Commissioned jointly by the Oslo Philharmonic, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with funds made available by N.E.S.T.A., the Scottish Arts Council and Norsk Hydro (sole sponsor of the Oslo Philharmonic since 1990)

  • 2(pic)2(ca)2(bcl)2/2211/timp/1-2perc/hp/str
  • cello
  • 25 min

Programme Note

Slowly pulsating contra D flats on the harp and pizzicato double basses set in motion the rather serious and reflective atmosphere of my second cello concerto. Its form resmbles an arch, with the dramatic music accumulating near the centre of the work, gradually losing tension, and finally reaching - after a dramatic cadenza late in the concerto - the tranquil mood of the beginning. The cello enters gently, sounding as though it's playing itself, every note played without vibrato. The soloist 'joins in', colouring the sound with delicate vibrato, and the musical character of the performer if gradually felt more strongly. The cello sings, but the soloist is keen to explore its wide-ranging vocabulary, and is soon drawing various instruments of the orchestra into its orbit. The harp, marimba and percussion help to strengthen and clarify some of the more virtuosic explorations introduced by the soloist, whose restless mind constantly seeks adventure within the spacious and atmospheric textures created by the orchestra. The slow pulse stops, leaving the soloist momentarily alone. But it returns and one 'sonic adventure' after another occurs, leaving in their wake many ideas which are gradually taken up by soloist and orchestra, strengthening the initial impression of a sombre musical exploration. A simple lullaby by Grieg which I played on my cello as a child subtly crept its way into the concerto, though ruthlessly rejected many times. Finally it began to haunt me and I realised that, in a sense, I was writing a large-scale lullaby, dreaming strange dreams, soothing my mind while fully awake. This little lullaby is not quoted - only hinted at in low-sounding double-stops, but the slow regular rhythm is observed. It has a great significance as a unifying musical object in this one-movement concerto.

Near the middle of the concerto, the soloist - without much warning - takes off at terrifying speed, the orchestra chasing like a ghost. This outburst doesn't last long, and the cello sings its way along, not fully aware it's being lured towards a cadenza, that terrifying trap. After restlessness, arpeggiando passages and trills, the timpani begin to shadow the soloist in a threatening way, who momentarily engages them in a bizarre dance. The snare drum now shadows the soloist who, in dramatic downward leaps, enters the deeper regions of the orchestra which now take over in an extended tutti. The cello soon emerges, singing long phrases in unison with various wind instruments, and finally finds its way to the low double-stops of Grieg's little lullaby. The concerto ends quietly, as it started, the soloist 'withdrawing', leaving the cello alone to bring the concerto to an end, sounding the low open C string as softly as possible.

Haflidi Hallgrímsson




  • Icelandic Voices
    • Icelandic Voices
    • With only a population of around 350,000, Iceland punches well above its weight in so many creative and sporting fields – not least in classical music. Some of the most up-and-coming voices in the film, media and classical, names such as Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Hildur Guðnadóttir, have come this remote corner of the north Atlantic Ocean and created a worldwide reputation of excellence. Discover the work of three such composers, from three different generations, published by Wise Music.