Brett Dean © Pawel Kopczynski
Brett Dean
© Pawel Kopczynski
Australian composer Brett Dean played viola in the Berliner Philharmoniker for fourteen years, so reflected in the number of his works which feature the instrument. Dean’s compositions appear in the 8th Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival next January, where he is composer-in-residence. Dean is much in demand as a composer. Knocking at the Hellgate opened the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s current season and his new opera Hamlet features at Glyndebourne next summer. Dean’s music has an earthy, sinewy quality – approachable, but almost Bartókian in its raw excitement.

Three Dean works feature during the festival itself. Epitaphs, for string quintet (string quartet plus extra viola, echoing the formation used by Mozart, Brahms and Schubert in their works). Premiered at the 2010 Cheltenham Festival, Epitaphs sees Dean using doubled violas act as a counterpart to the two violins. Epitaphs paints portraits of five of the composer’s friends who passed away. The fifth movement celebrates British conductor Richard Hickox, who was to have premiered Dean’s first opera, Bliss, but whose untimely death in 2008 cast a long shadow over the classical music world. Another movement remembers Jan Diesselhorst, a Berlin Philharmonic cellist, known among his colleagues as “The Philosopher”, with an expansive cello solo.

Sketches for Siegbert honours another colleague, Siegbert Ueberschaer, Dean’s desk partner among the Berlin Philharmonic violas. Commissioned as a competition piece, Dean wanted to combine his tribute with something that would provide a challenge to young players. Dean himself performs his work in Hong Kong. Huntingdon Eulogy (2001) was commissioned by the BBC for cellist Alban Gerhardt and pianist Stephen Osborne. The titles refers to the Huntingdon Estate winery in Australia, home to a music festival the composer has been associated with since 1997. The first two movements depict natural features of New South Wales before a finale – an Elegy – written in memory of a young cellarmaster. The festival enjoys pairing new works with established classics, so Dean rubs shoulders with Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart.

Borromeo String Quartet © Richard Bowditch
Borromeo String Quartet
© Richard Bowditch
The Borromeo String Quartet, ensemble-in-residence at the New England Conservatory, forms the backbone of the festival, performing as part of each recital. There is a particular focus on Beethoven, with the Borromeo’s first violinist, Nicholas Kitchen, giving a special lecture “Inside Beethoven’s Mind” about the composer and the impact his string quartets made on subsequent composers. The lecture precedes a recital which sees the Borromeos perform the mighty String Quartet in B flat major Op.130 along with its original ending, the Grosse Fuge Op.133. The festival also features the Borromeos in the “Serioso” Op.95 quartet.

Eminent Taiwanese-American violinist Cho-Liang Lin is the festival’s Artistic Director and has programmed a number of chamber works with string quartet to explore the expanded quartet format. Alongside Mozart’s K516 string quintet, there is César Franck’s Piano Quintet – in which Camille Saint-Saëns playing the piano part at the première – and Ernest Chausson’s wondrous Concert in D, composed for solo violin, piano and string quartet.

The festival has a busy programme of outreach and educational work. Brett Dean will play and discuss his compositions and there are free lectures, open rehearsals and panel discussions about his chamber music works.

Aside from January’s festival, Premiere Performances of Hong Kong also presents a number of chamber recitals this season at Hong Kong City Hall. Pianist Gabriela Montero is famous for her dazzling improvisations, where she takes themes suggested by members of the audience and then improvises on them in the style of other composers. She concludes her April recital of Schubert and Schumann this way, so make sure you go along with a few ideas!

Nemanja Radulović is touted the ‘rockstar’ violinist and his May recital closes with Wieniawski’s fiendish Variations on an original theme which should put him through his virtuoso paces. Another lovely violin and piano recital features Augustin Hadelich and Joyce Yang, whose programme features Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky… and Brett Dean.


Article sponsored by Premiere Performances of Hong Kong Ltd