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.
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
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.
2nd movement focuses on metal instruments, mixing pitched with unpitched.
3rd movement is even more focused, using only xylophone.
* * *
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.
final movement, Allegro Volante, is also available for Xylophone with
Band, and for Xylophone with Piano.