Benjamin Attahir -

Benjamin Attahir - "insinuarsi"

Premiere of the sinfonia concertante by Benjamin Attahir in Lausanne

Sharing the bill with a musical titan such as Mozart is no small feat: this is precisely what will happen to Benjamin Attahir on 4 and 5 May, when Renaud Capuçon and Gérard Caussé and the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra (conducted by the violinist himself) will premier his Symphonie Concertante, followed by the remarkable KV 297 (the Concertante for winds) and the famous KV 364 (for viola, Mozart's instrument of choice, and violin). At the heart of any great adventure there is a great story: one that the composer tells us in this new “confession”, worthy of his glorious precedents with Rousseau.

September 2016.

I had barely moved into the Villa Medici when I discovered its library housed under the arcades of the galleries. It's a shock. And I enter a dream world. As I devour the old volumes of scores, annotated, autographed by the hand of these illustrious previous residents, I am looking for something that could connect me to them, capable of making the present resonate with the greatly fantasised past. An object lost in time. My writing as a simple link, shedding a small light on what has led to our present.

It’s all in vain.

People tell me about certain manuscripts still preserved here, very beautiful copies of Italian operas, but these are fairly well-known works, which alas hardly broaden my imagination.

Too bad for me, I haven’t discovered any rare treasures here.

August 2019.

Back in Rome, I still enjoy spending time in this library, losing myself in its countless works, accumulated over the years from various sources.

During a conversation, I am told that there is a box of manuscripts that I have not opened. They are scattered and unsorted score fragments. Of course I would like to open it.

And there I finally found it.

Three parts copied on landscape paper from a concerto for principal violin, solo violin, violins II and horn II.

Immediately – without even knowing which composer it might be – I begin thinking of reconstructing the missing parts. How and in what style? I don’t know yet, but the urge is irrepressible.

The same evening, I begin trying to identify this concerto’s author. It almost looks like a work by Giovanni Battista Viotti, a composer with which all apprentice violinists are familiar. But nothing in his 29 Concerti looks similar. I scour the catalogues of other virtuosi of that time, but still nothing. I give up, thinking I'm on the wrong track, none the wiser about the origin of this musical fragment.

July 2021.

A new trip to the “eternal city”. I go back to the villa. I reopen the manuscript boxes. And it becomes obvious. Study Viotti's Concerti. Compare the styles of writing, the instrumental gestures, the structure of the movements and their indications, the treatment of the orchestra... Everything is there, almost identical.

I then begin to consider the possibility of a new concerto.

That seems possible: Viotti, director of the Théâtre Italien in Paris, was in Rome at the same time; a move from the Académie de France to the Villa Médicis, open to visiting composers. It’s just after 1803, Viotti won’t pass away until 1824.

Could this be a set of copies sent to or even made in Rome for a study of the concert genre, or even for a performance?

If many questions remain unanswered, the purely artistic idea of a composition based upon this fragmentary material irrepressibly called to me.

To the original material, I have only added the viola concertante which, when it does not share the solo part with the violin, projects a 21st-century shadow on the virtuoso and idiomatic figures of the classical and even pre-romantic era.

The re-invention of the missing parts is also marked by modernity; oscillating on one side between ultra-definition of instrumental gestures, a syntactic shift between the harmonic world and another, staging an interpretative freedom residing in the realisation of semi-aleatoric musical figures based on a determined harmonic trajectory, a kind of modern reinterpretation of the baroque continuo spirit.

Benjamin Attahir - insinuarsi
double concerto for violin and viola
World premiere: May 4 & 5, 2022
Salle Métropole - Lausanne
Orchestre de chambre de Lausanne
Renaud Capuçon, violin& conductor
Gérard Caussé, viola
More information...

Swedish premiere : February 5, 2022
Helsingborg, Sweden
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra
Daniel Kuzmin, violin
Yannick Dondelinger, viola
Daniel Cohen, conductor