• 11 contemporary composers commissioned to write new variations
  • Buchbinder to record new works and perform them on 2020 world tour

Celebrated pianist and renowned Beethoven specialist Rudolf Buchbinder has signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. His first collaboration with the label will see him curating a new series of works based on Beethoven’s monumental Diabelli Variations – in advance of the composer’s 250th anniversary next year.

Buchbinder, who recorded Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations early in his career, has invited 11 contemporary composers to write their own variations on Diabelli’s theme – which he will then record for DG and perform live on tour in 2020. His chosen contributors are: Krzysztof Penderecki, Rodion Shchedrin, Brett Dean, Max Richter, Jörg Widmann, Toshio Hosokawa, Lera Auerbach, Brad Lubman, Philippe Manoury, Johannes Maria Staud and Tan Dun.

Buchbinder’s new commissions echo the original story behind the Diabelli Variations. In 1819, music publisher and composer Anton Diabelli wrote a 32-bar “Deutscher”, or German Dance – a forerunner of the waltz – and sent it to more than 50 Austrian composers, asking each of them to write a variation on his original theme. Diabelli received contributions from Carl Czerny, Franz Schubert, Mozart’s son Franz Xaver, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Franz Liszt, who was barely eight years old when the invitation was issued. Beethoven initially refused to write anything, and supposedly dismissed the theme for its banality – but four years later he sent the publisher his own Thirty-Three Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli. The set, later hailed by conductor Hans von Bülow as a “microcosm of Beethoven’s genius”, turned out to be the composer’s last completed large-scale piano work.

Buchbinder’s new recording will be released on Deutsche Grammophon in March 2020. That same month, the 11 new compositions will receive their world premieres at the Vienna Musikverein as part of a concert that will also feature a performance of Beethoven’s Variations and a selection of the works from Diabelli’s original anthology. Buchbinder will subsequently embark on a world tour with repertoire including the 11 new pieces.

Rudolf Buchbinder says: “In my more than 60 years of concert activity, it has always been my goal to merge tradition and innovation, faithfulness and freedom, authenticity and open-mindedness in definitive interpretations. Deutsche Grammophon stands for these values; it is the epitome of artistic excellence. So I am very much looking forward to our years together.”

Dr Clemens Trautmann, President of Deutsche Grammophon, adds: “Rudolf Buchbinder knows Beethoven’s music intimately and, perhaps for this very reason, discovers new worlds in these works in a way that no other pianist could. His Diabelli project will be a unique contribution to the Beethoven year. It bridges the gap between Beethoven and his contemporaries on the one hand, and today’s musicians and music-lovers on the other.”

Over the years, Beethoven has become something of a soulmate to Buchbinder. Born in 1946, the erstwhile child prodigy (Buchbinder began attending the Vienna Music Academy at the age of five and made his Musikverein debut at 11) has spent decades researching and performing Beethoven’s sonata cycle alone. Since the early 1970s, the pianist has given a staggering 50 complete performances of the 32 sonatas. He refers to Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations as the most complex ever written, referring to it as “technically, intellectually and physically demanding” and “a huge mountain to be conquered”.

During the 2019-20 season, Buchbinder will become the first pianist in the Vienna Musikverein’s 150-year history to perform Beethoven’s five piano concertos at the prestigious concert hall with five different orchestras directed by five of today’s most eminent conductors: Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Andris Nelsons, Münchner Philharmoniker and Valery Gergiev, Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Mariss Jansons, and Wiener Philharmoniker with Riccardo Muti.

These performances, together with Buchbinder’s extensive recording project and world tour, are set to be an exciting undertaking during Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year.