Curtain-Up | Concert Openers

Curtain-Up | Concert Openers

Explore engaging, creative, and captivating orchestral openers for your upcoming programs. Set the stage for memorable musical experiences after the curtain comes up.

Richard Rodney Bennett, Lilliburlero Variations – 10 min

Based on the popular march tune ‘Lilliburlero’, Bennett’s variations open and close with the full tune, and in between come six variations, some slow and mysterious with rippling, luscious-sounding harmonies, others faster, with ‘perpetual motion’, but the tune is always recognisable, even if it appears in distorted or fragmentary versions. Variation 3 is quite jazzy in style.

Britta Byström, A Drama in the Air – 7 min

Based on Jules Verne’s short story ‘A Drama in the Air’ (1851), this short work was written for the Malko conducting competition 2021. This work mirrors the tale’s perilous balloon highjacking and its dangerous ascent in dramatic musical terms, alternating with calmer passages where the balloon’s driver temporarily persuaded the intruder to descend — only to be overpowered by him once more.

Byström reflects: ‘Maybe there are similarities between flying a balloon and conducting an orchestra?’

Richard Danielpour, Toward the Splendid City – 9 min

A portrait of New York and tribute to the New York Philharmonic, Toward the Splendid City was written as a nostalgic expression of Danielpour’s complicated relationship to the city following some time away, and his considerations of the battle between humanity and difficulties of life in the city.

Jonathan Dove, Sunshine - 5 min

Sunshine was written for the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, who wanted a piece scored for classical orchestra which they could take on tour, to play as an encore after any classical symphony in their repertoire… I thought the combination of singing and dancing would offer a nice contrast to the high energy of many symphonic finales. It made me think of standing in a patch of sunlight, feeling warmth spread through my body, and a glow of happiness. — Jonathan Dove

Ross Edwards, Ecstatic Dance6 min

"Ecstatic Dances grew out of a little flute duo I contributed to a garland of miniatures by Australian composers in celebration of Peter Sculthorpe’s 50th birthday in 1979. A flute and clarinet arrangement has been made by Roger Armstrong. I made a detailed revision of both scores in 2013.
The first dance makes use of the mediaeval European polyphonic device known as hocketing to produce a graceful interplay of hypnotic insect sound patterns. After a melodic flowering it dissolves briefly into a remote, nocturnal sequence which functions as an interlude. The second dance, radiant and insistently melodic, is often performed on its own."

Sebastian Fagerlund, Drifts – 11 min

Drifts was written as the middle section of an orchestral triptych, the idea of which led to the work being a mainly slow movement. And as such it begins, marked Largo misterioso. But like so many composers, Fagerlund had difficulty sticking to too detailed a plan and the musical material began to assume a will of its own. After its slow beginning, Drifts picks up speed in a brisker Energico. These two basic tempos dominate the piece, but although the quick material begins to force itself to the fore, the feeling of slow music still pervades in that the two tempo zones may overlap or be superimposed at times.

Gabriela Lena Frank, Concertino Cusqueño - 11 min

Concertino Cusqueño melds together two brief musical ideas: The first few notes of a religious tune, Ccollanan María, from Cusco (the original capital of the Inca empire Tawantinsuyu, and a major tourist draw today) with the simple timpani motif from the opening bars of the first movement of Britten’s elegant Violin Concerto. I am able to spin an entire one-movement work from these two ideas, designating a prominent role to the four string principal players (with a bow to the piccolo/bass clarinet duo and, yes, the timpanist). In this way, while imagining Britten in Cusco, I can also indulge in my own enjoyment of personalizing the symphonic sound by allowing individuals from the ensemble to shine. — Gabriela Lena Frank

The Detroit Free Press enthused that her work '…revealed itself to be a terrific 11-minute curtain raiser'.

Stuart GreenbaumCity Lights, A Mile Up - 7 min

Arriving on a clear night by plane often provides beautiful views of a city's lights mapping out the electric architecture of human civilisation. It's a welcoming image - the guiding lights for travellers arriving at a new destination or returning home. This luscious, rich and soothing 7 minute work takes the audience up into the sky with drones and driving rhythms throughout. 
City Lights, A Mile Up was written for Ben Northey and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra as part of the Hush Foundation's TSO Recording project.

Stuart GreenbaumThe Rotation of the Earth5 min

While we don't directly feel the constant physical rotation of the Earth, we observe the Sun rising in the east and setting in the west. We syncronise our clocks to this daily cycle and organise our lives accordingly. Each new day brings something new and this piece is written in the spirit of finding anything good, beautiful, joyous, and worthy along the way. - Stuart Greenbaum

An uplifting and appealing curtain-raiser with modal inflections and buoyant rhythms, a joyous and expressive opener.


Edward Gregson, Blazon - 10 min

Commencing with fanfares heralded by three antiphonal trumpets spread around the back of the orchestra, Blazon could be described as a mini-concerto for orchestra, featuring sections of the orchestra in a soloistic, and often virtuosic, manner. The colourful introduction soon gives way to the strings which break into fast, arpeggiated rhythmic figurations. This dance-like section opens into a section for wind and then a simple chorale, followed by a development section. Eventually, the music reaches a climax when the chorale is restated triumphantly against a counterpoint of the opening trumpet fanfares and the dance-like string music. The work ends in a blaze of colour.

