Last spring the NOVA Chamber Music Series presented the Utah premiere of Wolfgang Rihm’s piano trio Fremde Szene II, a wild and memorable experience for many in the audience (and certainly for those on stage!). Over the course of this season and next, NOVA is dedicating a fair amount of time to this composer on the Gallery Series by presenting the first complete Utah cycle of his solo Klavierstücke. By the end of this cycle, the NOVA audience will have had serious exposure to this wonderfully creative mind.
It is no exaggeration to say that Wolfgang Rihm is the most important German composer alive today. His works are paired on NOVA this season with the complete Beethoven violin sonatas as a testament to the strength of his musical craftsmanship and creative spirit. Like Beethoven, Rihm absorbed the language and styles of his predecessors but railed against the confines suggested by this musical inheritance. One of the traits of his style is that he does not restrict himself to a “style” at all. His catalogue is very difficult to pin down into a convenient “ism,” leaving us to judge each of his works in a more singular fashion.
Paul Griffiths, modern music critic and historian (and guest speaker at NOVA during Salt Lake City’s Messiaen Festival of April 2007), addresses this very point:
The selfhood of a Beethoven sonata or a Lachenmann string quartet is made partly by how it relates, and does not relate, to the composer’s output. But with Rihm these relations lie dormant. His music remains, surely for most of us, a map with a few islands, a few strands of coastline, and large, large areas of white paper. A new Rihm piece comes to us, therefore, almost from out of nowhere. And there are gains in this: of anonymity, of an individuality in each piece that is self-created, not dependent on coordinates of linkage.
If you’re looking to read a little more about Wolfgang Rihm, two articles celebrating Thierry Fischer’s performances of Rihm’s music with the London Sinfonietta present a great introduction to his music. Tom Service wrote a fantastic preview article of the London events celebrating Rihm’s 60th birthday, while Ivan Hewett wrote a review of Fischer’s concerts for The Telegraph.