Michael Jarrell: "Reflections", Piano Concerto (Commissioned by Radio France - World Premiere)

Duration : 25 minutes

Conducted by Kazuki Yamada, Bertrand Chamayou performs,with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France "Reflections", 2nd piano concerto by the composer Michael Jarrell, born in 1958.

Tempo 96
Tempo 48. Pur, simple mais intense (Pure, simple, but intense)
Tempo 90. Très cristallin, soutenu, un peu mécanique (Very crystalline, sustained, slightly mechanical)

Interview with Michael Jarrell

  • Michael Jarrell, why this title, "Reflections"? 

I chose this title so as to preserve the double meaning of the word in English: the literal reflection of an image, but also the mental reflection. It was important to me that the work act as an echo of the thoughts and sentiments I experienced following the premiere of my opera Bérénice, which took place during autumn 2018 at the Palais Garnier. This was a difficult time for me, notably following the death of Éric Daubresse, an electronic music producer at IRCAM. He was also a composer, but a very discreet one, highly sought after, rigorous but with a gentle temperament and a strong ethic. For me it was obvious that he should join us following my appointment as professor at the Haute École de musique in Geneva. The concerto is therefore dedicated to him. 

  • How is the concerto structured?

It is divided into three separate movements, a rare occurrence in my music, which corresponds with the traditional structure of fast-slow-fast, and a first movement which is itself fast, then slow, then fast again, and then slow yet again. After the orchestral introduction, built using F sharps rising like boiling water, it is the piano that sets the tone, and expresses the chords:  overlapping fifths, enlarged by the orchestra. At the end of the movement, I bring to mind the bells heard during a Catholic mass as a way of announcing and preparing for the central movement. It is a moment of stability, of contemplation, conceived as a canon in which the fifth interval plays an important role. The final movement, more rhythmical and light, is made of diminished fifth intervals. We can hear more clearly the constant underlying flow that has been supplying the concerto from the very beginning.

  • What has changed between "Reflections" and "Abschied", your first piano concerto?

In Abschied, I placed the hands of the pianist in the piano itself, to obtain harmonics and micro-intervals. In Reflections, everything is tempered, the pianist only plays using the keys. I may be trained pianist but I struggle to write for the piano, an instrument no less difficult to handle than a string quartet, in my opinion.

  • What importance did you give to the element of virtuosity? 

The central movement is very simple, technically speaking, but the other two are formidable! Bertrand Chamayou has a magnificent technique, one that I sought to utilise, all while forgetting the idea that something difficult is necessarily difficult. I like the idea of writing for someone who will premiere the work, and then make it his own. There will always be another performer to perform the work and bring it to life. This is exactly what happened with my violin concerto Paysage avec figures absentes, a work premiered and performed repeatedly by Isabelle Faust and then transformed by Ilya Gringolts.

  • How did you handle the orchestral section? 

It is a large orchestral force, with three of every woodwind, but I did everything to not cover up the soloist, even when, at times, the orchestral mass hits like a tsunami. I am of course impatient to hear the final result, but beyond my own personal experience, a premiere is always a nerve-wracking experience since the performers, faced with a new work of music, discover and interpret without there being a tradition or precedent which they can follow. We know how to perform Mozart, but we do not necessarily know how to tackle a score that has never been played before. Having a work commissioned by various different ensembles allows for a work to be introduced more easily. I am curious to hear the way in which the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, still with Bertrand Chamayou, will follow the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

"Te Deum" by Berlioz, and "Reflections" by Michael Jarrell, performed by Bertrand Chamayou
Full concert
"Te Deum" by Berlioz, and "Reflections" by Michael Jarrell, performed by Bertrand Chamayou
Grande salle Pierre Boulez-Philharmonie
All artists
  • Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio FranceOrchestra
  • Bertrand ChamayouPerformer