The Australian composer on the world premiere of his new work for husband-and-wife duo Pascal & Ami Roge.
How did the commission for your double piano concerto come about? Did you already know Pascal and Ami?
I had met them up at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville, where Ami played my Spirit Song. Pascal also had a copy of my Violin Concerto, the recording with Lara St John and the Royal Philharmonic. He showed it to Mr Ashkenazy and they agreed it would be a good thing for me to write a double piano concerto for them with the Sydney Symphony.
It was a commission to celebrate their wedding – quite a special and unusual subject. How did you take that into account when you were composing the work?
There aren’t that many contemporary classical works that celebrate the marriage of the performers, but it’s a fundamental human rite so I thought that was quite interesting. The first movement is called The Two of Us, and the second movement is called Love Song. The first is very joyful, very celebratory and captures the feeling of being in love and of two people working together, still with their own opinions. I can’t remember if I put a couple’s spat in there – I don’t think I did in the end! But it celebrates that unity, that “twoness”. The second movement is much more romantic, more intimate.
Are there musical references to Ami and Pascal as characters or to their respective Japanese and French cultures?
It’s more of a general look at love – it is a universal theme, after all.
Ami has praised the “visual” sensibility of your work. What does she mean by that?
There’s a surprise in there but I don’t want to spoil it! I do like music to be very dramatic and communicative. Peter Sculthorpe says that Australians have a very visual culture and I know the Rogés have said before that they enjoy the colourful aspects of my music.
There’s often a genre-defying momentum to your works. Can we expect more of that here or is the concerto a departure from those references?
The pop-culture stuff that often crops up is more muted in this work, although parts of the second movement could work really well as a love ballad. Since around 1996 I’ve been interested in the idea of beauty in music and I would like to think the last movement is very beautiful. It’s also the first time I’ve written a wedding march – I always try to do something new in every piece.
A double concerto is a first for you, and you’ve also never written a piano concerto before now. How did you approach composing for two soloists?
Because Pascal and Ami are used to playing together all the time they have a special relationship in performance, so I tapped into that as much as possible. A lot of the time their musical lines are intertwined, playing things which link into one another. The two instruments are headed towards a common goal, creating a sort of super-piano. I had to think about it quite a lot because writing for just one piano is hard enough, since I’m not a keyboard player myself.
Did the writing of the piece come easily?
One thing that you always forget until you’re in the middle of it is that writing a big piece like this is really hard work! Not just writing the music itself, but orchestrating it and doing the parts and integrating feedback from the musicians.
What response have you had from the pianists? What were their initial thoughts?
I sent them the piano parts first but it won’t be until they get here and begin rehearsing that we’ll make some small changes – there’s always a process of negotiation. I’m happy to report they love it and they’ve been working hard on it. The great thing about players of that calibre is you can basically write whatever you want and they can just do it.
Would you say it’s a virtuosic piece?
Not being a keyboard player I don’t know for sure! It definitely has its challenges – I daresay it is hard – but it’s not necessarily a showpiece because that’s not really what it’s about. It’s more about the two of them working together.
You must be looking forward to the premiere.
It’s exciting working with the Sydney Symphony as usual. It’s exciting working with these wonderful soloists, and having Vladimir Ashkenazy conduct isn’t too bad either! They’re all great people, which makes the process even better. I’m lucky to have them involved in the process of my music, I’ll tell you what!
Pascal and Ami Rogé give the world premiere of Matthew Hindson’s Double Piano Concerto with the Sydney Symphony conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, May 12 and 13. See event details here.