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composer's corner

some progress with my commission...

December 17, 2007

Well I am happy to say Jeff’s concerto is finally off the ground! As always, it has taken forever to come up with a beginning I am happy with. Every new piece has its own “rules” and the initial process involves learning what these rules are. It has a lot to do with harmony, with the kind of chords and scales I will use, and while these choices are pretty consistent from piece to piece, there are subtleties which can mean a world of difference in communicating exactly what I want to communicate. But once I have established these parameters, I always find I can write the rest of the piece very quickly.

The introduction definitely has Baroque overtones-imagine Bach two octaves higher than it should be with some “rogue” chromatic notes thrown in-with cascades of winds and strings answering the solo pianist’s angular gestures. One of the challenges of this commission lies in creating a concerto which can be conducted from the keyboard by the soloist. I am trying to free up one hand so Jeff can cue the orchestra at some crucial moments. We’ll see how this works! But the meter is always the same, and there is a very clear pulse in the vibraphone, so the orchestra may not need the cues anyway.

The introduction leads to a theme played by two oboes in thirds. It begins in g minor but sort of moves freely all over the place. In a sort of “retro” manner, the soloist answers with the same idea, accompanied by the strings, and as the strings and winds adopt this material for themselves, the pianist launches into torrid flurries of virtuosity, emerging and receding back into the orchestral texture. I am planning a cadenza which will lead seamlessly back into the material of the introduction.

The second movement is essentially a nocturne, a piano solo which will be followed by an orchestral upheaval in which Jeffrey will be able to conduct without worrying about getting back to the piano anytime soon! I think this nocturne will draw heavily from a movement of a trio called Three Nocturnes I wrote a couple of years ago. I will probably alter things somewhat, but I keep hearing this music immediately following the first movement. I am trying to give Jeff a chance to play lyrically and beautifully. It would be a wasted opportunity not to!

The last movement will be a dazzling perpetual motion exercise, like the last movement of Barber’s Violin Concerto. I am imagining something sinister and g-minor-y with sparks flying everywhere.

Of course this all may change! I have lots of time to write over the next few weeks. I’ll get back to you…

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