Breaking: New York Phil to premiere Kurtag opera

Breaking: New York Phil to premiere Kurtag opera


norman lebrecht

February 12, 2020

In its new season, just being announced, the NY Phil has bagged the US premiere of Kurtag’s Beckettian opera fin de partie.

The production will be directed by Claire van Kampen, with Laurent Naouri, Rod Gilfry and J’Nai Bridges.


Also in the press kit:

Chick Corea as artist in residence;

8 new works by women composers: Du Yun, Mary Kouyoumdjian, Jessie Montgomery, Angélica Negrón, Caroline Shaw, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Joan Tower, and Melinda Wagner.



  • serious questions remain says:

    Great that they are performing eight new works by women.

    I wonder if the orchestra will comment anytime soon about the allegations that a woman in the orchestra was drug raped by one of her colleagues (with another colleague allegedly acting as an accomplice.) The alleged victim and another woman who stood in solidarity with her were then dismissed during their trial year. Seven or eight years later, in September 2018, the two alleged perpetrators were fired, which increases the need for the New York Phil to make a public statement. And perhaps an an apology to the two women who were removed from the orchestra under such terrible circumstances.

    • NYMike says:

      The two musicians’ cases are still in arbitration and are not connected in time or place. Separate incidences here.

      • serious questions remain says:

        Can you provide any details? It has been two years, how much longer will the arbitration continue?

        It would be astounding if the grounds for firing the two are NOT related to each other. It would suggest that the lack of action by the orchestra management 7 or 8 years ago allowed the two musicians to continue with reckless behavior.

    • sam says:

      Arbitration? If there are allegations of drug rape as the basis of their termination, there ought to be a criminal case. How the heck is an arbitrator suppose to do criminal fact finding?

      • serious questions remain says:

        If the allegations are true, it is outrageous that the orchestra has been forced into arbitartion.
        As studies show, “It is less likely for a Drug rape victims to report his or her rape at all, particularly if the victim is still suffering the physical or mental after-effects of the drug he or she was given, or even unsure of what exactly happened. Victims are often reluctant to report because they do not clearly remember or understand what happened to them.”

        This helps explain will someone like Bill Cosby did such things for years and was never caught.

        If the rumored allegations are true, by the time the victim and a friend in the orchestra helping her figured out what happened and what needed to be done, it was too late to test for the drug in her body. The alleged assault took place in Vail, Colorado where the orchestra has a residency. It also seems the police there were not especially adept at dealing with such crimes.

        I’ve heard that the arbitration is moving forward. I hope this will soon be resolved and that the NY Phil will make appropriate statements.

  • Jasper says:

    In response to “serious questions remain”:

    (Not to be confused with the departure of the principal horn.)

    The two principal players referenced in your posting appealed their dismissals by the NY Phil. Their appeal was to have gone to arbitration, but one-and-one-half years later, nothing more has been revealed.

    Does anyone know the status of this situation?


  • John Borstlap says:

    Here it is:

    Beckett’s play ‘Endgame’ is a postwar absurdist thing, a typical product of the Zeitgeist after WW II.

    The 4 characters’ description gives a taste of the nature of what the audience can look forward to:

    Hamm – unable to stand and blind

    Clov – Hamm’s servant; unable to sit. Taken in by Hamm as a child.

    Nagg – Hamm’s father; has no legs and lives in a dustbin.

    Nell – Hamm’s mother; has no legs and lives in a dustbin next to Nagg.

    ‘And just as Dante’s infernal images emphasize the eternal misery of its inhabitants, Beckett’s characters are stuck in eternally static routines. They go through the “farce” of routine actions, as they call it, because there is nothing else to do while they wait for death.’

    Kurtag celebrates the nothingness of post-apocalyptic landscapes, the ruins of a civilisation, the absence of anything relating to life. It is like insisting to live in Tsjernobil for pleasure. And in his ‘best’ works he repeats the aesthetics of Schoenberg and Berg:

    I had to think of Morton Feldman’s one-act music theatre piece ‘Neither’ which indeed it was, also on a text by Beckett. I attended a performance with a friend who suffered from depression and phobias and panic attacks all his life. While I was sitting there in growing irritation, he sank into a happy bath of deep recognition and beamed afterwards: ‘Yes, that’s life, that is the truth!’ As customary, both librettist and composer were handsomely paid, critics were happy, audience applauded (with some hesitation), it was a success. But of what?

    Why do artists produce such works? To warn audiences, who were the survivors of the historical disaster – at the time of ‘Endgame’s’ premiere? Or to make sure they did not forget, in 1953? Or expressing the idea that life, the world, the human being, is all nothing, and deserve to die? They got famous with it, earned money by it, were considered important contributors to the culture. I think we should have to ask: culture of what?

    Do audiences need to be educated, to become better people, who would – after performances of such works – change their mind and NOT bang on the head of the first person they meet in the street? But what if such performances instead fuell the most negative instincts of people who paid an expensive ticket to get culturally depressed? The mind boggles.

    There hangs around such postwar aesthetics an air of intellectual dishonesty: presenting human devastation and hopelessness and building a career on it.

    • Irish Wit says:

      Although fluent in French, Beckett mis-translated the title Fin de partie into his native tongue as Endgame, presumably because he liked the sound of it, when End of Game or Game End or even Game Over would have been more accurate, Endgame being something else. Then the premiere in London took place in French anyway. But the first Paris performances were given in English. Kurtág uses the French, but the NY Phil will help itself by selling the English title.

    • Stuart says:

      Endgame is currently playing at the Old Vic in London – maybe you should go see it.

