Heinz Holliger contemplates death.

Memento Mori

Berg, Holliger, Zimmermann

Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest

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‘Remember that we will all die’, is the motto for this programme by and with Heinz Holliger. Ten years after his last appearance with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Swiss hobo player, composer and conductor returns with a programme centred on death. The orchestra will play three of Holliger’s own works: two adaptations of ominous, late piano works by Liszt and the Dutch premiere of Ardeur noire, his homage to Debussy. Holliger sandwiches his own works between two contrasting paradigms of expressionism. Berg’s Violin Concerto was dedicated to Manon Gropius, who died at a young age, and constitutes Berg’s last finished composition. Finally, the Dutch premiere of Alagoana is performed, a ballet suite by Zimmermann based on an Indian myth of life and death.


Alban Berg
Heinz Holliger
Bernd Alois Zimmermann
Heinz Holliger
Veronika Eberle
performed by
Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest
Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest

Oboist. Composer. Conductor. Heinz Holliger is all of these things and more.


background information

The oboist, composer and conductor Heinz Holliger appeared with the orchestra in 2002 and 2003. Now he returns with a programme featuring orchestrations of two sinister late piano works by Liszt and the Dutch premiere of Ardeur noire, a homage to Debussy which sets poetry by Baudelaire. Holliger places these between two contrasting examples of the expressionist tradition. Berg’s Violin Concerto was dedicated to the memory of the daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius who died at the age of eighteen. It was the last work Berg would ever complete. Zimmermann’s early ballet suite is, in fact, a Dutch premiere and was inspired by an Indian myth about love and death. But as is evident from the subtitle ‘caprichos brasileiros’, the programme ends on an upbeat note.


Heinz Holliger (1939) is a Swiss oboe player, flautist, composer and conductor. He has earned international fame and has shown great devotion to contemporary music. Many composers have written for him. From 1956 Holliger studied the oboe at the Bern conservatory with Emile Cassagnaud and composition with Sándor Veress. From 1958 he also studied piano in Bern and later in Paris with Yvonne Lefèbre. From 1961 to 1963 he studied composition with Pierre Boulez. Holliger started his career as solo oboist at the Basler Orchester-Gesellschaft. In 1965 he took a position as a teacher at the Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg im Breisgau and since 1975 he has been permanent guest conductor of the Kammerorchester Basel. Between 1998 and 2001 he was chief conductor of the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne. He has worked with leading orchestras such as the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Holliger was composer in residence at the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in 1993-1994, at the Lucerne Festival in 1998 and at the Sommerliche Musiktage Hitzacker in 2002. Over the course of his career, Holliger has won many prizes, including first prizes at oboe competitions in Geneva (1959) and Munich (1960), the Kompositionspreis des Schweizerischen Tonkünstlervereins in 1985, the Ernst von Siemens Musikpreis in 1991 and the Rheingau Musikpreis in 2008. In 1994 his work for large orchestra (S)irato won the composers' prize Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco and a year later the Italian music critics awarded him the Premio Abbiati for his Scardanelli-Zyklus. Many of Holliger's CD releases have been given awards, including a Grammy Award in 2002 in the category Classical Producer of the Year and the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik in 2004.


One week after the ‘Dragonetti’ Stradivarius violin had been entrusted to her (on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation) after performing a concert in Tokyo, the young German violinist Veronika Eberle, born in 1988, says she was over the moon. Unfortunately, that feeling didn’t last long. In an interview with German radio, Eberle said that the instrument simply did not want to open up to her: “It had a very strong character, and I felt so much resistance from it.” Thankfully, Eberle and the ‘Dragonetti’ are now inseparable, and her career has taken flight. She gained international fame in 2006 when Sir Simon Rattle, chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, invited her to perform the Beethoven Violin Concerto at the Salzburg Easter Festival, calling her ‘one of the most extraordinarily talented young musicians’ he had ever heard.

In 2011, Eberle accompanied the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra on its tour of Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic, where she performed Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3. Eberle can be heard with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, conducted by Heinz Holliger, in a performance of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto in June 2013.


The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) is one of the very best orchestras in the world. But what makes the orchestra so special? Time and time again, critics have lauded its unique sound, which clearly stands out among thousands of others. Although sound is difficult to describe in words, the RCO’s string section has been called ‘velvety’, the sound of the brass ‘golden’, the timbre of the woodwinds ‘distinctly personal’ and the percussion have an international reputation. While the exceptional acoustics of the Concertgebouw, designed by the architect A.L. van Gendt, also play an important role in this respect, no other orchestra sounds like the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in the Main Hall. The influence exerted on the orchestra by its chief conductors, of whom there have been only six in the last 125 years, is also important. As is that of the musicians themselves. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is made up of 120 players hailing from over twenty countries. Despite its size, the orchestra actually functions more like a chamber orchestra in terms of the sensitivity with which its members listen to, and work in tandem with, one another. Indeed, this requires both a high individual calibre and a great sense of mutual trust and confidence. Programming is based on two essential elements: tradition and renewal. The orchestra has long been praised for its performances of the music of Mahler and Bruckner. It also upholds a number of special long-established concert traditions, such as the Passion and Christmas Matinee performances. In addition, the special AAA project series (Alive, Adventurous, Alluring) features music programmed around various changing themes. The orchestra also collaborates with world-renowned guest conductors and specialists. For instance, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who is largely responsible for the orchestra’s reputation when it comes to eighteenth-century repertoire, was appointed honorary guest conductor in October 2000.

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