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World Premiere: Farr's Concerto for Piano & Orchestra


Gareth Farr cites his new Concerto for Piano and Orchestra as being a work that he has been contemplating for nearly 30 years. It will be premiered this Friday with piano soloist Tony Lee and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Pietari Inkenen, at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand. Farr’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was commissioned by New Zealand philanthropist, Professor Jack C. Richards.

Reflecting on the new work, and anticipating its premiere, Farr writes: ‘I’ve wanted to write a piano concerto since I was 17 – so it’s been gestating in my head for nearly 30 years – and though I’ve changed profoundly as a musician in that time, my musical taste hasn’t. I’m still obsessed with the piano concerto as a musical and dramatic concept, and now that I’ve finally written my own, it’s inevitable that it tips its hat to my all-time compositional heroes from time to time (Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Bartók, and Ravel) – all of them being masters of writing for the form…

‘Piano Concertos have long been stereotyped as romantic, sweeping and epic. I’ve taken a hint of that on board, but for the most part I’ve focused on darker symphonic explorations. There is an ominous urgency to much of the first and third movements, while the second has an almost machine-like atmosphere. A friend described the piece as “…a stormy sea, beautiful and violent”, and much of my music relates to the sea in some way, as I’ve never lived far from it. There are moments of delicate glinting water in sunlight, and apocalyptic climaxes of churning sea swell.’

Farr acknowledges commissioner Jack C. Richards’ generosity in funding this new work as ‘one of those wonderful no-strings-attached kind of commissions where the patron is not interested in pushing any individual musician or seeking any kind of glorification... Jack just wants to see the work written… to help with the creation of a piece of music.’ Richards introduced Farr to the young award-winning Sydney-based pianist Lee at one of his Summer Concert Series events, a house concert in his Wainui beach home in Gisborne, New Zealand.

After seeing Lee perform, Farr was inspired to write his new piano concerto for him. This seems to be a fitting artistic partnership. While Farr acknowledges a Russian influence in his writing for piano, Lee, at the age of 15, studied at the Central School of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, a high school that offers intensive music education. He lived and studied in the country, learning Russian before returning to Sydney to study at the Conservatorium of Music. Lee has since won a number of awards, including first prize in the Under 24 category at the 13th Scriabin International Piano Competition in Paris, France, 2013.

Anticipating the premiere, Lee comments: ‘It’s been such a pleasure for me working on this concerto. Not only is it a great and exciting piece of music, the opportunity to work with the composer on it has given me much guidance and inspiration. The work is virtuosic – dark, yet, brilliant with a touch of "funk" – all of this comes to mind in this concerto. It is rhythmically and harmonically complex, and it has a lot of the passion and drive we would usually hear in the classic concerti, but with fresh ideas and colours we’ve never come across before.’

Listen to a Radio New Zealand Concert interview with Farr, about his new Piano Concerto:

Find out more about this performance on the NZSO website:

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