Hans Werner Henze, Scorribanda Sinfónica (Sopra la tomba di una Maratona) – 15 min

Written during the winter months of 2000-2001, Scorribanda Sinfonica consists of one movement, Allegro con fuoco, in which Henze revisits, raids and ravishes his music written in the mid-fifties for a stage work, Maratona di Danza.

Elements from the older piece reappear on and off like shadows under the surface of new ones, like more or less vague memories, images of young people suffering pain and despair in their struggle for survival in a barbaric, pitiless modern world.

The new composition is a kind of concerto, an étude on constant and often rapid musical changes of mood and colours, built on a variety of rhythmic figures, incessantly and brutally pushing the music ahead. Sometimes, it is as though voices are weeping, sometimes crying out loud with pain, with anxiety, under the cold hearted pressure of an overwhelming violence.

Emily Howard, sphere - 6 min

A short work for chamber orchestra, sphere (2017) is an exploration of its namesake shape. Rather than imagining a sphere as a static geometrical form, I chose to approach it from a more dynamic perspective. I envisioned myself travelling on the surface of a sphere — one complete revolution. And as my mind travelled around this imaginary shape, I encountered different soundscapes; in turn these became etchings in sound. — Emily Howard

The Times wrote that her piece '…pushes out boldly into outer space, where sound clusters spin to and fro, pitches melt into quarter tones, melodic debris flies by, and fortissimo upsets suddenly explode'.

Joel Järventausta, Bacchanale – 5 min

I was honoured to be asked by l’Orchestre National d’Île de France to write a short festive work to celebrate their 50th Anniversary. There are various musical influences and elements in my work, from pop, old-style Hollywood film music, game music, brass band music and Romantic orchestral gestures, incorporated into my own language. A continuous sense of pulse and ever-changing soundworld drives the music forward, leading to a ‘bacchanale’ dance to finish the work. — Joel Järnvetausta

Aaron Jay Kernis, Too Hot Toccata – 6 min

I considered Too Hot Toccata to be a kind of farewell to my [St. Paul Chamber Orchestra] Residency, but not as a farewell to the Orchestra. This work features just about all of the principal players and treats all of the various orchestra sections as soloists. There is also a horribly difficult honky-tonk piano solo, as well as a fiendish clarinet solo and a big part for the piccolo trumpet, in addition to a lot of virtuoso percussion writing. The music is a little hyperactive — very high energy and quite out of control, but with a slower middle section for balance'. — Aaron Jay Kernis

Graeme Koehne, Forty Reasons to be Cheerful - 7 min

Forty Reasons to be Cheerful: festive fanfare for orchestra does what it says on the tin. The upbeat and celebratory fanfare has been performed many times since its composition in 2013, the enduring popularity of this work is testament to Koehne’s compositional style. Unashamedly tonal, brilliantly orchestrated and appealingly big-hearted, this work deserves its place in the classical canon.

Lil Lacy, Di drømm dæ bringe vos sammel (The Dreams that bring us together) – 10 min

The title is in the dialect of Alsisk. It means 'Drømmene der bringer os sammen' in Danish or 'The dreams that bring us together' in English. The piece is inspired by the landscape, memories and history of the South of Jutland.

The ability to connect people and to share dreams and visions of a better world with the dignity and respect of the individual, is celebrated in this piece — inspired by the history and memories, hopes and dreams for the future of the people in the South of Jutland.

Missy Mazzoli, These Worlds in Us – 9 min
versions for full orchestra and chamber orchestra

The title These Worlds In Us comes from James Tate's poem The Lost Pilot, a meditation on his father's death in World War II. This piece is dedicated to my father, who was a soldier during the Vietnam War. In talking to him it occurred to me that, as we grow older, we accumulate worlds of intense memory within us, and that grief is often not far from joy. I like the idea that music can reflect painful and blissful sentiments in a single note or gesture, and sought to create a sound palette that I hope is at once completely new and strangely familiar to the listener. — Missy Mazzoli

'The Mazzoli piece also seemed to be a favorite of the audience, to judge from the applause…', wrote James R. Oestreich in The New York Times.

Nico Muhly, One Line, Two Shapes – 6 min

One Line, Two Shapes is a very simple piece. The strings begin with a very quiet chorale in the lowest register and begin rising higher and higher. Over this, a long, unbroken line unfurls in the woodwinds. These two processes continue throughout the piece, meeting at a final resolution. At various points, the rest of the orchestra provides sudden and occasional violent outbursts and interruptions, so there is a constant sense of instability and of the implied pulse going in and out of focus. It lasts six minutes, and is dedicated to the WDR Sinfonieorchester. — Nico Muhly

Roxanna Panufnik, Twenty (An Overture for Orchestra) - 4 min

When Simon Over asked me if I would write Southbank Sinfonia a 20th-anniversary overture, he also requested that I collaborate with orchestra’s members in the creation of the piece. I sent them all a questionnaire with the following questions: What does the number 20 mean to you? What are your favourite effects/techniques/figurations to play? What do you do you wish you could be doing more of, within the orchestra? I have included as many of their requests as possible… — Roxanna Panufnik

Julian Philips, All that remains - 7 min

All that remains is a sonic memorial for orchestra made to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War.

