“The Blind Banister” is the first work of Biss’s Beethoven/5 project, commissioning five new piano concertos inspired by Beethoven’s
It was announced on April 18, 2016 that composer Timo Andres’s work “The Blind Banister” was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in the music category.
Andres’s concerto, which debuted in Saint Paul, Minnesota in November 2015, is the first concerto of pianist Jonathan Biss’s latest Beethoven project, Beethoven/5, for which the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has commissioned five composers to write new piano concertos, each inspired by one of Beethoven’s five piano concertos.
Called “unfailingly compelling” by The Star Tribune, “The Blind Banister” will be performed by Biss and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s this summer at Caramoor (a co-commissioner of the work) on July 10, and with the New York Philharmonic at David Geffen Hall on April 20-25, 2017. The name of the piece was taken from Tomas Tranströmer’s “Schubertiana.”
Like when the light goes out on the stairs and the hand follows—with confidence—the blind banister that finds its way in the darkness.
Biss says, “I’m so happy that ‘The Blind Banister’ has been recognized by the Pulitzer committee. From the time I began working on it, I’ve been taken with its beauty and its wit, and it’s been such a pleasure to share the piece with audiences, who invariably seem to feel the same way about it. I hope that this honor will mean that Timo’s wonderful concerto finds its way to more and more audiences.”
Andres describes his piece here, saying, ” Beethoven gave his early second piano concerto (‘not one of my best’, in his own estimation) a kind of renovation in the form of a new cadenza, 20 years down the line (around the time he was working on the Emperor concerto). It’s wonderfully jarring in that he makes no concessions to his earlier style; for a couple of minutes, we’re plucked from a world of conventional gestures into a future-world of obsessive fugues and spiraling modulations. Like any good cadenza, it’s made from those same simple gestures—an arpeggiated triad, a sequence of downward scales—but uses them as the basis for a miniature fantasia.
“My third piano concerto, ‘The Blind Banister,’ is a whole piece built over this fault line in Beethoven’s second, trying to peer into the gap. I tried as much as possible to start with those same extremely simple elements Beethoven uses; however, my piece is not a pastiche or an exercise in palimpsest. It doesn’t even directly quote Beethoven. There are some surface similarities to his concerto (a three-movement structure, a B-flat tonal center) but these are mostly red herrings. The best way I can describe my approach to writing the piece is: I started writing my own cadenza to Beethoven’s concerto, and ended up devouring it from the inside out.”
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra is the lead commissioner on all fiveBeethoven/5 pieces, including new concertos by Sally Beamish, paired with Beethoven 1, to premiere in 2016-17; Salvatore Sciarrino, paired with Beethoven 4, to premiere in 2017-18; Caroline Shaw, paired with Beethoven 3, to premiere in 2018-19, and Brett Dean, paired with Beethoven 5, to premiere in 2019-20.