Global Music Awards Application 2014
Redefining the Concerto: New Forms, new Forces, and New Contexts
Over the last few years, one of my goals has been to help change perceptions about certain instruments and genres that have been traditionally underappreciated by the classical music world. In this light, I am submitting to the GMA’s three recent works for solo instruments with ensemble that defy traditional conventions associated with the classical concerto. Each work demonstrates new ideas about genre, form, instrumentation, or cultural context while maintaining the soloists’ vitality and expression. Also, each work has been performed by a major international artist and has been recorded for a current or forthcoming commercial release.
Garden of the Gods for solo trombone and trombone choir (2012)
Recorded by Joseph Alessi, principal trombone, New York Philharmonic; prof. of trombone, Juilliard School
Of all the beautiful places in Colorado, the one to which I most often return is the famous Garden of the Gods. While certainly not the most massive or dramatic vista in the state, it instead holds an elusive character that is intimate, mischievous, and foreboding all at once. The bizarre rock formations seem to take on their own distinct personalities, and this brief concerto for trombone and trombone choir depicts two of the most well known structures. The “Cathedral Spires” are an extraordinarily delicate group of sandstone columns rising toward the mountains in the distance. The first movement depicts them at dawn, just as the sun emerges from behind Pike’s Peak. “The Three Graces” are large angular shapes that are grouped together near the center of the park. During the day, they are surrounded by the hustle and bustle of visitors and almost seem to be having a busy conversation amongst themselves. The driving allegro of the second movement displays the vibrancy and energy of the park, particularly the daring cyclists racing up and down steep inclines. This piece is composed for and dedicated to Joe Alessi of the New York Philharmonic.
Auto ’66: Concerto for Clarinet (2011/12)
Recorded by Dr. Wesley Ferreira, professor of clarinet, Colorado State University
The automobile, perhaps more than any other piece of technology, inspires strong emotional reactions in people, and certain cars seem to transcend their role as means of transportation to become works of art. My clarinet concerto is about three such vehicles that were built in 1966. They were chosen for their historical significance, physical beauty, and ability to inspire their owners. Further, all three cars have different national origins, which allowed me to draw from the native music for each.
First up is the Lamborghini Miura, the original mid-engine “super-car.” In this movement, the opening “coloratura” cadenza quickly leads into a breathless Italian tarantella. This is then morphed into an Afro-Cuban rhumba, a similarly energetic Latin dance in a compound meter. Finally, a brief slow section depicts the racer headed far into the distance only to suddenly and violently meet its end.
Since all cars should be fast, the usually slow middle movement is replaced with a brief scherzo that depicts the tiny British rally car known as the Mini Cooper S. Two works of Gustav Holst serve as source material: the intermezzo from his First Suite in E-flat and “Mercury” from The Planets. Motives from both pieces swirl around constantly with occasional bits of Morse code that spell out the name of the car.
Last, but never least, is the Pontiac G.T.O., the first true muscle car. Many forms of American music are on display from funk to metal to hard bop with a special nod to the legendary Artie Shaw. Percussion plays a crucial role as the famous “Amen Break” takes on several different guises. This work is dedicated to my father who taught me to love cars and bands, and to my wife who taught me to love the clarinet.
L’oiseau dans l’espace - Concerto for saxophone and percussion (2012)
Recorded by Dr. Zachary Shemon, professor of saxophone, University of Missouri, Kansas City; alto saxophonist, Prism Quartet
“L’oiseau dans l’espace” or “Bird in Space” by Romanian artist Constantin Brancuși is among the most famous and important examples of modern sculpture. It appealed to me for its purity of form and directness of expression; two things that I always strive for in my compositions. The work, in my estimation, is comprised of two unbroken curved shapes. I used this framework as the structure for two movements in my concerto for saxophone and percussion ensemble. Curves are explored throughout in melodic, coloristic, rhythmic, and harmonic shapes. In the first movement, the saxophone’s ability to sustain long beautiful sounds is contrasted against the constant decay of percussive sound sources. However, occasionally this relationship is reversed where friction-based percussion is used to create sustained sounds and a warbling microtonal saxophone accompanies. The forceful yet playful second movement expresses the kinetic qualities of the sculpture and concludes with a final explosive cadenza for drums and extreme altissimo saxophone playing.