The viola concerto Replica by Péter Eötvös received its premiere on March 29, 1999, with Kim Kashkashian and the orchestra of La Scala of Milan under the direction of the composer. The piece was written in close proximity to the opera The Three Sisters, and it is undoubtedly related to that work in its mood. The composer has written: “One of the basic attitudes of the concerto is leave-taking, which refers to the three great farewell scenes that close each of the opera's three sequences.” The eminent British musicologist Paul Griffiths added, alluding to the protagonists of Chekhov's play: “[it is] the farewell of people who are not going anywhere.” (A further connection between the opera and the concerto is created by the prominent presence of the accordeon.)
The primarily melodic solo viola part is embedded in a multi-layered orchestral environment. Eötvös changed the regular seating plan of the orchestra, placing the winds upstage, in front of the strings. He gave an especially important role to the five orchestral violas who create a kind of halo around the soloist, responding, complementing, and contradicting her statements. (The title “Replica” is meant in this sense, as in “reply.”) “The answers provoke new questions,” Eötvös wrote. “In the course of the dialogue thus created, the most diverse arguments are brought in, and, like the shards of a shattered mirror, they reflect an image whose original can only be guessed at.”
The result is a veritable piece of instrumental theatre, whose actors – the instruments – enter into constantly evolving, complex relationships with one another. Yet the drama does not unfold in superficial “dramatic” gestures but rather in the endless combinations of timbres and registers, placed in even sharper relief by the relatively slow tempo. The continuous monologue of the solo instrument appears in a new light each time the simultaneous orchestral commentary changes. The viola finds its “ideal companion” – to use Griffiths' expression – in the flugelhorn. When their voices entwine in a duet, following the most tragic outburst in the piece, is one of the most gripping moments in the work. But their relationship is not to last: in the end, the solo viola remains irrevocably alone, and disappears in the dark, evoked by the maracas (played by the violinists) as the imaginary curtain falls.