Concerto For Orchestra, Opus 111 (2005)

Thomas Oboe Lee

About this work:

When I received the invitation from Jonathan Cohler to write a “Concerto for Orchestra” for the Brockton Symphony, I immediately thought of all the composers who wrote works inspired by Bartok’s seminal work of the same title: Roger Sessions, Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt, Ezra Ladermann, Michael Tippett, Richard Rodney Bennett, Thea Musgrave, Witold Lutoslawski, Rodion Shchedrin, Stephen Paulus, Richard Danielpour, Joan Tower and, most recently, Jennifer Higdon.

My “Concerto for Orchestra, opus 111,” is in five movements. It will be heard without pause between movements.

I. Largo … “Misterioso!”

II. Allegro con moto … “Evidence!!!”

III. Adagio … “Epistrophy!”

IV. Andante … “In Walked Bud!”

V. Presto … “Rhythm-a-ning!!!”

My initial idea for the “Concerto” was contrast - contrast between the timbres and colors that the various sections in an orchestra provide. For example, the woodwinds would provide a sharp contrast against the brass; the percussion section against the strings, etc. I also was interested in writing a work where each movement would flow into the next without pause – thus providing another form of contrast, that of tempi and mood change. A third form of contrast would be the different styles and forms of music that I would come up with. And I had a lot of fun conjuring up the many possible scenarios and orchestral tableaux.

I actually started with the second movement: the “Allegro con moto.” I wanted something that had a nice surging quality that the whole orchestra could jump into. When I finished that, I thought perhaps it would be too intense for the opening of the work. I thought, maybe I should begin with something slower, more brooding in nature before the explosive stuff. I noticed that Carter’s “Concerto” began with a slow “Introduction.” It had a title: “Misterioso.” Being an avid fan of Thelonius Monk, aka Thelonius Sphere Monk, “Misterioso” brought to mind a Monk composition of the same title. That epiphany gave me the idea of naming each of the five movements after a Monk tune. Monk’s “Misterioso” is a blues with an insistent theme of 8th note patterns of rising 6ths; which has nothing to do with my first movement.

My “Misterioso” features a solo for the bass clarinet in the midst of a shimmering atmosphere that is punctuated by accents in the bass. They are both mysterious, but divergently opposed in mood and substance.

Monk’s “Evidence” is a tune with jabs and punches, irregularly placed within the measure – not unlike what I did in the second movement. This movement is perhaps the most Monk-ish of all.

Monk’s “Epistrophy” is a tune constructed with a four-note pattern that is angular and twisted. I wrote a solemn brass choir movement that is an “epistle” in nature, a sermon of sorts.

The title of Monk’s “In Walked Bud” refers, of course, to the amazing pianist Bud Powell. I took the word “walk” and translated it into an “andante.” What resulted was a “silly, but jolly” movement featuring the woodwinds. I wanted to end the work with a fast and furious finale.

Inspired by the word “rhythm” in Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning,” I began the last movement with a solo for the percussion section – timpani, tom-toms, Bass drum!!! The orchestra eventually joins in the mayhem, breaking into a scherzo-like frenzy. It ends with a big bang!!!

Year composed: 2005
Duration: 00:16:00
Ensemble type: Orchestra:Standard Orchestra

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