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Length: 29 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets , 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani, harp, piano (= celesta), strings, and solo percussion (temple blocks, octabons, tom-toms, tabala drums, pedal bass drum, bongos, congas, vibraphone, tuned gongs, and marimba)
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (U.S. premiere)
As a child, Marijn Simons (b. 1982) was enthralled by musical instruments that he could strike. Though he chose to play the violin, for years he enjoyed making lots of noise with percussion. This early interest persisted - witness the brand-new percussion concerto that Simons wrote for percussionist Wim Vos and the 100th anniversary of The Hague Residentie Orchestra. In this Concerto fabuleux, the physical and theatrical side of playing the percussion is the central point. On stage there are four sets of instruments, three behind the orchestra and one in front. The soloist plays a total of eleven sorts of instruments, from African drums to Thai gongs.
Concerning the name, Concerto fabuleux fits in perfectly with Simons' two previous solo concertos with French names, the Concerto d'un bon esprit for piano and chamber orchestra and the Concerto comique for trombone and orchestra. (Simons has also composed two violin concertos with English names.) A play on words underlies the title. The adjective "fabuleux" means in French both "fabulous" and "fable-like." In each of the three movements Simons portrays a legendary animal, based upon the character that has been given to the animals concerned: successively the dragon (powerful), the werewolf (magical), and the unicorn (indomitable). The musical form that results from this, fast-slow-fast, follows a classical pattern.
The first movement radiates unbridled energy. The soloist plays short, fast motives on several drums, while several sections of the orchestra throw themselves into the fight. In the quiet second movement an unreal landscape unfolds. The long tones on the vibraphone are answered by flageolet tones in the strings. As a result of this remarkable dialogue, a "natural out-of-tune sound" dominates, caused by the conflicting overtone rows of the instruments involved. The third and last movement starts with an extensive solo cadenza for the marimba in which the soloist has to set all sails to be able to play all the melodic leaps. Contributions of the celesta and brass then announce the entrance of the orchestra. Until the final chord the music runs capriciously, in a way befitting a unicorn.
- © 2005 by Michel Khalifa (English translation by Marijn Simons)