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Hans Abrahamsen

Publisher: Edition Wilhelm Hansen

Left, alone (2015),
Work Notes
US premiere reserved
Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
18 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
pf - left hand

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Programme Note
Hans Abrahamsen Left, alone (2015),
I was born with a right hand that is not fully functional, and though it never prevented me from loving playing the piano as well as I could with this physical limitation, it has obviously given me an alternative focus on the whole piano literature and has given me a close relationship with the works written for the left hand by Ravel and others. This repertoire has been with me since my youth.

My very first public performance of one of my own works was in autumn 1969. The piece was called October and I played the piano with my left hand and the horn, my principal instrument (the only instrument that can be played with only the left hand). Part of the piece requires the performer to play natural harmonics of the horn directly into the open strings of the grand piano to create resonance. The pedal was kept down by an assistant lying on the floor.

Through decades the idea of writing a larger work for piano left hand has been in my mind. This new work is not written for a pianist with only one hand, but rather by a composer who can only play with the left hand. The title Left, alone contains all kinds of references, not only to the obvious fact that the left hand is playing alone. Left, alone is divided into two large parts, each consisting of three smaller movements – in effect, six in total.

The work was commissioned by Westdeutscher Rundfunk, and co-commissioned by City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Rotterdam Philharmonic and written for Alexandre Tharaud.

- Hans Abrahamsen, 2015

Score preview

  • 07 FEB 2020
    Auditorium de Radio France / Paris / France
    Orchestre National de France
    Alexandre Tharaud; Sir George Benjamin, conductor

I felt as if I had stepped out of time in this concert. Hans Abrahamsen’s new concerto, Left, alone, is weightless and otherworldly, as stark, soft, radiant and magical as fresh snow. Each movement seems to hang in the air. Even its composer, who took his bows after the flawless UK premiere with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the soloist Alexandre Tharaud and the conductor Ilan Volkov, had the air of a magician with access to unimagined realms.
Rebecca Franks,,04/05/2016
Left, alone, Hans Abrahamsen's new piano concerto for the left hand, swirls out of the darkness to a jagged motor rhythm. Piano and orchestra clash and interlock; you're reminded of Prokofiev and Ravel. Then something happens. A piano plays, but the soloist is motionless. It's been there all the time, of course — an orchestral piano, up on the percussion risers. But now it's turned threatening: upstaging the soloist with its full two-handed range and stealing his musical voice, his very identity. And although it doesn't really intervene again until the last movement, you're continually aware of its sinister gloss black presence crouching there in the background — a quiet doppelganger, waiting to make its move. The concerto becomes a dark fairy tale.

Am I going too far? To be fair, Abrahamsen actually describes the last of the concerto's six short movements as "in flying time, Fairy Tale Time," and, himself unable to play the piano with his right hand, clearly identifies with his soloist. For this UK premiere that was the work's dedicatee, Alexandre Tharaud, bringing a miraculous range of tone and expression to a score which at times has him playing no more than a single note suspended in silence, or picking his way between a pair of claves. It's rare to hear a new work in which every note has been so carefully chosen and so perfectly placed.

But Abrahamsen is emphatically not a minimalist, and Left, alone is the opposite of sterile. Abrahamsen's fantasy creates miniature worlds of subtle, multilayered orchestral colours: chattering clouds of violins, lit up with harp and bells, and tissues of bass texture so soft and fine that you have to wonder if they'd even be audible in an acoustic less perfect than Symphony Hall. Ilan Volkov conducted with pinpoint precision, and the CBSO supported Tharaud with playing of breathtaking transparency and refinement. Transfixingly beautiful and charged with unspoken emotion, Left, alone doesn't so much end as cease to be audible. It deserves the same success as Abrahamsen's Grawemeyer Award-winning song cycle let me tell you. For now, congratulations are due to the CBSO for co-commissioning a work that should by rights become a modern classic.
Richard Brat,,29/04/2016
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