THOMAS LARCHER – composer, pianist
“His extraordinary, arresting, communicative music is one of this century’s wonders” ( The Times)
Thomas Larcher stands out as one of the most imaginative voices in classical music today. Born in Innsbruck in 1963, Larcher grew up in Austrian Tyrol and studied composition and piano in Vienna. His music is inventive and captivating, as he combines contemplative harmonies with extended performance techniques – at once experimental and responsive to tradition.
Larcher’s early works are characterized by his preoccupation with the piano and its tonal qualities, with compositions such as Naunz for piano solo (1989), Kraken for violin, cello and piano (1994/5), Mumien for cello and piano (2001). A series of string quartets, Cold Farmer (1999), Ixxu (1998–2004), Madhares (2006/7) and Lucid Dreams (2015) a string quartet for the Belcea Quartet’s twentieth anniversary season, continued his path of exploration. The quartets contain highly original sounds, often derived from extended string playing techniques.
Larcher began using the colourful timbres of the orchestra, starting with his solo concertos – Still (2002) for viola and orchestra, Böse Zellen for piano and chamber orchestra (2006), and the Violin Concerto (2008) written for Isabelle Faust. The cello concerto Ouroboros (2016), written for the cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras and chamber orchestra, followed some years later and was commissioned by Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, Munich Chamber Orchestra and Hong Kong Sinfonietta.
His first large orchestral score, written for the San Francisco Symphony in 2011 and conducted by Osmo Vänskä, was Red and Green (2010), a pair of movements with contrasting tonal colouring. Critic Stephen Smoliar commented, “The result is a highly unique listening experience with a perfectly valid aesthetic of beauty … my only regret was having but one opportunity to experience this stunning music”. Later that year, the Double Concerto (2011) for violin and cello was commissioned and premiered at the BBC Proms with Viktoria Mullova and Matthew Barley under the direction of Ilan Volkov, for which Larcher was awarded a 2012 British Composer Awards in the International category.
In 2015 Larcher’s first symphony Alle Tage (2010–2015) for baritone and orchestra was premiered by Matthias Goerne with Jaap van Sweden and the Netherlands Radio Orchestra at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam. His most ambitious orchestral work to date, Symphony No. 2 – Kenotaph (2015–16), followed one year later and was premiered in 2016 by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Semyon Bychkov. The work has since been performed by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin with Robin Ticciati in their 17/18 season opening concert, Netherlands Radio Orchestra with Markus Stenz, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra with Hannu Lintu, and by Bychkov with Munich Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms, and the New York Philharmonic. Larcher’s most recent orchestral work Chiasma (2017), written for the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Andris Nelsons, premiered in spring 2018.
Larcher’s skill in writing for the voice is evident in his astonishing and highly original works for ensemble and orchestra including My Illness is the Medicine I Need (2002) for soprano and piano trio, a much performed work that has recently been arranged by the composer in a version for chamber orchestra; Heute (2005) for soprano and orchestra; and Die Nacht der Verlorenen (2008) for Matthias Goerne and London Sinfonietta. In 2014, A Padmore Cycle (2010–2011), originally for tenor and prepared piano, was recomposed as an orchestral score with voice and was premiered by the BBCSO under Edward Gardner in November 2014.
Larcher’s first opera Das Jagdgewehr (The Hunting Gun) (2016–2018), based on a novel by Yasushi Inoue, was commissioned by the Bregenz Festival. The world premiere was presented at the festival in 2018 with Ensemble Modern conducted by Michael Boder and directed by Karl Markovics. The opera was co-produced by the Aldeburgh Festival where it received its UK premiere in 2019 with Ryan Wigglesworth conducting the Knussen Chamber Orchestra. Geoff Brown in The Times wrote “at first glance this opera might well be a masterpiece”.
Larcher has been Composer in Residence at the Vienna Konzerthaus, the Mozarteum Orchester, Wigmore Hall, and many festivals including Bregenz, Aldeburgh, Davos, Heimbach, Risör, Mondsee and Bantry. He was a featured composer with BBC Symphony Orchestra over the 18/19 season, and will be Composer in Residence at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam for the 19/20 season.
In 2015, Larcher received the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Elise L. Stoeger Prize 2014/15, awarded every two years in recognition of significant contributions to the field of chamber music composition and in November 2018, Larcher was the recipient of the Ernst Krenek Prize from the city of Vienna for his Symphony No. 2 for which he also was awarded the 2018 Le Prix de Composition Musicale by Fondation Prince Pierre (Monaco). In 2019 Larcher received the Grand Austian State Prize.
Larcher is highly regarded as a pianist; his repertoire is broad, ranging from his Schubert/Schönberg CD with ECM to accompanying Mark Padmore in Schubert’s Schwanengesang. Through thoughtful programming that reveals links, contrasts and comparisons, he has a special ability to cast new light on the established repertoire whilst his performances of the music of our time are particularly illuminating.
In 1994 Larcher founded the festival Klangspuren, now an international renowned festival for contemporary music. He stepped down in 2003 to establish the Swarowski Music im Riesen festival in Wattens, Austria which he still runs, a gathering of the best international chamber musicians in May each year.
In recent years Larcher has begun conducting, working with orchestras such as Munich Chamber Orchestra, Mozarteum Orchester, Netherlands Radio Kammerphilharmonie and with soloists including Isabelle Faust and Igor Levit.
Thomas Larcher’s works have been recorded on ECM and Harmonia Mundi. His recordings have been awarded several international prizes, including the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik, the Choc de la musique and the Diapason d’Or.