It is again at the Halle aux grains, the headquarters of an orchestra of the Capitole de Toulouse, in top form now for several years, that we will have the opportunity to discover 117:2c, Benjamin Attahir’s latest work dedicated to the ensemble and its conductor Tugan Sokhiev. A first-rate opportunity to look back with the young French composer, now present in the best concert halls in the world, on his "historic" companionship with the Toulouse orchestra.
117:2c, which will be premiered on 31 March, is your fourth original work for the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse and the third to be world premiered by Tugan Sokhiev. This loyalty is exceptional in the French musical landscape in which a composer is usually a resident for one or two years before moving on to the next. What factors explain this singular and virtuous relationship?
I was given my first opportunity in 2013, thanks to my friend Olivier Stankiewiecz, the orchestra’s solo oboist at the time, who suggested that I compose a concerto for his instrument. From then on, there was an immediate understanding with the orchestra, a rare kinship, something particularly touching for me since I am originally from Toulouse. Their general manager Thierry d'Argoubet (to whom 117: 2c is dedicated) has since decided to trust me year after year allowing me to forge a bond with the musicians and the public. To answer your question, I would say that it is precisely because I am not in residence that we have been able to create this long-term relationship, based upon a deep artistic and human understanding. Each concert with the Orchestre du Capitole is for me a bit like coming home. I should add that these are the musicians who instilled in me almost twenty years earlier a love of music, in both its symphonic and theatrical forms. It is to them that I owe my vocation.
How was the work’s composition influenced by your intimate knowledge of the ensemble, its performers, and of course its conductor?
For the first time, I chose not to write for the full ensemble but rather to focus on the core of the orchestral sound. This piece, modest in its length, uses only the string desks whose virtuosity is put to the test. The quintet (1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, cellos and double basses) is never divided and each group leads a sort of race to the abyss. The tension is only resolved in the very last bars. This small concert overture is like a challenge I have set these musicians that I so admire. Their leader will undoubtedly play along and rise to the occasion!
You always give your works particularly suggestive titles. This, however, is the first time that you have literally quoted a verse from the Koran, and probably one of the most significant. Could this be considered as programmatic music?
117: 2c is neither a verse from the Koran nor the Bible; but this is indeed the confusion that I wanted to create upon reading the title. I like the idea of having nothing more than a number and a letter as a listening situation. We don't really know what to expect. Who knows, some listeners may already be on the right track. Those curious enough should look more towards the German romantic period, that‘s my clue...
31 March 2020, Orchestre National du Capitol de Toulouse, Orféon Donostiarra (choir), José Antonio Sainz Alfaro (conductor-choir), Tugan Sokhiev (conductor), Halles aux Grains (Toulouse)