Arranging Kurtág – An Interview with Olivier Cuendet

The renowned Swiss composer-conductor Olivier Cuendet has been working with György Kurtág for more than twenty years. One of the fruits of this cooperation, an ensemble version of …concertante…, was premiered on January 16, 2020, in Amsterdam with Asko | Schönberg Ensemble and was repeated in Washington D. C. two weeks later. Plans for a recording of Cuendet’s arrangement of Zwiegespräch for synthesizer and orchestra, and a premiere of a percussion version are also on the schedule.

You’ve arranged three compositions by Kurtág for ensemble up till now: in two cases your arrangements are expansions of the original (Zwiegespräch and Games), the third one is a reduction (…concertante…). Why did you choose these works?

I can’t say that I chose these works, rather they chose me! When I discovered for myself Kurtág’s unique method of constantly reworking his previous compositions and producing new works out of older pieces, especially out of his piano music Játékok (Games), I asked him if I could try to make my own instrumental versions of some of his piano pieces with different technics and improvisation. I tried it with my ensemBle baBel and we performed it also in Budapest. After this first, mostly improvised attempt, he encouraged me to fix some of them into a score: the result was very far from improvisation but it kept the idea of ‘games’ from his Games (Játékok). In the meantime, György Kurtág Jr asked me if I could try to arrange Zwiegespräch and later …concertante… . Both works represent great music but suffered from balance problems: in Zwiegespräch between the string quartet and synthesiser, in …concertante… between the two soloists and a very large symphony orchestra. The challenge was to give the right space to the music and also to reorganise the musical material (Zwiegespräch) or to simplify it (…concertante…).