Alberto Ginastera (1916 – 1983): Violin Concerto, Op. 30
Ginastera’s Violin Concerto was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for its opening season at Lincoln Center (1962–1963). The score was completed only in September of 1963 – too late for the intended occasion – and was premiered on October 3 of that year with Leonard Bernstein conducting and Ruggiero Ricci as soloist. In addition to the standard large orchestra, the score requires no fewer than seven percussionists handling some four dozen instruments. Ironically, the largest number of them playing together occurs in the concerto’s softest extended passage, the beginning of the third movement.
The first movement opens with an extensive cadenza for the soloist, which, in the composer’s words, is “cast in a rhapsodic, virtuoso style [and] serves to introduce the basic materials of the entire concerto.” The second part of the movement consists of six “studies” that vary the basic tone row presented in the cadenza, each with a different texture or technique. Ginastera described the second movement as “full of poetic concentration and exalted lyricism”. The third movement, like the first, is in two parts. The first is “to be played at a flying pace, in a mysterious, scarcely audible whisper.” The second part is a perpetuum mobile initiated by the drums but thereafter sustained by the soloist in constant 16th notes without a single pause for breath, right up to the unexpected final bar.
Leonard Bernstein (1918 – 1990): Serenade for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion (after Plato’s Symposium)
In 1954, Bernstein decided to take a vacation from his normal frenetic lifestyle in New York City to spend the summer in Europe, just composing a work inspired by his recent rereading of Plato’s Symposium, that illustrious dialogue between guests at a dinner party over the nature of love in its various forms. This became the Serenade. The circumstances of the premiere perfectly reflect the composer’s international spectrum of activities and recognition: he conducted the Israel Philharmonic in his new score based on a literary work from Classical Greece, at the Teatro Fenice in Venice (September 12, 1954), with the American soloist Isaac Stern.
Bernstein stated that “there is no literal program for this Serenade. […] The music, like the dialogue, is a series of related statements in praise of love, and generally follows the Platonic form through the succession of speakers at the banquet. The ‘relatedness’ of the movements does not depend on common thematic material, but rather on a system whereby each movement evolves out of elements in the preceding one”.
Samy Moussa (born in 1984): Violin Concerto “Adrano” (2019)
World Première – OSM commission
The Montreal-born composer and conductor Samy Moussa enjoys a flourishing career in Canada, France, and Germany, where he now lives. Both of Moussa’s operas, L’autre frère and Vastation, were premiered at the Munich Biennales in 2010 and 2014. Pierre Boulez commissioned him to write an orchestral work for the Lucerne Festival, which was premiered in 2015. His Violin Concerto, subtitled Adrano in reference to an ancient fire god who was said to have lived under Mount Etna which inspired Moussa’s work when he visited it, was premiered by the OSM and soloist Andrew Wan, led by Kent Nagano, on November 28, 2019.
The Concerto consists of four movements: two principal ones – the first and the third – separated by a cadenza and concluding with an epilogue. It opens with a slow introduction in the low flutes and a pair of double basses. From this sound mass, the solo violin emerges with an ascending scale until it reaches a more melodic passage, where a new slow section begins. This material is heard twice, each time resulting in a climax; the second of these is more decisive and intense. The second movement is an accompanied cadenza featuring arpeggios of harmonics. The third movement, centered around the note B, is quick and relentless. For an epilogue, we hear a variant of the concerto’s slow introduction leading to a quiet, serene ending.
© Robert Markow