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PROGRAM NOTES by the composer

Concerto for Solo Percussion and Orchestra

In March 1991 I heard Dean Witten perform Milhaud's Concerto for Percussion with the Haddonfield Symphony. I was fascinated with the idea of a concerto for mixed percussion and was sorry Milhaud's was so short, since it seemed such a ripe idea. Only two weeks later, the Percussive Arts Society's Polish Chapter commissioned me to compose a full-length percussion concerto for the 1992 International Percussion Workshops in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

Since my music is primarily lyrical, and most percussion isn't, it was a fascinating challenge to create an idiomatic and gratifying concerto. It was also fun to exploit the many sounds available in a musically coherent way.

In the 1st movement the soloist enhances the form by using a large set-up of unpitched percussion for the main theme section, with marimba for the middle contrasting section.

The 2nd movement focuses on metal instruments, mixing pitched with unpitched.

The 3rd movement is even more focused, using only xylophone.

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In 1991, Poland was an inspiring model of people's solidarity working to overcome Soviet oppression, just as Poland has been known for its resilient spirit and Russia for its awesome regimes throughout history. I couldn't help but be aware of this in composing the concerto, as the conflict was at the forefront of world politics at the time, and my ancestry is from these two countries. While the concerto is built in the traditional three-movement concerto form, it also has a dramatic progression from awesome repression to triumph of the spirit. The motif A-G-F-high E recurs and transforms throughout the concerto as an indicator of this struggle. On August 18 (1991), I finished drafting the end of the first movement which is the concerto's darkest and most awesome depiction of Soviet control; ironically only two hours later, Gorbachev was deposed by the communist old-guard, leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The historic events which followed in Eastern Europe led to financial trouble for the Bydgoszcz percussion festival, and the premiere was cancelled. Continuing full circle, the concerto was premiered a few years later by Dean Witten as soloist with the Haddonfield Symphony, conducted by Alan Gilbert.

The final movement, Allegro Volante, is also available for Xylophone with Band, and for Xylophone with Piano.


last updated February 20, 2020