Eric Huebner: Désordre

, composer


Critically acclaimed pianist Eric Huebner releases his performance of György Ligeti's famous etudes alongside his iconic Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano with colleagues Yuki Numata Resnick and Adam Unsworth. Ligeti's attraction to stylistic influences from across the spectrum, including non-Western music cultures, while preserving a Hungarian core to his aesthetic, is apparent in Huebner's dynamic performances of these remarkable works.


Pianist Eric Huebner’s virtuosic release of Ligeti’s iconic etudes alongside his Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano underscores the composer’s restless nature and attraction to various sources of aesthetic inspiration. Throughout the 1970s—after fourteen years in exile—György Ligeti made a number of return trips to his native Hungary. He had hoped to rekindle a relationship with the musical community of his homeland and reestablish himself as a ‘Hungarian’ composer. By the end of the decade, though, these efforts fizzled out, coinciding with a prolonged bout of illness and a fallow creative period. The works on this disc—the Études pour Piano (Livres I-II) and the Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano (Hommage à Brahms)— followed this period of crisis in Ligeti’s life and marked a decisive stylistic shift in his output. This new style drew on, among other things, elements of neo-romanticism, alternate tunings and microtonality, curious flirtations with tonal harmony, Central European folk idioms, and a stunning diversity of non-Western traditions. The point was not his virtuosic ability to inhabit an array of contemporary and historical styles, but rather his inability to settle wholly in any one.

It could be said that Ligeti’s Horn Trio (1982) inaugurated this new trajectory both in its style and in its thematic inspirations. When the pianist, Eckart Besch, first approached Ligeti about composing a companion piece to the Brahms trio for violin, piano, and natural horn, the suggestion evidently sparked powerful associations. There are, for instance, well-documented personal associations for Ligeti between the sound of the natural horn and the alpenhorns he heard in the Carpathian Mountains as a child. In his Romanian Concerto of 1951, the natural horn solo of the third movement explicitly recalled these childhood memories. In the opening measures of Ligeti’s trio, the horn part bears an immediate resemblance to that earlier work. Furthermore, this horn melody unfolds over a skewed quotation, by the violin, of the ‘Lebewohl’ (“farewell”) horn call that opens Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, Op. 81a.

Ligeti named Chopin, Schumann, Scarlatti, and Debussy as primary influences in composing his first two books of piano etudes (1985-1994). Ligeti was by no means a virtuoso pianist, but he wrote his piano etudes at the keyboard and aimed to preserve that traditional sense of the genre as virtuosic technical study. In a playful subversion of the romantic pianist channeling musical ideas with sublime facility through a machine, Ligeti inserts his body as a faulty mechanical intermediary. Two machines—body and piano—engage in dialogue, producing unpredictable effects on the passage from thought to expression.

Read More

Beyond obvious predecessors like Chopin and Debussy, the influences suffusing Ligeti’s piano etudes hail from innumerable disparate places. He explores interests in fractal geometry, chaos theory, and the machine-like cacophony of Conlon Nancarrow’s player piano works (especially evident in Désordre, Cordes à vide, and L’escalier du diable, for example). Moments of jazz harmony, à la Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans, percolate throughout the etudes and positively define the sound-worlds of Arc-en-ciel and En Suspens. Elements of Central European folk music surface frequently, too, as in the descending lamento motif that pervades Automne à Varsovie and the Bulgarian dance rhythms (aksak) of Fanfares.

Non-Western elements also abound. As Ligeti writes,“[t]he polyphonic ensemble playing of several musicians on the xylophone—in Uganda, the Central African Republic, Malawi and other places—as well as the playing of a single performer on a lamellophone (mbira, likembe, or sanza) in Zimbabwe, the Cameroon, and many other regions, led me to search for similar technical possibilities on the piano keys”. Galamb Borong, by contrast, evokes the sound of a gamelan orchestra. Its Hungarian title, which translates rather absurdly as “ Melancholic Pigeon,” was likewise chosen for its supposedly Javanese sound.

