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Composed: 2000, 2003
Length: 23 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes (2nd = piccolo), oboe, English horn, 2 clarinets (2nd = bass clarinet), bassoon, contrabassoon, 4 horns, percussion (antique cymbals, bass drum, bells, cymbals, flexatone, glockenspiel, gong, musical saw, snare drum, tambourine, temple blocks, triangle, vibraphone, whistle, and xylophone), timpani, harp, celesta, piano, strings, and solo violin
It is always fascinating to observe a journey from an initial idea to a final form and how a piece has a life and fate of its own - very much like a human being.
A character of a novel may influence a real flesh-and-blood person as much as this real person may become a prototype for a fictional character. Similarly, a musical composition, although bound by birthright to its creator, is in fact a creator on its own, with its own angels and demons, struggles and hungers, losses and triumphs.
A world premiere is always frightening. For a composer it is the ultimate goodbye to a child who graduates into the world. The child, vulnerable, yet ambitious, is completely on its own now, and the composer feels helpless at this point, as he is no longer the creator, but simply an observer, listener, almost stranger, never fully satisfied, always somewhat guilty.
This Violin Concerto had a long pre-history that led to this premiere. Back in 2000, my friend, the wonderful violinist Philippe Quint, asked me to write a violin concerto. I started writing it while in residency at Johannes Brahms' home in Baden-Baden. When I was about halfway through the score, Philippe contacted me and asked if I could write a sonata for violin and piano instead of a concerto, so I had to change direction. However, the sonata went through many transformations and was so orchestral in its nature that it was clear that one day it needed to return to the original idea of a concerto for violin and orchestra. I was very happy when AYS decided to commission this work for my first-year residency, as it gave the perfect opportunity for this Violin Concerto to finally come to life. When I returned to my orchestral sketches of 2000, I understood that I could no longer use them for this piece, as they were for a chamber orchestra, and I felt the piece now required a full orchestral force (although I have chosen to exclude the brass section with the exception of the four French horns). The Violin Concerto, in its present form, was completed in December 2003 at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. The work is dedicated to Philippe.
The first movement begins with an overwhelming apocalyptic orchestral tutti - "Death-clusters." In a way, the Concerto starts with the end - everything that happens afterwards, happens AFTER the end. When the solo violin enters, it feels dreamy and un-real in the context of the shocking orchestral introduction. There is a nostalgic sense of memories, but memories are always multilayered and distorted by future experiences and this is often reflected in my music - different realities blur into each other; sometimes what appears very simple may be highly complex (and vice versa), and things are most of the time not what they appear to be at first glance.
These paradoxical qualities are especially apparent in the second movement - a creepy scherzo, humorous, grotesque, attractive and repulsive at the same time, all too familiar yet foreign. Is it a waltz? Is it a tune we may have heard before? Is it a cheerful tune or the remains of a nightmare - and does it matter? Is it funny or scary? Is there something terrifying about the banality of everyday life? Or, perhaps, is it a memory of a perfect simple life forever lost to catastrophe and war? Is it a crooked mirror - or a perception of a listener being questioned?
The third movement, Adagio religioso, is a prayer in the form of a passacaglia based on the E-flat-major scale. Despite the promise of the major key, it is deeply tragic. The obsessive inescapability of the chord progression in the orchestra can be frightening; its simplicity may be of false premises and the solo violin cannot break free from the hypnotic repetition of the orchestral columns.
The fourth movement is a fiery dance of life and death, a rondo, an inescapable circle, where end and beginning are one and the same, and the dance of life goes on even if one is no longer dancing.
I want to express my gratitude to Philippe Quint, Alex Treger, and the AYS for performing this work; to Mary Bianco, Herbert and Beverly Gelfand, the AYS Orchestra, and its patrons for this commission; to Herbert and Beverly Gelfand and Rafael Agudelo for their continued support of my work; and to the Brahms Society in Baden-Baden and VCCA for creating perfect environments where this piece was written.
- Lera Auerbach