Photo by Charlie Grosso
I had wanted to compose a concerto for clarinet, and was delighted when a commission came my way from clarinetist Håkan Rosengren. His fiery virtuosity, combined with his poignantly beautiful sound, had a direct influence on my creative decisions throughout the work. The concerto’s three movements are composed as tributes to three 20th-century American icons: George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, and Leonard Bernstein. Although the first movement is book-ended by playful allusions of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and the finale contains just a whiff of the air surrounding Bernstein’s West Side Story, there are no direct quotes, and my own personal style dominates all three movements. I composed my concerto as a tribute, not as an emulation.
The first movement, Rhapsody for George, is built largely from chromatic, jazzy, relentless flurries of 16th-notes, volleyed back and forth between the soloist and ensemble. This high-speed game is intensified by a walking bass line, jazzy syncopations, and heavy backbeats that come and go at will. The second movement, Song for Aaron, evokes the gentle, open-aired quality sometimes heard in Copland’s slow movements. If the listener notices a song-like quality here, it may be because it was in fact originally composed for voice (An American Dream, for soprano and orchestra, mvt. 6). Thus, this movement is an adaptation of an earlier work, but altered significantly to suit the unique lyrical traits of the clarinet. While composing the final movement, Riffs for Lenny, I imagined Bernstein perched on a pulpit (a podium?), passionately preaching about Music as a powerful and necessary force for humanity. In a sense, I pay tribute to his lifelong enthusiasm, unleashed through his conducting, composing, performing, teaching, and in countless other ways. Like the opening movement, Riffs for Lenny is somewhat jazzy, but now in a more, sultry, gospel-like manner. It swoons, sighs, seduces, and then suddenly takes off in double-time, dancing all the way.
Labels: Concerto for Clarinet, Frank Ticheli, Jerry Junkin, University of Texas Wind Ensemble, WineDarkSea