“Ligeti is one of my musical heroes.” Jay Campbell on “Ligeti Forward,” a three-part concert series in New York

Jay Campbell in Lucerne, performing Boulez's Dérive 2 with the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY 2010 (photo: Georg Anderhub)

Jay Campbell in Lucerne, performing Boulez’s Dérive 2 with the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY, 2010 (photo: Georg Anderhub)

Wherever an exciting musical project somewhere around the world is happening, chances are that you’ll find the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ALUMNI involved somehow. This is the international network of the more than 1,000 previous participants in the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY. For example, at the beginning of June in New York, as part of the NY Phil Biennial, a group of selected Alumni will present a three-part concert series marking the 10th anniversary of the death of György Ligeti: “Ligeti Forward” (3 – 5 June). Along with Ligeti’s concerti for Cello, Piano, and Violin, they will perform works by such contemporary composers as Unsuk Chin, Marc-André Dalbavie, and John Zorn – showing how influential Ligeti’s creative thought remains to this day. Cellist Jay Campbell, participant in the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY in 2010, 2011, and 2014, is the initiator of “Ligeti Forward”. We asked him four questions about the upcoming concerts in New York.

What’s the idea behind the three concerts of “Ligeti Forward”?
Well, first of all, the most important idea is to put on three concerts’ worth of awesome music played by great musicians. More specifically, though, I wanted to present a set of programs that I hope might, very broadly, say something about Ligeti’s influence on later composers. I decided to use three of his instrumental concerti – for piano, cello, and violin – as a kind of anchor for the other pieces/composers to orbit around. Some share procedural similarities (Unsuk Chin), some simply occupy the same coloristic world (Dai Fujikura), and some overlap in an almost metaphysical way (Gérard Grisey).

When and why did you come up with the idea?
I was sort of given carte blanche to curate something at the Metropolitan Museum, so I figured I’d go as big as I could. Ligeti is one of my musical heroes for his combination of rigorous craft with endless imagination, so I knew right away it would have something to do with his music: specifically, either who he was influenced by, or his influence in the other direction. For me, one remarkable aspect is that he seems to reinvent himself with almost every piece, yet never lose an unmistakable identity. In that sense, it’s difficult to isolate Ligeti’s influence on younger composers because his output is just so broad and idiosyncratic. His music pretty effectively resists cheap imitation. Interestingly, though, that forces one into a kind of programmatic grey area, which I think is a great place to be, curatorially. It makes one consider the gestalt of each composer more carefully, and how they align with Ligeti’s modus operandi, rather than choosing a piece because it vaguely sounds like Atmosphères or something. And as for the audience: when a program isn’t prescriptive, I think that’s where their imagination can be most actively involved. Not just within individual works, but also in the subtle connections and contradictions across the program, which hopefully accrete into a meaningful macro-experience, rather than a grab bag of unrelated works.

Why did you want to put together an ensemble of LUCERNE FESTIVAL ALUMNI instead of working with an existing local orchestra or ensemble?
Two things: firstly, it’s really exciting to work with musicians who are really passionate about the music of our time, who have a willingness to jump into the unknown with full commitment. I think curiosity is a trait that perhaps isn’t encouraged enough in our training, but there’s absolutely no lack of it at the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY, and I think audiences can certainly hear that. Secondly, the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY is unique even by European standards – something like the Academy is pretty much nonexistent in America, so I thought it would be great to bring a group to New York, to share their enthusiasm for this music.

What do you expect from working together with Alan Gilbert as part of his NY Phil Biennial?
I think he will expect and demand a lot from the musicians because he takes this kind of music very seriously. But, since that level of engagement is matched by the musicians of the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ALUMNI, I think it’s a perfect match for preparing this music at the highest level. I have enormous respect not only for Alan Gilbert’s musicianship, but also the direction that he’s taken the New York Philharmonic. In a way, he has continued what Pierre Boulez started at the New York Philharmonic, so it’s a collaboration that makes a lot of sense to me.

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