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Work of the Week – Gavin Bryars: Harpsichord Concerto

Very rarely do audiences come across new classical works that allows the soloist to improvise on the spot. Gavin Bryars has specifically written notation for keyboardist, Mahan Esfahani (pictured), to play freely beyond the page as he performs the world premiere of Bryars’ Harpsichord Concerto with Andrew Manze and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic on 23 March 2023. 

When Gavin Bryars composes a piece for someone, that piece - logically - takes on a very personal touch. This is expressed by Bryars letting the player improvise freely and imaginatively. He believes that the performing artist will intuitively know better about which particular musical embellishments will be suitable for the musical line. As a comparison, Bryars refers to the compositional process of his work Toru's Mist which features a shakuhachi (a Japanese longitudinal bamboo flute) as a solo instrument. It would be arrogant for the composer to prescribe the exact passages to be played for the instrument-master since Bryars humbly feels that his own knowledge of this specific instrument is limited.

Lets creativity run free: Harpsichord Concerto by Gavin Bryars

During the creative process, Bryars has listened and focused in on the liveliness that Esfahani brings to every performance. Within this new work, he trusts Esfahani not only as a player but as true artist:

The harpsichord solo part for the concerto is to be played within the spirit of much of the music for the baroque harpsichord. I have deliberately limited the amount of ornamentation written by myself in order that the performer can add it freely in an imaginative or improvisatory way. This can be as austere or as florid as the player wishes. (Gavin Bryars)

Harpsichord Concerto was commissioned by both the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orchestre National de Lyon. The national premiere in France is being planned for 2024.



Gavin Bryars: Composer Profile

Harpsichord Concerto: Work Details and Online Score

Website Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

photo: Kaja Smith