms, snare drum, congas, temple blocks, guiro, maraca, cowbell, and claves), strings, electric bass, and solo piano; Orchestra II – English horn, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, off-stage bass trumpet, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, suspended cymbals, crash cymbals, tom-toms, snare drum, cowbells, and wood blocks), strings, and solo piano
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (world premiere)
Co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Orchestre de Paris, Gewandhaus Leipzig, and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Richard Dubugnon’s new concerto is dedicated to Katia and Marielle Labèque, with special thanks to Didier de Cottignies for the idea of writing this Concerto using the picture Battaglia di San Romano by the Florentine artist Paolo Uccelo (1397-1475). The Labèques will give the European premiere of the work in March 2012, with the Orchestre de Paris conducted by Paavo Järvi. The composer has written the following note:
“I realized that in the literature for two pianos and orchestra, the two soloists very often play together most of the time, which makes it difficult for the listener to know who plays what. I wanted in this work that both soloists didn’t only converse and compete in virtuosity but also had their own moments of brilliance or expressivity. The ‘Battlefield’ Concerto has been written especially for Katia and Marielle Labèque and I tried to compose music that would bring out their contrasted personalities.
“This Double Concerto follows the various hypothetical stages of a 15th-century battle, such as the Battaglia di San Romano as depicted in an impressive triptych painted by Paolo Uccelo.
“The traditional symphony orchestra is divided in two, like two armies facing each other, Piano I and Orchestra I on the left (back to the public), Piano II and Orchestra II on the right. It doesn’t require more instruments than a traditional symphony orchestra with triple winds, apart from two sets of timpani and an electric bass. Strings are divided in two smaller string orchestras and the wind sections are grouped with most of the higher winds on the left side (Orchestra I) and lower winds on the right (Orchestra II), also to avoid too heavy stage changes. Between the two orchestras there should be a ‘no man’s land’ at least as wide as the two pianos for better stereophonic effects.
“The piece requires also an off-stage trumpet, located on a balcony on the left side (working with Orchestra I) and a bass trumpet on a balcony on the right side (Orchestra II).
“The music is pictorial and at moments theatrical. The work opens with a fanfare with drums and trumpets on the balconies, both armies calling for battle. Both offstage trumpets play their own bell-like tolls (Toll I and Toll II), which will remain identification marks for the respective armies. After repeating those tolls, the two pianos introduce their respective themes (TH. I and TH. II), which are the main themes of the Concerto and will never be shared until the very end, when the armies reconcile. A double cadenza for the soloists follows, representing their ‘parley’ or negotiations, which develops into a burlesque Parade, where both orchestras and soloists compete with their own tolls. There are some interesting polyrhythmic and polytonal effects, evoking corteges in the fields, coming closer, crossing, and going away. The character of the music becomes more charged with aggression, then leads into the core and most developed part of the Concerto, which is the battle itself, consisting of furious episodes in four different major sections. After that, the trumpets and drums call for a truce, a short break in the midst of this bloody battle. This is only to be followed by an even more furious ‘coup de grâce’ where both pianos are pushed to their extreme high (I) and low (II) registers and ‘lose’ their left (I) and right (II) hands, as a metaphor only, of course: they will play the following Funeral and Triumphant March with only one hand each. Both hands of each pianist shall be reunited only in the last two sections: Peace and Reconciliations and Feasts, where they will play their respective themes superimposed in a skillful counterpoint, then sharing their themes (piano I playing TH. II and vice-versa) as a sign of peace. The festive coda ends the piece with the Toll I and TH. I.”