The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award goes to Peter Eötvös

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award goes to Peter Eötvös

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Music and Opera category has gone in 2021 to the Hungarian composer and conductor Peter Eötvös, “undoubtedly one of the most important musical voices of our time” in the words of the citation. “His artistic significance, originality and contribution to the advancement of music since the second half of the 20th century can be recognized in his writing for voice, solo instrument and orchestra, and in operas such as Three Sisters. His instrumental compositions have been played by the most important ensembles and orchestras around the world.”

Among Eötvös’ defining characteristics, in the view of the committee, is that he “excels” in all three areas of his musical endeavor, as composer, conductor and teacher. “His work in each is of unassailable quality, and what truly sets him apart is his generosity. As a writer, a musician, and a conductor, he puts all his trust in his players and his public,” says Joana Carneiro, committee chair. “Like all great composers,” she continues, “he knows how to take from the authors he admires and translate it for the next generation. He has experimented with acoustic music, with technology, with spaces and musicians, using a language that is affective but also new, full of creativity and originality.”

For the committee, one of Peter Eötvös’ great talents has been to overlay this emotional dimension on an existing innovative tradition that had left its audience behind. This is a characteristic that the Hungarian maestro acknowledges in himself: “This emotional attitude possibly goes back to my long experience in theater and opera. There is no way of writing opera without emotion, it simply can’t be done.” His first major opera, in terms of critical and public reception, was Tri Sestry (1998), in which he adapts Anton Chekhov’s celebrated Three Sisters to construct a sustained narrative in sequences, each devoted to one of the play’s main characters. Proof of his ability to synthesize the most avant-garde European musical tradition while still connecting with an audience is that the work premiered to great success at Opéra National de Lyon, has since been performed over 150 times and continues to be regularly programmed by leading opera theaters. In 20 years, he has written operas for librettos in German, Japanese, Russian, English, Italian, French and Hungarian. “Each language – says Eötvös – leads us to its culture, a distinctive culture with its own temperament. And also to what I like to call its own sound world, which is central to the music. This question of the sonority of a language is an important one in theater and opera, because those lacking hard consonants are more difficult to understand. Soft languages are very beautiful, as is the music, but the text does not come across.”

“The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Music and Opera is a prestigious accolade,” Eötvös says. “For me it is important to have received it not just as a composer of operas, but also as a teacher and a conductor. In fact, I see these three professions as a unified entity, in that what I achieve in one, serves me for the other two. So what I compose I can conduct, what I learn by conducting I can apply in my writing, and the experience I acquire in these two professions informs my teaching work. This desire to share my knowledge with young people goes back to my own youth and the gratitude I feel towards the teachers who helped me learn everything, to understand it and to perform it.”

UMPG Classical congratulates Péter Eötvös for this award. Édition Salabert, Ricordi Berlin, and UMP Editio Musica Budapest are all proud to have accompanied him at various stages of his career, to have published and to care for his works.

Read the official BBVA announcement

Browse Peter Eötvös' works

Read more about Eötvös in our news archive

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Peter Eötvös: Tri sestry

Péter Eötvös received Hungary's highest state decoration

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Photo: Marco Borggreve