The existential plight of being stuck between states with no place to call home is an apt organizing metaphor for these works. Looking past the dominance of machines, patterns, and inhuman systems, though, the piano etudes do make a certain kind of space for human presence. For instance, Ligeti paid much attention to the physical experience of playing these works, claiming that the “well-formed piano work produces physical pleasure” in the way that it choreographs the body. Indeed, for all their pyrotechnic glitz, Ligeti’s etudes lie remarkably well in the hands, allowing for a surprising degree of expressive freedom. If a recurring theme here has been the cataclysm between imagined ideals and the failure of their realization, it nevertheless seems that something unforeseen is able to glow into life above the wreckage. We might say that this is music about finding moments of comfort for oneself in an inhospitable world: an increasingly virtuosic feat. These studies, in other words, think pianistically about displacement and refuge. For this reason, they remain not only contemporary, but also utterly timely.

-- Nicholas Emmanuel (edited from liner notes for length)

Producer: Adam Abeshouse

Mastering: Adam Abeshouse

Recording Engineer: Adam Abeshouse

Technical Engineer: Christopher Jacobs

Editing: Christopher Jacobs, Eric Huebner

Piano tuning: Devin Zimmer (Études pour piano), Sharon Mok (Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano)

Recorded in Lippes Concert Hall, Slee Hall, University at Buffalo

February 26-27, 2019: Études pour piano (Livre I-II)

November 3, 2015: Horn Trio

New York Steinway D piano

Album photography: Vincent Lopez,

Design: Marc Wolf,

Eric Huebner

Pianist Eric Huebner has drawn worldwide acclaim for his performances of new and traditional music since making his debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at age 17. In January 2012, he was appointed pianist of the New York Philharmonic and made his solo debut with the orchestra in June 2012 with the New York Premiere of Elliott Carter’s Two Controversies and a Conversation for piano, percussion and chamber orchestra with Musicians of the New York Philharmonic, Colin Currie, percussion and David Robertson conducting as part of the CONTACT! series. He has previously collaborated with Mr. Robertson in performances of György Ligeti’s Piano Concerto and Olivier Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques. From 2001 through 2012, Huebner was a member of Antares, a quartet comprised of clarinet, violin, cello and piano. First-prize winners of the 2002 Concert Artists Guild International Competition, Antares appeared regularly in major chamber music venues throughout the country.

A frequent visitor to the west coast, Mr. Huebner has twice been a featured recitalist at the Ojai Festival in California and given solo performances on the Monday Evening Concerts and Piano Spheres series in Los Angeles as well as at the Carlsbad New Music Festival. He appears regularly with the New York Philharmonic in performances at Avery Fisher Hall and on tour throughout the world as well as in chamber music venues with musicians from the orchestra. He’s been a frequent guest at conservatories and universities throughout the United States, performing solo recitals and giving master classes.
Mr. Huebner is currently Assistant Professor of Music at the University at Buffalo where he maintains an active piano studio, serves as pianist for the Slee Sinfonietta and directs the June in Buffalo Performance Institute. He was also recently appointed adjunct faculty member at The Juilliard School where he teaches a class in orchestral piano performance. His performances have been broadcast on PBS and NPR, and on radio stations KMOZ (Los Angeles), WNYC (New York), Radio Bremen (Germany), ORF (Austria) and the BBC. He has recorded for Col Legno, Centaur, Bridge, Albany, Tzadik, Innova, New Focus Recordings and Mode Records. Mr. Huebner holds a B.M. and M.M. from The Juilliard School where he studied with Jerome Lowenthal.

Yuki Numata Resnick

Yuki Numata Resnick is a violinist and educator based in Buffalo, New York. She is co-founder and Executive Director of Buffalo String Works, an El Sistema-inspired music program serving refugee and immigrant families on the west side of Buffalo. Her playing can be heard on a range of recordings from labels such as Deutsche Grammophon, edition rz, 4AD and Warp. Groups she has played with range from indie bands Beirut and Blonde Redhead to new music specialists ACME (American Contemporary Music Ensemble) and Alarm Will Sound. She has also performed as soloist with the Knoxville Symphony, Tanglewood Orchestra and Wordless Music Orchestra in venues ranging from the Sydney Opera House to Big Ears Festival. Born in Vancouver, Numata Resnick holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music and the University of Michigan. Her mentors include Zvi Zeitlin and Andrew Jennings.

Adam Unsworth

Adam Unsworth is professor of horn at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Prior to his appointment in Ann Arbor, Adam was a member of The Philadelphia Orchestra (1998-2007) and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (1995- 1998). He has toured Asia and Europe with the San Francisco Symphony, is a frequent guest with the Detroit Symphony, and is Principal Horn of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra. Adam is a member of two NYC based jazz ensembles, the Gil Evans Project led by Ryan Truesdell and Miho Hazama's M-Unit Band and has appeared as recitalist and clinician at universities throughout the United States. Unsworth received his formal training at Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.



