The making of my reduction for two pianos of Berg’s op. 6 will always be associated in my mind with two significant premieres, those of my Concertino for 12 players of 1985 and my Symphony of 2011. The reduction was almost entirely made in the periods that separated the completion of these two works from their premieres. I finished the Concertino, a BBC Radio 3 commission, in early 1985 and there was a time lapse of a few months until the premiere. I was 25 when I completed this work, and a Radio 3 commission at that stage of your career is a very big deal. Unable to compose with nervous anticipation, I used the reduction of Reigen as a way of diverting myself. I can still remember the day I took a few sheets of landscape-format manuscript into the library of Magee College in Derry (then a very modest campus, almost rural in character) and started on the reduction of Reigen without any clear sense of how, or whether, such a complex score would submit itself to piano reduction. But within a week the work was complete. The premiere of Concertino duly followed. I could not have realized that the Capricorn Ensemble that played it was a line-up of the future of British music, but neither perhaps did most of the young players themselves. Rebecca Hirsch led the ensemble. She subsequently led the London Sinfonietta and has had a distinguished solo career. Nicholas Daniel, now reckoned one of the best players in the world, was the oboist, and Roger Heaton played the clarinet. The viola player was the composer Sally Beamish. The euphoria of this event was quickly dampened by the BBC machinery which nursed the work in its bowels for two years before broadcasting it. By this time the Concertino was very far removed from my compositional concerns.
The circumstances of the piano versions of Präludium and Marsch were oddly similar. With the premiere of my recently completed Symphony looming, I took out the score of Berg’s work again and began my version of the Präludium. This went surprisingly well, though the movement contains the one passage in the work that cannot be reduced for the piano, namely the preamble for untuned percussion. (One solution for this problem could be to make a pre-recorded version of the passage.) At this stage I still had no intention of tackling the huge Marsch which more than counterbalances the other two movements combined. I made a desultory start to see how far I could get. Again to my surprise, the work went more smoothly than I had anticipated. And before I knew it, the Three Pieces in their entirety were done.
My years of work on Berg’s op. 6 (apart from the reduction, I have also prepared a detailed analysis of Reigen) have done nothing to diminish my liking for it, and everything to increase my admiration. Even when writing on this scale for vast orchestra, Berg composes with the care of a chamber music composer: there is no al fresco ‘effect’. As with all first rate composers, his first and overriding concern is technique. I find this example at once humbling and encouraging.