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Composer and multi-instrumentalist Edgar Meyer began studying bass with his father at the age of five. He won numerous competitions and is the only bass player to receive the Avery Fisher Career Grant and Avery Fisher Prize. The album Appalachian Journey (2000) won a Grammy for Meyer and colleagues Yo-Yo Ma and Mark O'Connor, and in 2002 Meyer received a MacArthur Award.
"Most of the music I've become interested in is hybrid in its origins," Meyer says. "Classical music, of course, is unbelievably hybrid. Jazz is an obvious amalgam. Bluegrass comes from 18th-century Scottish and Irish folk music that made contact with the blues. By exploring music, you're exploring everything."
Meyer's Bass Concerto No. 1 was composed in 1993 (he has since written another solo concerto and a Double Concerto for Cello and Bass) at the instigation of Peter Lloyd, principal bass of the Minnesota Orchestra, the ensemble with which Meyer played the premiere, conducted by Edo de Waart.
The opening solo lick, a bluesy upward swagger with an emphatic punctuation, sets the stylistically protean tone for the piece. The orchestra suggests something more ominous, eventually luring the soloist up into chill and glossy heights. The sense of barely stilled worry ends with the understated return of the opening lick.
The middle movement is in the three-part song form typical of classical concertos. In the first section the bass soars lyrically over a pizzicato accompaniment, sounding like a thoroughly acculturated Satie gymnopédie, although Meyer says that he picked up the idea from Haydn's C-major Violin Concerto. The contrasting central section is agitated and driven, bustling urgently before slipping back into a state of lyric grace, this time with oboe joining the bass in tandem lines.
The finale explodes with fiddling fury, given only more energy by its rooted weight in the bass register, though this too slips its moorings and spins off into instrumental thin air. "I got the idea for this type of tune and the way of playing it from hearing Sam Bush play the violin and mandolin," the composer says. (Bush was a partner in several projects with Meyer, going back to the 1980s and the newgrass band Strength in Numbers.) Celtic modality, blues engines, suggestions of John Adams in the scoring, and strenuous virtuosity all combine in this movement, also in a three-part form, with a free-floating middle and cadenza.
- John Henken