Award-winning French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet will join our orchestra at Huddersfield Town Hall on 24 January for a virtuoso performance of a unique, historic piece of music, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in D Major for the Left Hand. The concert, Music of Consequence, also features by major works from Wagner and Shostakovich.
The Concerto in D Major was commissioned from Ravel – best known for his mesmerising Boléro – by Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm in the First World War. Wittgenstein, who insisted on exclusive lifetime performing rights for all the pieces written for him, gave its premiere in Vienna in 1932.
For another pianist to reproduce the effects that Ravel intended with his careful writing for the keyboard, using only the left hand, takes a special talent and a lot of preparation. Jean-Efflam’s recording of the work for the Chandos label won awards from BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone, and he is recognised as one of the leading interpreters of the piece performing today.
“It is extremely difficult to make music with only one part of your body!” says Jean-Efflam. “Every pianist who starts learning this piece feels very odd, very strange. It’s extraordinary how the right hand, which does nothing, takes up such space in your brain as you learn it: you really want to express music with that hand as well, and you might even experience tension in it.”
“So all of these things take a while to deal with, to be completely relaxed and concentrate on the left hand. But after this, when you play a piece for both hands, you feel enriched by all the new ability that your left hand has.”
While it often uses the lower registers of the Orchestra for a heavy, heroic tone and includes a passage that quotes from Boléro, likened by Jean-Efflam to a “soldiers’ march”, the concerto doesn’t dwell on the dark background to its creation, with moments of sparkling beauty and, in Ravel’s own words, “many jazz effects”.
A favourite passage for Jean-Efflam is “the last moment when the piano is alone, almost lost. For me this is the moment where Ravel speaks to us in the first person. I think of his opera L’enfant et les sortilèges, when the child goes out into the garden – there’s a very beautiful poetry in that moment of loneliness.”
Based on the medieval legend of two doomed lovers, the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde opens the concert. The composer himself oversaw the first performance of these opening and closing portions of his great opera before the work as a whole was completed, and they showcase his revolutionary developments in arranging for the orchestra. “Shall we call it Death?” said Wagner of the deeply moving Liebestod, “Or is it the miraculous world of Night, from which, as the story tells, an ivy and a vine sprang of old in inseparable embrace over the grave of Tristan and Isolde?”
The Concerto for Left Hand is followed by Shostakovich’s final symphony, the 15th, which opens with the enchanting “toyshop” sequence and its mischievous quote from Rossini’s William Tell Overture – and draws to a close with a more sombre reference to Tristan and Isolde. Conductor Christoph Altstaedt makes his Kirklees debut alongside Jean-Efflam Bavouzet.
Music of Consequence, at Huddersfield Town Hall on Thursday 24 January, includes a free Talking Music Q&A session with Christoph and Jean-Efflam, before the performance begins at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced from £13.00 – £27.00. Anyone aged 16 and under can see the concert for just £1.00, and tickets for 17 to 29-year-olds are priced at £4.00.