Press release written by Nicky Thomas
Nicolas Hodges returns to the Proms to perform Messiaen’s intrepid Des canyons aux étoiles at the BBC Proms on 28 July with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo. Mark Swed (LA Times) recently described Hodges as “one of the leading performers of advanced European music … He makes seemingly unintelligible music speak for itself … and is a pianist with a flabbergasting technique and instantly engaging musicality.”
A vast 90-minute sonic meditation, Olivier Messiaen’s singular Des canyons aux étoiles (1974) was commissioned by Alice Tully to celebrate the bicentenary of the United States Declaration of Independence. Twelve movements take listeners on a journey from the deserts of Utah to the stars, inspired by the colourful Bryce Canyon, which stimulated the composer’s sound-colour synaesthesia. Messiaen includes the calls of over 80 species of birds from Utah, Arizona, and beyond. Hodges appears with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sakari Oramo.
Nicolas Hodges first performed at the BBC Proms as a 12-year-old chorister with Christ Church Cathedral Choir performing Penderecki’s St Luke’s Passion. He last championed Messiaen at the festival through his Trois petites liturgies de la Présence Divine with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2005.
He has returned to the Proms frequently, championing 20th-and 21st-century music by Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Harrison Birtwistle. Hodges gave the UK premiere of Birtwistle’s Gigue Machine at the Proms, which he will record in November coupling Birtwistle’s music with Beethoven’s Bagatelles and Fantasia op. 77.
Nicolas Hodges said: “I’m thrilled to be returning to the Proms this year. Performing there in a major choral work by a living composer as a boy in the vast cavern of the Albert Hall was immeasurably formative, as was my childhood as a chorister, which exposed me to Messiaen’s great organ works. I was lucky to hear Messiaen’s wife Yvonne Loriod performing his music in London on many occasions. His Des Canyons is a definitively American piece with an American sound world. I travel extensively as a performer and am always amazed by how each continent’s sound is so distinctive due to its birdsong.”
Hodges has long encouraged the creation of new contemporary repertoire for the piano. He has premiered works by Thomas Adès, Elliott Carter, Wolfgang Rihm and Sir Harrison Birtwistle, prompting the latter to say: “Nic Hodges is becoming like my Peter Pears.” On 1 April, Hodges returns to the UK to revisit Thomas Adès’ In Seven Days Piano Concerto, which he will be perform with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra following his critically acclaimed recording with the London Sinfonietta.
With an inexhaustible energy to communicate new music, Hodges has commissioned over 25 piano concertos to date including most recently those by Gerard Barry and Simon Steen-Andersen. By choosing to maintain close collaborative relationships with contemporary composers, Hodges presents an extraordinary first-hand insight into the music of today. His next disc will be music by Helmut Lachenmann with Trio Accanto, including his Marche Fatale in its original piano version, alongside music by Michael Finnissy and others.
Hodges gives the world premiere of a new work by Rebecca Saunders with Trio Accanto on 15 February 2020 at the Maison de la Radio, Paris as part of Festival Présences. This is followed on 29 August 2020 by the world premiere of Rebecca Saunders’ new Piano Concerto at Lucerne Festival. Roche, in collaboration with the Lucerne Festival and the Lucerne Festival Academy, has awarded Saunders their prestigious Roche Commission.
Berlin-based composer Rebecca Saunders is one of the UK’s most radical and distinguished composers, noted for her distinctive and intensely striking sonic language. Saunders’ compositions have been performed from Darmstadt to the Proms, and she adds the Roche Commission to an ever-growing number of accomplishments, alongside the Ernst von Siemens Prize which she will receive in Munich on 7 June.
The biannual Roche Commissions have previously been awarded to several high-profile composers, including Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Sir George Benjamin. They enable musical works to venture beyond the conventional and provide intellectual stimulation. Saunders has been interacting with leading scientists since the commission, and Nicolas Hodges is the ideal collaborator for Saunders’ commission. Never shying away from challenging new writing, Hodges continues to push the boundaries of modern piano music with bold and incisive performances. His next commission will be a new piano concerto from Betsy Jolas.