This work was commissioned by the Milton Keynes City Orchestra. Milton Keynes City Orchestra gratefully acknowledges financial support from the PRS Foundation and Milton Keynes Partnership. First performance on 23rd January 2009 at Milton Keynes Theatre, by Alexandra Wood (violin) and Milton Keynes City Orchestra conducted by Sian Edwards.
II ~ Larghetto, calmo
III ~ Vivacissimo
I taught Alexandra Wood at Cambridge and also heard her play there- both leading her own quartet and playing concertos. When she moved to London she formed a duo with Huw Watkins and in January 2001 they programmed my violin and piano piece, Poem, and have given magnificent performances of it on many subsequent occasions. On hearing them perform the work at the Brighton Festival later the same year, I resolved to write a concerto for Alexandra. The first sketches were made in August 2002, after which I wrote to tell her of my plans.
As always with me, progress was slow, but I got as far as a fair copy of the last movement in short score by April 2003. I tackled the finale next – in the autumn of 2003 and then (after breaking off to write several smaller pieces) to complete it in August 2004. The slow movement was written last in September and October of 2004.
It was with great gladness that I greeted the recent generous offer of Sian Edwards to take up the piece: and I am equally grateful to the management of the Milton Keynes City Orchestra for making this performance possible.
In a way, the delay of the premiere has been a blessing in disguise, for one never stops learning. When I came earlier this year to look at the piece before preparing a fair copy of the full score, I found that much revision was necessary. Cuts never did anyone any harm, and I found myself trimming some of the later pages of the first movement, and completely re-writing both the beginning and central part of the slow movement. But it was the huge unwieldy finale which fell most heavily under the reviser’s scythe. From 425 bars down to 291 is quite a major piece of pruning, and many of the weaker or more repetitive pages were to be trampled underfoot: they will not be missed.
In the first movement the soloist charges in at once and reaches higher and higher, floating upwards, before giving way to the orchestra. The new theme is to be heard much throughout the movement, but the orchestra is interrupted in its turn by the first two cadenzas. As the first one subsides the new theme initiates a contrasting section of lightly dancing rhythms. Fanfare-like figures on the brass and a vivid change of harmony then bring the soloist back, who swoops down from the highest register with a theme which could be labelled ‘second subject’. After a long lyrical section with the music tenses up for an orchestral presentation of the second subject maestoso before the second of the cadenzas, the longer of the two. In the return much familiar material comes back, but all of it is both transformed and truncated. The second subject makes a final transfigured appearance on the solo violin before a suddenly brisk ending.
After a short introduction, the soloist introduces both the main themes of the slow movement, the first in the high register, the second in the lowest one. Against a rippling accompaniment on the orchestra the first theme is then heard again before the orchestra breaks in with a tempestuous central section. The soloist re-enters with a cadenza-like passage leading to the second theme – but this time heard on the horn, and then taken over by the cor anglais. A last fortissimo gesture gives way to an epilogue in which the first theme is heard on woodwind with the soloist floating upward in semiquavers.
The finale has some characterisations of a rondo, but after substantial return of the opening theme a subsidiary section takes over in fast waltz time with a slightly Spanish tinge (Alexandra is good at Sarasate.) After the movement’s climax there is a clear return with the first theme at its original pitch and tempo. There are briefer versions of other themes we have heard before followed by a long coda. Four cellos play the first leg of its (again rather Spanish) tune. Four horns take it over: then all the violins. The woodwind and later the soloist have so far only been contributing comments to all this: now the soloist takes over the coda theme in a climactic way. The tempo quickens for fanfares on the trumpets responded to by the xylophone: other brass are added to the trumpets as they lead to a triumphant ending.
© Hugh Wood, 2008