What teachers and mentors this man had! Zoltán Kodály, Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez all decisively shaped his musical thinking and his artistic direction. Today, Peter Eötvös, who hails from Transylvania and celebrated his 70th birthday in January, is one of the leading composers of our time. He is also a busy conductor and a long-time associate of the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Beginnings with Stockhausen
Their collaboration began relatively unspectacularly. In 1972, as part of the 20th century music concert series, the orchestra performed Karl Heinz Stockhausen's Hymnen, a work for electronic and concrete sounds, under the baton of the composer. Together with the pianist Aloys Kontarsky and percussionist Christoph Caskel, the Berliner Philharmoniker was responsible for the concrete sound, and the electronic sound was provided by Harald Bojé – and Peter Eötvös, then a sound engineer at the electronic studio of WDR in Cologne and a member of the Stockhausen Ensemble. The two operated “two mysterious pieces of apparatus which reproduced sounds, noises and speaking voices,” as one critic wrote.
Conducting debut at the Musik-Biennale
It took another 22 years before Peter Eötvös appeared again with members of the Berliner Philharmoniker: In 1994, the Scharoun Ensemble engaged him as the conductor for a concert with works by György Ligeti, Juan Manuel Chavez, Anton Webern, Ferruccio Busoni and Arnold Schoenberg. Eötvös had by then distinguished himself as the musical director of the Ensemble InterContemporain founded by Pierre Boulez, as a gifted conductor, a successful composer of theatre and film music, and as a university teacher. In 1999, he conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker for the first time, opening the Berliner Musik-Biennale. In addition to Harrison Birtwistle's Earth Dances, the programme included two world premières: Hanspeter Kyburz's Clarinet Concerto à travers and Wolfgang Rihm's Drei späte Gedichte von Heiner Müller. Both public and press alike were impressed by the ease with which he successfully coordinated the mammoth masses of sound. The orchestral musicians, on the other hand, admire his ability to perceive the smallest error in such a formidable musical fray. When asked about this ability in an interview for the Digital Concert Hall he said: “I can hear very precisely!”
An inspired communicator
In the following years, Eötvös returned regularly as a guest of the Berliner Philharmoniker – and guaranteed unusual concert programmes. For example, the concerts in April 2009, where he performed Bach chorales in the orchestration of Arnold Schoenberg, Richard Wagner's Siegfried Idyll and Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Requiem für einen jungen Dichter. The first of his own works to be performed at a Philharmoniker concert was his orchestral work Atlantis in 2003, and three years ago, Peter Eötvös conducted the première of his Cello Concerto Grosso with Miklós Perényi as the soloist. In an interview for the Digital Concert Hall, he confessed that it was particularly difficult to conduct one of his own pieces. “The greatest difficulty is that it does not sound like I thought, and to have to decide very quickly whether it is my compositional error, or whether it is due to the way of playing.” In celebration of his 70th birthday, Peter Eötvös has again been invited by the Berliner Philharmoniker to perform one of his works: his Violin Concerto No.2 DoReMi, with Patricia Kopatchinskaja as the soloist, who also makes her debut with the orchestra with these concerts. Other works to be performed are Wolfgang Rihm's IN-SCHRIFT 2 and Johannes Brahms Piano Quartet no. 1 in the orchestral version by Arnold Schoenberg. Happy Birthday, Peter Eötvös!