My concerto for orchestra was written in London between June and October '73 and was commissioned by the Denver Branch of the English speaking union. It is a large-scale three movement work which, as the title implies, is intended to display the modern orchestra as a virtuoso body of players. The wind and string groups are normal in size and composition, while the percussion section includes various slightly less conventional colouristic elements. There is an important piano part.
In homage to Benjamin Britten on his 60th birthday I have taken, as the abstract musical starting-point of this work, the twelve-note series used by Britten in one movement of his Cantata Academica.
Although I have written two symphonies (the second commissioned by the New York Philharmonic) I have more recently been stimulated by the idea of the concerto, not in an attempt to recreate the 19th century concerto for, but rather because the concept suggests a dramatic confrontation or conflict. All my recent chamber works have been entitled either 'Commedia' or 'Scena' - the instruments being thought of as actors in a dramatic situation. I believe that this concerto for orchestra carries these ideas onto a larger 'canvas' juxtaposing families of instruments, solo instruments with ensembles and contrasting different types of musical material in an attempt to create a vivid and compelling dramatic argument.
The fist movement - 'Aubade' or morning music - is composed of several closely related sections which contain the kind of contrasted tempi found in a much larger work - there is a tiny scherzo and a brief slow movement, framed within lively opening and closing sections. Right at the beginning of the work, a powerful built-up chord is contrasted with a soft sustained string triad. This sharp contrast is an important element in the movement, while the string triad points in another direction, towards the quieter sections. The first main section is lively and fanfare-like, with a contrasting lyrical and cloudy passage featuring a solo oboe. Next comes the brief slow passage referred to earlier and then a short and colourful scherzo. Finally the opening material returns; shortly before the end, high muted strings gently state Britten's 'theme' and the movement ends sharply.
The second movement consists of a scherzo framed within two slow sections. First there is a lyrical passage for oboe, harp and strings; woodwind and celesta briefly interrupt this sustained mood, anticipating the coming scherzo. Now the muted first violins take up the oboe's song and are again interrupted. Gradually the tension increases until finally the orchestra plunges into a macabre scherzo (Presto Spettrale), which features an ostinato rhythm played by muted brass. In a central section (which is in fact the centre of the whole concerto) the opening long melodic line is floated over the obsessive scherzo rhythmn, first by a solo violin and then by all the violins. This leads to the violent climax of the movement. Gradually the slow opening music returns and completes the circle.
The last movement is a series of variations, strongly contrasted in mood, though not in temp. Whereas the first movement contains several different tempi of speeds, here the music is uniformly extremely fast, and the contrasts are created by texture and colour. The theme is enunciated by strings and horns.
Then follows eight variations;
I Leggero (woodwind and high strings)
II Molto agitato (horns)
III Misterioso (tremolo strings)
IV Strepitoso (brass)
V Quasi campane ('Like Bells')
VI Appassoinato (upper strings)
VII Scherzando (percussion)
VIII Brillante (woodwind & brass)
The last variation is followed by an extremely lively finale.