      During 50 years of play-going I have yet to witness people falling into sobbing depression or violence at seeing plays like Endgame, King Lear, Oedipus, Blasted (Sarah Kane) – works that explore dark and tragic subjects. I don’t advocate a steady or exclusive diet of works that explore dark worlds and people but neither do I avoid them. The thought that they “fuel the most negative instincts of people” isn’t an argument that holds much weight. “Why do artists produce such works?” You’re an artist and can probably answer that one. Why did Shakespeare write Lear and not more sequels to “Merry Wives”? Why does the late Sarah Kane have an audience? Why did Sondheim write Sweeney Todd and not Company 2?

      • John Borstlap says:

        Come on….. compare Lear with Endgame. The first has a real meaning about the human condition far beyond what endgame could possibly offer. Lear is great, Endgame is dishonest sado-masochism, parasitical exploitation of the Zeitgeist, nothing more, as is Neither, and such stuff.

        Elektra and Salome by R Strauss are also negative in terms of plot, as is Stravinsky’s Sacre. But they tell something about humanity that can bear repetition, these works have more than one layer. Becket is a very limited one-game trick, which is – at best – exhausted after 15 minutes.

    • Christopher Culver says:

      This isn’t the first time that Borstlap has ranted about Samuel Beckett, and it strikes one as a peculiar thing to get upset about. Avant-garde classical music might well be a tiny sideshow, its fans easy to mock as anoraks, but Beckett is an entirely mainstream author. His plays get put on not just by established theatres across the West, but also by amateur troupes and schools. Even American television sitcoms have made nods to Beckett plays. Beckett’s plays are sold in mass-market paperbacks in bookstores around the world.

      Also curious is to castigate Beckett as a product or representative of postwar nihilism. The writing was already on the wall in the 1930s that Beckett would choose his distinctive path of aporia, because after he published Murphy he didn’t see the point of continuing to imitate his idol Joyce.

      • John Borstlap says:

        All of that does not in the slightest add to the ‘meaning’ of Becket’s work. The worth of a cultural product is not defined by its popularity, as we can see all around us. It can only be found in the work itself and through its understanding.

  • MacroV says:

    That’s pretty bold for the Philharmonic, an orchestra whose audience walks out on Nielsen. Though Alan Gilbert did Le Grand Macabre.

    • John Borstlap says:

      When Van Zweden was appointed, critics complained that he were an oldfashioned European maestro who never did new music and who would return to the conservative routine that would bring-in the conservative audiences again. Entirely ignorant of Van Zweden’s many premieres of new works, they deplored Gilbert’s departure, while ignorant about the reasons why audiences did not particularly warm to his programming and his rendering of the classical repertoire. At least it is now shown that Van Zweden is as ‘progressive’ as Gilbert, but he simply is a better musician, giving the classics their full due, and new pieces their chance to be heard.

  • sorin braun says:

    Kurtag is not a composer , sorry.An ape with a pencil can sketch down the same results.

    • Will Cross says:

      Please link us to your operatic compositions and your entry in the Grove encycopedia?

      • sorin braun says:

        as a second thought – you invoked a logical absurdity – only a famous composer has the right to dislike a piece of music.
        since I am not in the Grove encyclopedia – I have no right to dismiss a composer that appears there.Absurdity….

    • Stuart says:

      I have 16 of Kurtag’s compositions in my music library and listen to them often. I have hunted down a CD of Fin de partie and look forward to getting to know this opera better. A good starting point is a recent 3 CD set of Kurtag’s complete works for ensemble and choir. Not sure on what basis any reasonable person would state that Kurtag is not a composer. Not really a defensible position. Note his awards to date:

      Erkel Prize in 1955 and 1969
      Kossuth Prize (1973)
      UNESCO’s International Rostrum of Composers (1983)
      Music Prize of the Prince Pierre of Monaco Foundation (1993)
      International Antonio Feltrinelli Prize (1993)
      Composers Award of the State of Austria (1994)
      Denis de Rougemot Prize of the European Festivals Association (1994)
      Kossuth Prize for Lifetime Achievement (1996)
      Austrian Decoration for Science and Art (1997)
      Composers Award “Promotion of the European economy” (1998)
      Ernst von Siemens Music Prize (1998)[12]
      Honorary Prize for Art and Science of the Institute for Advanced Study Berlin (1999)
      Pour le Mérite for Science and Art (1999)
      Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award (2000)
      Commander with Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary (2001)
      John Cage Award (2003)
      Sonning Award (2003; Denmark)
      Grand Cross of Merit of the Republic of Hungary (2006)
      University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition (2006; U.S.)
      Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale for lifetime achievement (53rd International Festival of Contemporary Music; 2009)
      Zurich Festival Prize (2010)
      Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal (2013)[16]
      BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Contemporary Music (2014)
      Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

      • sorin braun says:

        And Beethoven got no medals.Conclusion Kurtag is immensely more important.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Medals say nothing. Of course Kurtag is a composer, a follower of the Viennese three. But that is not a recommendation since what the Viennese three did, can only be done one time in one specific place at a specific time with specific cultural circumstances.

    • Bolas Rebolas says:

      it seems you know a lot about apes. Perhaps are you one of them?

    • Bolas Rebolas says:

      it seems you know a lot about apes. Perhaps are you one of them?

  • mary says:

    The NYPhil needs to do a lot more to demonstrate their commitment to women (like protecting women players in the workplace) than programming a bunch of unknown woman composers whose names will be replaced by another 8 women next season.

    • msc says:

      I have heard of, and from, most of them. But I am a music fanatic. So I asked my terrier, and even he knew of Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Joan Tower.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I think it is a welcome challenge for any female composer, and I would say: let them come, let them compose and be performed so that there will be more opportunity to hear what they write, and to see whether gender does or does not make a difference. By the way, surely gender is entirely irrelevant.