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String theory inspires organ concert: Peter Eötvös conducts KCO in Multiverse

On Thursday 19 October, Peter Eötvös conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in the Dutch premiere of his organ concerto Multiverse, which he composed for the company. His brand new composition is flanked by works by György Ligeti and Claude Vivier.

Transylvania's rich musical tradition

Hungarian composer and conductor Peter Eötvös (Székelyudvarhely, 1944) grew up in Transylvania. Towards the end of World War II, his parents fled from the advancing Russians to the West. They reached Dresden exactly on the day of the heavy bombing. 'My family survived,' he says of this.' But then we returned to Hungary, where I grew up.

Transylvania is a conflict area that belonged at times to Hungary, at other times to Romania. It has a rich musical tradition, which plays a role in his compositional development. 'My musical mother tongue is shaped by Bartók, Ligeti and Kurtág,' he says. 'It is striking that, like me, they come from Transylvania. There, they have their own way of thinking, a typical way of expressing themselves. I feel more akin to them than to the full-blooded Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály.'

Eötvös also worked closely with avant-gardists such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez. He soon became one of the most important conductors of contemporary music and was chief conductor of the renowned Ensemble Intercontemporain for many years. As a composer, he made a name for himself with operas such as Three sisters After Anton Chekhov and Le balcon To Jean Genet.

Concert organ and Hammond organ

In 2006, commissioned by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, he composed the piano concerto CAP-KO. In it, the soloist operates not only a concert grand piano but also a midi keyboard, which complements each note played with another.

At Multiverse Eötvös also places two related instruments at the centre: a concert organ and a Hammond organ. He wrote it 'out of a lifelong fascination with the cosmos. In recent decades, revolutionary discoveries have been made. Chief among these is the concept of the multiverse: many parallel universes exist alongside the visible universe.'

Musical and cosmic vibrations

'According to string theory, everything in the cosmos is in motion on both macro and micro levels, just like music, which comes to sound through vibrations. I see a similarity with musical polyphony, in which multiple voices are superimposed in different ways.

At Multiverse the sound of the concert organ comes from the front. The Hammond organ is also on stage, but its sounds reach us through loudspeakers from the auditorium. In between, we hear the orchestra. In this way, I create a musical "cosmos" around the audience.'

Inflatable planetarium

The concert is part of the Horizon series, which zooms in on the intersections between science and music. Vincent Icke speaks prior to Multiverse on string theory; graphic artist Jaap Drupsteen shows visualisations. Students from the University of Amsterdam present an inflatable planetarium.

Afterwards, Entrée Late Night will feature music for small ensemble, including the new Parallel World [breathing] by Dutch composer and poet Rozalie Hirs.

Info and maps
Rozalie Hirs' play is experiencing its world premiere on 7 October

I spoke to Eötvös in 2014 for Culture Press about his Violin concerto DoReMi

Thea Derks

Thea Derks studied English and Musicology. In 1996, she completed her studies in musicology cum laude at the University of Amsterdam. She specialises in contemporary music and in 2014 published the critically acclaimed biography 'Reinbert de Leeuw: man or melody'. Four years on, she completed 'An ox on the roof: modern music in vogevlucht', aimed especially at the interested layperson. You buy it here: In 2020, the 3rd edition of the Reinbertbio appeared,with 2 additional chapters describing the period 2014-2020. These also appeared separately as Final Chord.View Author posts

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