Second Concerto for Orchestra
Length: c. 25 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (2nd = alto flute, 3rd = piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd = English horn), 3 clarinets (3rd = bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (anvil, bass drum, bongos, chimes, Chinese cymbal, glockenspiel, large triangle, Latin cowbells, marimba, snare drum, suspended cymbals, tambourine, tam-tam, tom-toms, vibraphone, woodblocks, xylophone, whip), harp, piano, celesta, and strings
"One kind of artist is always striving to annihilate the past… I am the other kind… who only sees his way forward by standing on the shoulders of those who have cleared the path ahead."
- Steven Stucky
At Walt Disney Concert Hall, Steven Stucky is certainly among friends. He has produced six major works for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and has programmed, hosted, and often conducted the orchestra's celebrated Green Umbrella concerts. For the inaugural season in the Hall, he was asked to compose his Second Concerto for Orchestra for the Philharmonic, a process he described as "a real homecoming." (The work was premiered by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonic on March 13, 2004.)
Not one to shy away from admitting his influences, Stucky immediately invokes the names of those composers upon whose shoulders he is proudly standing. The first movement, Overture (with Friends), contains homages to works by Ravel, Stravinsky, and Sibelius.
However, these aren't the only "friends" referred to in the title. Translating letters of the alphabet into musical pitches, Stucky has chosen to "encode the names or initials of several significant friends and colleagues [into the work], and the resulting mottos form part of the work's thematic material." Those represented include Bernard and Lenore "Greenberg" (who underwrote the commission for this Concerto), Philharmonic President Deborah "Borda," former Executive Director Ernest "Fleischmann," and Walt Disney Concert Hall architect Frank "Gehry." The most prominent motives, however, are for the work's dedicatees: "LAP," for Los Angeles Philharmonic (the notes A-A-B in Stucky's code), heard first in the trumpet in the work's opening bars, and, followed closely in the French horns and cellos, the motto "Esa-Pekka" (especially its first three notes, E-flat-A-B). These motives are nestled into bright, busy orchestral textures made of the simple elements of ascending and descending scales, flashy arpeggios, and repeating rhythmic ostinati.
The second movement presents a theme and six variations. The theme, heard first in the woodwinds, is made up of three phrases, a structure that remains intact as the variations unfold. Each variation presents the listener with music of a different character, from the gruff, jocular music for basses in Variation II, to the stentorian brass chorale of Variation IV, to the scintillating percussion textures of Variation V. By alternating slow and fast tempos, Stucky has given the audience the slow and scherzo movements simultaneously.
In the Finale, flourishing brass fanfares are interspersed with solos and group sections - "combos" as Stucky calls them - united by an unyielding Allegro energico pulse. These combos, such as xylophone with muted trumpets and piano, or a chamber-like alliance of string quartet with harp, are separated by a recurring chord-refrain. Deep, sonorous brass chords mark the entry to a kaleidoscopic final section that leads the work to its animated conclusion.
- Christopher Anderson-Bazzoli is an Emmy-nominated composer.