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Composed: 2021

Length: c. 25 minutes

Orchestration: 2 flutes, piccolo, oboe, English horn, 2 clarinets (2nd=bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (1=suspended cymbals, ride cymbal, triangle, crash cymbals; 2=gong, castanets, claves, snare drum, field drum; 3=bass drum, wood block, castanets, pu’ili [split bamboo] sticks or Blastix; 4=temple blocks, snare drum, shaker, slap stick, basket shakers, wood block, gong, triangle, pu’ili sticks, tight shaker [cricket-like], Vibraslap, samba whistle, slide whistle, rain stick, maracas, metallic shaker; plus marimba, vibes, castanets, and shaker), harp, strings, and solo electric-bass guitar

About this Piece

Victor Lemonte Wooten was born September 11, 1964, in Mountain Home, Idaho, grew up primarily in Southern California and Newport News, VA, and lives in Nashville, TN. He wrote his bass-guitar concerto La Lección Tres—the third version of his piece The Lesson—for the Chicago Sinfonietta. The premiere, originally scheduled for June 2020, was delayed due to the pandemic emergency; Wooten himself was soloist in the first performance, which took place in a livestreamed online concert on June 5, 2021. The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performances in October 2021, were the first in front of a live audience.

The concerto is about 24 minutes long. In writing the piece, Wooten was determined to acknowledge the classical roots of the concerto genre, reflected in the three-movement form and the relationship between soloist and orchestra. He also acknowledges his friend Edgar Meyer, the double bassist and composer, as clarifying his ideas about the concerto as a historical idea. His hope is to bring two audiences—the symphonic and the avant jazz/funk—closer together by using a musical language that speaks to both traditions. Wooten places the soloist in the Paganini-like virtuoso role, concerned with exhibiting the wide expressive capabilities of his instrument, from aggressive, punchy, and rhythmic to soaringly lyrical. Solo cadenzas are another nod to the concerto genre’s history, but Wooten also includes passages for the solo bass in its familiar role of accompanist, background to the orchestra’s melodic excursions.

Wooten uses two different basses in performing the piece: his customary fretted, four-string Fodera “yinyang” bass, along with another Fodera instrument made especially for him that can be bowed like a cello, giving the performer a wide range of timbral possibilities.

La Lección Tres begins with a slow and uncertain introduction. The main part of the movement is dominated by a flowing melody in 6/8 time, first played by solo oboe. Taken up by the bass, the tune often covers more than three octaves in a short span. Wooten colors this melody with syncopations and shifts to other meters that temporarily destabilize the flow and anticipate changes in musical character, such as a circus-like episode that brings a new kind of energy in opposition to the minor-key lyrical tune. At its conclusion, the movement winds down like a tired clock.

The second movement opens with the bass in 5/4 time, a figuration that’s soon revealed as an accompaniment to slower-developing music beginning in the lowest depths of the orchestra. Following a quick waltzing passage, percussion highlights in the ensemble persuade the bass solo to become a percussion instrument itself before returning to its quasi-accompanimental role. After an extended major-key groove, the movement ends again in uncertainty. In an interlude preceding the finale, Wooten widens the spotlight to take in the entire orchestral bass section in a lighthearted exchange that segues to the energetic finale, propelled by a repeated, march-like rhythmic figure. The middle of the movement is atmospheric and colorful. The return of the ostinato march figure, enhanced by snare drum, restores the confident energy that brings the concerto to a close.

—©Robert KirzingerExcerpt reprinted by permission of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Composer and writer Robert Kirzinger is the BSO’s Director of Program Publications.