"I consider myself to be in the mainstream of the classical tradition. The classical tradition is a dynamic one of innovation. I consider the practice of performing music that is 150 to 200 years old to be an aberration of this tradition. The so-called classical music world is overwhelmed by a perverse, aberrant, distorted form of this tradition. I consider people like myself, composer-performers, to be the true inheritors of this tradition."
Those words were uttered by Frederic Rzewski. Now in his late sixties, he belongs to a lost generation in which composition and performance were indivisibly allied - think Mozart, Beethoven and virtuosi such as Liszt and Rachmaninov. Anyone who has heard Rzewski play his master-work, The People United Will Never Be Defeated, will not have forgotten his uncompromising but accessible musical style - frequently tough and acerbic but underpinned by a deep sense of pathos - nor his blistering pianism. Now a festival of his music, the largest of its kind ever held in the UK, is to take place.
The coup is the opening event: the world premiere of Rzewski's marathon for solo piano, The Road. Begun in 1995, it's conceived in the manner of a novel, with 64 chapters or "miles". Miles 1-8, Turns, is a set of eight studies; 9-16, Tracks, is a set of 64 variations on a railroad blues; 17-24, Tramps, is a set of marches, some based on a chant sung by US Army draftees; and so on. It lasts approximately eight hours. More than 30 pianists - including Rzewski, Douglas Finch, Philip Fowke, Andrew Ball, Philip Mead, Yonty Solomon and Ian Pace - will play.
Rzewski's compositions "engage" with political and social issues. Also programmed are Coming Together, about the Attica prison riot; Which Side Are You On?, based on a strike song; and De Profundis, a setting of Oscar Wilde's text - performed by Rzewski. "Engaged" works by Cage, Cardew, Christian Wolff, Stephen Montague and Michael Finnissy will also be performed.
8 to 16 May (020-8463 0100; www.tcm.ac.uk)Reuse content