The memorial is constructed in four panels, each textured with flute, horn, harp and string harmonics. Buried beneath the panels is the sound of breath, which intermittently bleeds through the gaps between the panels.

At the end of the fourth panel, three oboes and cor anglais inscribe the names of four British soldiers who served in the trenches: the poet Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), the writer Saki (1870-1916), the composer George Butterworth (1885-1916) and the poet and composer Ivor Gurney (1890-1937). — Julian Philips

Florence Price, Concert Overture No. 1 – 12 min

Price’s first Concert Overture explores her engagement with spirituals, both episodically and coloristically, in music that embraces the somber, the poignant and the ebullient. It is based on the spiritual Sinner, Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass.

Esa-Pekka Salonen, Tiu - 12 min

Tiu is a Finnish version of the arcane Nordic word meaning twenty. In this case, referring to two things: the 20th anniversary of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the twenty chords presented in the beginning of the piece.

Inspired by the architecture of the Walt Disney Concert Hall as well as his own nostalgic personal connection to the building, Salonen develops palindromic musical ideas and structures based on the concept of moving backwards, so easy in a physical space, so impossible in music.

San Francisco Classical Voice enjoyed the premiere: 'While it would have been fun for statisticians if Salonen managed to keep Tiu going for 20 minutes, the music stopped seven and a half minutes short of that figure. But we’ll take it; the engaging, colorfully scored Tiu doesn’t wear out its welcome'.

Rebecca Saunders, traces – 14 min

Though originally written in 2006, the new revised version of traces was commissioned by Staatskapelle Dresden and first performed 26 August 2009 at Semperoper Dresden, conducted by Fabio Luisi. The 13-14 minute work for chamber orchestra explores definitions of its title and its implied illusiveness.

Tōru Takemitsu, Green – 6 min

Composed as a sister piece to November Steps, Takemitsu said his inspiration came 'from a wish to enter into the secrets of Debussy's music'. Gramophone noted his 'juxtaposing dissonance and euphony with a sure mastery of transition' in this post-impressionist work.


Joby Talbot, Springtime Dance from The Winter’s Tale – 6 min

Springtime Dance from The Winter’s Tale is taken from the original ballet and has been re-orchestrated by the composer. This new arrangement was commissioned by the Orchestre National de Lyon.

Outi Tarkiainen, The Ring of Fire and Love – 9 min
versions for full orchestra, chamber orchestra, and with smaller string section

The Ring of Fire is a volcanic belt that surrounds the Pacific Ocean and in which most of the world’s earthquakes occur. It is also the term referring to the bright ring of sunlight around the moon at the height of a solar eclipse, when the moon covers only the central part of the sun. Yet, the same expression is also used to describe what a woman feels when, as she gives birth, the baby’s head passes through her pelvis. That moment is the most dangerous in the baby’s life, its little skull being subjected to enormous pressure, preparing it for life in a way unlike any other. The Ring of Fire and Love is a work for orchestra about this earth-shattering, creative, cataclysmic moment they travel through together. — Outi Tarkiainen

Erkki-Sven Tüür, Aditus – 9 min

Aditus (lat. approach, entry, entrance, audience, beginning) is a kind of overture, a 6-minute concertante opening piece. The initial impulse comes from the brass and tubular bells, but it is undermined three times by an iridescent string carpet. Only then can an ‘active’ rhythm assert itself. The rhythmic section builds to a climax using multi-tonal harmonies before dissolving into a colourful spectrum of sound. — Erkki-Sven Tüür

Therese Ulvo, Please don’t hesitate – 5 min

Norwegian composer Therese Ulvo has a close relationship with Norwegian traditional music, where one can find the microtonal, the rhapsodic, and open forms. Please Don’t Hesitate is a short orchestral work perfectly placed to open a concert.

To open a concert.
To fill a room.
To open people's minds.

So much responsibility.
So little time.

Don't hesitate — just do it.
But do it gentle…or sharp and loud?

The opening. The Welcome.
Please — be my guest.

Rolf Wallin, Stride – 9 min

The inspiration for Stride came from the simple act of walking to clear the mind.

[It] has been a great therapy for me. Just sheer positive energy, the feeling of moving joyfully forwards on foot or skis through a snowy forest, or simply walking up the street to meet a good friend. — Rolf Wallin

As its title suggests, the piece is characterized by a sense of constant forward movement which steadily accumulates, culminating in a thrilling rhythmic climax for the full orchestra.

Stride was commissioned by Stavanger Symphony Orchestra with funding from the Norwegian Composers’ Fund.