Kurtág at BBC Proms

Kurtág’s work for piano and instrumental groups …quasi una fantasia… was performed at the BBC Proms on 30 August at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The soloist was Dame Mitsuko Uchida, and the London Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Sir Simon Rattle at an event held to the exclusion of the audience, which could be followed solely on radio and television.

"I wanted the musicians to not be able to discuss how bad the music was during rehearsals," said György Kurtág at his own expense in reference to this work, which calls for the use of orchestra scattered throughout the concert hall sounding from different directions and heights, which prophetically predicted today's expectations of social distance.

The work and the performance have been praised by several critics, although they unanimously expressed their desire to enjoy a live production:

Photo: BBC/CHRIS CHRISTODOULOU

The required distancing between players became the basis of the programming, from Gabrieli brass ensemble music with the players scattered around the RAH’s boxes, to György Kurtág’s …quasi una fantasia… that, although written in 1988, has social distancing built into it. … The Kurtág that followed Beethoven’s ’Moonlight’ sonata was a terrific juxtaposition, starting with the piano alone before the strange line-up of percussion entered.

Bernard Hughes, theartsdesk.com

We also heard Mitsuko Uchida play the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, that folded into a pointillist 20th-century work directly inspired by the Beethoven, Kurtág’s  …quasi una fantasia… with Uchida playing a prominent part. The paradox of these immaculately presented pieces was that for all the imaginative use of the Albert Hall, the frisson provided by the distanced performers was ultimately lost on television. The allure of Kurtag’s textures — the strange, jarring sonorities — relies on the ear not quite being able to tell the brain where the sounds are coming from.

Neil Fisher, The Times