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FastNotes

  • Rouse’s Organ Concerto has connections to two famous organ works: a brief reference to the Poulenc Organ Concerto at the beginning, and a hint at the Saint-Saëns “Organ” Symphony at the end. (“The notes have been changed to protect the innocent,” Rouse says.)

  • There was no programmatic intent to the piece, no narrative. Rouse’s only plot was to convey emotional states – and those not necessarily in tidy order.

  • Rouse explains, “The outer movements, the two fast movements, are really meant to be energetic and showy, and I hope colorful and exciting. They’re not necessarily particularly celebratory, nor are they are particularly angry…”


Composed: 2014
Length: c. 18 minutes
Orchestration: bass clarinet, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, snare drum, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, xylophone), strings, and solo organ
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance (West Coast premiere)

Christopher Rouse has built a reputation for volume, viscerality, and a lively friction between tradition and modernity, harmony and clash. In addition to five symphonies and many works for various ensembles, he has written numerous concertos – for violin, piano, oboe, and trombone (the latter winning him a Pulitzer Prize). The concerto at hand is the only work Rouse has written for organ, save for a solo piece he has since “euthanized” from his catalogue, as he put it. The concerto was commissioned by the LA Phil (along with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra, who gave it its world premiere last November), at the request of tonight’s soloist, Paul Jacobs. Rouse wrote it in 2014 at his home in Baltimore, on days he wasn’t commuting into New York City to teach composition at Juilliard. He wrote it “the old-fashioned way” with pencil and paper, on a card table in his living room. “Very unsexy,” he laughs.

The piece does have connections to two famous organ works: a brief reference to the Poulenc Organ Concerto at the beginning, and a hint at the Saint-Saëns “Organ” Symphony at the end. (“The notes have been changed to protect the innocent,” Rouse says.) He abandoned woodwinds – with the exception of bass clarinet and contrabassoon – because he found their colors sufficient enough in the organ. As for the relationship between parties, “this is not one of those soloist-versus-orchestra battle pieces, where each one is trying to reign supreme over the other,” he says. “Sometimes, of course, the organ plays by itself. Just because it is an organ concerto, the soloist wants to have a chance to really be heard.”

There was no programmatic intent to the piece, no narrative. Rouse’s only plot was to convey emotional states – and those not necessarily in tidy order. “It’s not an emotional journey the way some pieces are, where there’s a steady progression – traveling, let’s say, from the agony to the ecstasy,” he explains. “It’s much more mercurial. One minute it will be in one kind of emotional world, and then it’ll just *snap* be in another one. The outer movements, the two fast movements, are really meant to be energetic and showy, and I hope colorful and exciting. They’re not necessarily particularly celebratory, nor are they are particularly angry. As is the case with so many of my pieces, it does swing back and forth between tonal and non-tonal music. So at one point there may be a major triad, and at the next point there may be some really gritty, dissonant kind of harmony that punches in. I’m drawn to that pendulum swing between consonance and dissonance.”