Violist Tabea Zimmermann gave the world première of Georges Lentz’s Monh in 2005. The influence of the Australian desert and the night sky, already evident in some of Lentz’s other works, is again a crucial factor in this piece. Zimmermann talked of her admiration for it in an interview with the Berlin Philharmonic:
“Georges Lentz wrote an extraordinary viola concerto for me. But one can’t really call it a concerto – Lentz himself doesn’t; it is called Monh, which means ‘the sky over the desert’ in the Aborigines’ language – and the piece actually sounds like that,” explains Zimmermann.
“The world première took place at the opening of the Philharmonie concert hall in Luxembourg – they commissioned it. Before that, I had had no contact with the composer; I had listened to his chamber music and I thought it was extremely good and it appealed to me. Then when the score arrived, I read it and thought, ‘This can never work’ – a triple piano – ppp – downwards in the solo part, for instance, incredibly subtle and quiet – I thought, ‘How can that possibly work?’ – but then I tried it and found that it was thoroughly playable.”
The work lasts 30 minutes, written in a single movement: slow and soft. Zimmermann describes her excitement: “It is fascinating and it works in a way I have seldom experienced – particularly because of the frugal gestures and special effects – except you don’t hear them as effects, but as the most profound expression. You actually hear that sky over the desert, the clarity, like flashing stars – and then the viola, the solo instrument, appears – like a human factor amidst all that. There is an altercation, a confrontation between the cosmic impression and the human voice which culminates at the end in a kind of chorale, which nearly brings tears to my eyes every time I play it, because it is so uplifting. There is also a 25-second general pause when you start to wonder, ‘What will happen in the auditorium today – will the audience be able to stand this quiet?’ – and yes, it works.”
Apart from its special form, the piece is notable for its unusual orchestration. As Zimmermann explains, “There are two solo violas in the orchestra with their C strings tuned an octave lower, for instance. The sounds from those low, loose C strings are so strange that no one has any idea where they are coming from in the hall – they are very special sounds.”