“I consider it a great honour and also a responsibility for my future work to be the recipient of the 2014 Claudio Abbado Composition Prize,” says Valerio Sannicandro. His delight and gratitude is clear – despite the fact that the Italian composer has already won many prestigious awards: including the Kranichstein Music Prize (2000), the musica viva BMW Composition Prize twice (2002 and 2010) and the Giga-Hertz-Award for electronic music (2012). “But this time I didn’t have to submit a composition, I was simply chosen!” beams Sannicandro. For this year’s winner, Claudio Abbado embodied an admirable artistic figure: “As a conductor, he was committed to traditional classical music, but at the same time, he was very interested in contemporary music and promoted it in a very idealistic way in order to realize the vision of the composers.”

Award for outstanding talent

In awarding the prize, the Berliner Philharmoniker wish to express their gratitude to their former chief conductor Claudio Abbado who donated the assets of the Claudio Abbado Music Foundation to the Orchestra Academy in 2002. The special concept of this award is for an established contemporary composer whose works also meet the aesthetic world of Abbado to recommend a younger, highly talented colleague for this prize. In 2006, Wolfgang Rihm put forward his pupil Jörg Widmann and in 2010, Pierre Boulez selected Bruno Mantovani. Valerio Sannicandro owes the honour to his teacher Peter Eötvös.

Three inspiring teachers

Alongside York Höller and Hans Zender, Eötvös is one of the now 43-year-old composer’s most influential teachers. Each of the three has decisively shaped Valerio Sannicandro’s artistic career and his musical thinking: York Höller encouraged him to devote himself entirely to composition. Hans Zender inspired Sannicandro with his way of thinking and critical engagement with music. From Peter Eötvös, the young composer learned to combine the practical aspects of making music with visionary ideas. “Eötvös has never forgotten his own time as a student, and he is still driven by the joy of discovery.”

Exploration of space

Valerio Sannicandro’s own composing revolves around the dialectic between form and freedom. At the centre of his work is space, something he sees as to be explored and exploited tonally. For the Apulian composer, it is a musical parameter in itself. How much space is included in the composition concept is also illustrated by AQUAE, a composition for five strings, clarinet, horn and piano, which, as the Claudio Abbado award winner, Sannicandro was commissioned to write by the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation for the students of the Orchestra Academy. The work will be premièred on 9 November 2014.

Endless river of sound

Space determines the dramaturgy of the piece. Sounds come into the foreground and retreat into the background. The piano is used not only as a keyboard, but also as a resonance instrument which is made to vibrate by blowing a clarinet and horn into it. Sannicandro spans his music throughout the whole room, it whispers and shimmers, it is fragile and simultaneously explosive, accentuated, and attacking. For the young students, precision ensemble playing in particular is the great challenge. The individual figures and motif fragments that grow and break out of the various instruments must be so placed that there is an endless river of sound which to the listener feels sometimes close, or sometimes – like a horizon – very far away. The idea for this piece came to Sannicandro in Japan. He was staying in a place where various forms of water all came together: a bubbling thermal spring, the sound of the ocean, and driving rain: “Aquae”.

AQUAE – excerpt of the score