Two major works by Sofia Gubaidulina comprise this album: The Lyre of Orpheus (composed in 2006), for violin, percussion and string orchestra, and The Canticle of the Sun (1997, rev. 1998), for violoncello, chamber choir, percussion and celesta. Both pieces were recorded at the Lockenhaus Festival in, respectively, 2006 and 2010.
Gidon Kremer is the soloist and Kremerata Baltica the ensemble on the premiere recording of The Lyre of Orpheus. Kremer has long been a committed advocate of Gubaidulina’s work, and the composer has praised the way the violinist seems to unleash music from the soul, playing with “great inner plasticity”. Gubaidulina’s interpreters must penetrate the rarefied atmospheres of her works, and bring their own creativity into play, to “complete” the music, as she says. “What a richness in sounds and silence!” exclaims Kremer of The Lyre of Orpheus. “What inventiveness in the approach to the invisible! Everyone should be obliged to find keys to enter the mystical kingdom created by Sofia Gubaidulina as a sensitive reflection of higher powers. The rewards follow imminently and stay forever.” In this work of austere beauty and raw lyricism, violin, string orchestra and percussion intermingle in new ways.
At a subterranean level, The Lyre of Orpheus is also an exploration into the physics of sound, with pulsating difference tones informing its underlying structures. Gubaidulina explains: “One can conceive of an imaginary pulsating space where the pulsation of the difference tones corresponds to the sounding intervals. Projected onto the tonal area which we can perceive, a specific correlation is formed between this pulsation and the sounding interval which produces the difference tone. One can experience this correspondence in an artistic work as a metaphor for a profound correlation between processes taking place in time and processes within the sound world, but also as a pronounced factor of formal organization.”
The Lyre of Orpheus was commissioned by the Basel Festival ‘Les Muséiques’ and received its premiere on 6 June 2006, performed by Gidon Kremer, Andrei Pushkarev, Peter Sadlo and the Kremerata Baltica in Basel. The present recording followed a month later.
Canticle of the Sun revisits the celebrated piece that Gubaidulina wrote in tribute to Mstislav Rostropovich on the occasion of his 70th birthday in 1997. Rostropovich’s famously sunny disposition was an inspiration, by association prompting Gubaidulina to set St Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun for choir. In this recording, Nicolas Altstaedt takes on the highly expressive lead role. Gubaidulina: “Nicolas possesses a brilliant technique, beautiful sound, outstanding feeling of form, excellent phrasing. His play was masterly. Without exaggeration one can say that we are dealing with a highly gifted musician, with a unique personality.” A further, timely, Lockenhaus connection: as of this year, Nicolas Altstaedt takes over from Gidon Kremer as the new director of the Lockenhaus Chamber Music Festival.
Nicolas Altstaedt, who makes his ECM debut here, was born in Heidelberg in 1982. He was one of Boris Pergamenschikow’s last students in Berlin, where he is continuing his studies with Eberhard Feltz. He counts Mstislav Rostropovich, Tabea Zimmermann, Heinrich Schiff, Miklós Perényi, Steven Isserlis and Anner Bylsma amongst his influences. Altstaedt has already won many international awards including recently the Kulturstiftung Dortmund prize, and the Credit Suisse Young Artist Award 2010. He is a BBC New Generation Artist 2010-2012, a member of the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, and received a Borletti Buitoni Fellowship in 2009.
Gidon Kremer, born in Riga in 1947, has established a world-wide reputation as one of the most original and compelling artists of his generation. After winning several major violin competitions he moved to the West in 1980. His association with ECM began with Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa, which launched the ECM New Series in 1984. In 1997, he founded the Kremerata Baltica chamber orchestra to foster outstanding young musicians from the three Baltic States. Since then, he has toured the world's festivals and concert halls with the orchestra.
The Riga youth choir Kamēr… was founded in 1990 by conductor Māris Sirmais (born 1969), who continues to lead the choir today.
Sofia Gubaidulina was born in Chistopol in the Tatar Republic of the Soviet Union in 1931. She studied piano and composition at the Kazan Conservatory, and continued at the Moscow Conservatory. Her beliefs in the religious power of music and commitment to her own artistic vision did not endear her to the Soviet musical establishment, but she received early encouragement from Dmitry Shostakovich and her music was championed in Russia by a number of devoted performers. The determined advocacy of Gidon Kremer helped bring the composer to international attention in the early 1980s. Gubaidulina is the author of symphonic and choral works, two cello concerti, a viola concerto, four string quartets, a string trio, works for percussion ensemble, and many works for nonstandard instruments and distinctive combinations of instruments. Her scores frequently explore unconventional techniques of sound production. One of the most widely-respected of living composers her 80th birthday in 2011 was celebrated in newspapers around the world and in an ongoing series of international concerts and special events.