Violin Concerto

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


BBC Symphony Orchestra commission
First performance, Carolin Widmann, BBC Symphony Orchestra cond. Sakari Oramo; Barbican, Centre London, Feb 2017
First broadcast performance: BBC Radio 3, Feb 2017

Underpinning Research
This concerto builds upon and extends a number of areas of investigation that are core to my practice.
1) Musical Time
2) Memory and Allusion
3) Musical Modes

1) How do we experience the flow of time? Does time exist in us or us in time? Music is peculiarly well placed to ask such questions, to explore the relationship between objective and subjective time and to provide visceral, experiential responses. In a previous BBC orchestral commission (Bohortha, 2012), I investigated time through fragmentary forms and a multi-movement structure. In the Violin Concerto, I took on and re-interpreted the traditional three-movement form, placing a long slow movement at the end. Meanwhile, the three movements move from ‘narrative’ to ‘ritual’, from teleological to ‘eternal’ time. Through these and other subversions of convention, issues about the multiplicity of time are made explicit and new.
2) In the Concerto, I continue to investigate a long-standing seam of my research: the processes and emotions of memory. I couple it with my interest in a 19th-century Romantic trope, made anew for the 21st century: ‘making the familiar strange’. In the concerto, the recurring opening motif returns 25 minutes later, transformed from seed of narrative struggle – and the ‘memory’ of Romantic concerto form – to ritual and the contemplative. Something known (from the past) is re-newed (in the present) – not only within the concerto’s form, but also in terms of what is pointed to outside the piece. In so doing, I explore, more generally, how a work may be at once expressive in its own ‘abstract’ terms and in relation to the world beyond.
3) Musical materials in 21st century contemporary classical work are enormously varied. The conventionally (functionally) tonal is admissible as the ‘floating’ and atonal. No longer is it the case that ‘modern’ can be clearly signified by relative degrees of dissonance and/or rupture. Nevertheless, there is still much to explore and invent in terms of syntax, and part of my musical materials research here is upon the use of musical modes, in particular non-octave-repeating modes. I handle these in a variety of ways – linearly and vertically – and with specific sub-components (including pentatonic groupings, diatonic tetra- and penta-cords, whole-tone-plus-one chromatic-note groups and ‘dominant 7th-type’ formations). A key part of my research is into the grammar of elision and common-notes: while the seams are hidden, what is revealed are irridesecent, shifting colours that appear within a single gesture.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherComposers Edition
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2017


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