Midwest Record

Attacking the works of Gyorgy Ligeti’s later works when his life was in disarray, you can feel the fury the composer was feeling as Huebner pounds the keys into submission to make his point. With an ebb and flow that’ll keep you guessing as to what’s coming next, this isn’t pretty music for a Sunday afternoon but it isn’t a dissonant mess either. Finishing the set with his own compatible work, this is forward thinking stuff that makes you think as you try to take it all in.

— Chris Spector, 8.25.2020


The Art Music Lounge

Here is a new recording of György Ligeti’s complete piano Études as well as a performance of his Horn Trio by American pianist Eric Huebner. Since I already have these works in my collection played by Pierre-Laurent Aimard on Sony Classical, I of course made a comparison between the two.

Both performances do justice to the music, but the two pianists’ approaches are slightly different. Aimard imparts a bit more legato to his recordings whereas Huebner plays in a crisp, staccato style with no legato at all and, in fact, with no attempt to sustain any tones.

As a modern composer, Ligeti can of course withstand this sort of approach. He was a Hungarian, after all, and the Hungarian style of classical performance tends towards the objective rather than the subjective, but in a piece such as the fifth Étude, titled “Arc-en-ciel,” I felt that a little pedal wouldn’t have done any harm. It’s true that here, as in other such pieces, Huebner does play a bit more delicately than elsewhere, but the unrelentingly bright, crisp sound of his instrument provided only a little by way of contrast, although Huebner does indeed observe all of Ligeti’s dynamics markings which are extremely important to this music.

The Horn Trio is played well, particularly by violinist Resnick and Huebner. Our French horn player, Adam Unsworth, has a muffled tone, not as clear as that of the great Marie-Luise Neunecker on the Sony recording, but otherwise he handles his assignment well. I always got a laugh out of the fact that Ligeti subtitled this “Hommage à Brahms” since, aside from the specific combination of instruments, there is little correlation to the Brahms Horn Trio. Everything about this piece is entirely different, not least the eerie harmonies. The second movement is particularly sprightly in its weird atonal way. A good recording, then. If you don’t already have these works in your collection, it’s a good place to start, but I would also recommend that you explore the Sony Classical Ligeti: Masterpieces set.

— Lynn Bayley, 8.28.2020


Gapplegate Classical Modern Music Review

Desordre is the title given to pianist Eric Huebner's album of Ligeti works (New Focus Recordings FCR 269). So then, "disorder." It's all about several multi-part works that mark Ligeti's early '80s change in stylistic focus. The liner notes to the current album describe how Ligeti had tried to return to Hungary from exile and establish himself as a composer rooted in Hungarian identity.

When that did not take he changed his aims decidedly with the 1982 "Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano," which went in a sort of deliberate multi-directionality that included a re-thinking of Romanticism to suit Ligeti's intentional diffuseness, suggested at first blush with the 19th century poet Eichendorff and the sounding of a natural horn from a mysterious fairytale of forest and storybook expression. It related to Ligeti's experience of hearing the alpenhorn in the mountains of his childhood. It captured a feeling of homesickness, suggest the liners, more so than one of national pride or feeling for the homeland, instead a feeling more of displacement, perhaps.

The chronologically following two books of "Etudes Pour Piano" in turn were inspired by the piano works of Chopin, Scarlatti, Schumann and Debussy. It was from the pianistic and virtuoso qualities of their concepts of playing that Ligeti found new inspiration, something that these magnificent Etudes reformulate in their own very original way.

And so we have in this program very poetic and pristinely clear performances of some extraordinarily complex and widely influenced works. The liners mention in addition to what I've brought up above the additional influences of Eastern European folk, plus Jazz harmonic and piano stylistic aspects from Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk. Finally we feel the weight of sensory-motor mechanics as a nexus of piano and pianist with compositional interventions that heighten drama and create a marvelous sense of motility that has its own original kind of virtuosity and still sounds completely Modern in the capital /M/ way.

Pianist Eric Huebner and his associates for the trio--Yuki Numata Resnick on violin and Adam Unsworth on horn--all furnish the realization of this extraordinary music with a sure sense of meaningful phrasing, of a gestalt wholeness that makes perfect sense of the totality of expression.

Very recommended.

— Grego Edwards, 9.09.2020

Related Albums