• John Harbison
  • Double Concerto (2009)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • 2(pic).2.2(bcl).2(cbn)/
  • Violin, Cello
  • 25 min

Programme Note

April 8 2010
Mira Wang, violin; Jan Vogler, cello
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Carlos Kalmar, conductor

Composer note:
Many years ago I wrote a double concerto (for oboe and clarinet) in which the soloists were pitted against each other, and against the orchestra, in a contentious, dramatic struggle. It was important to do something very different this time — to work with musical questions that don't come up in that more traditional, public, concerto mode. Although some tunes and harmonies appear in all three movements of this double concerto I thought of the "subject" of each movement this way:

I. Slight "misunderstandings," known to music theorists as cross-relationships (unnecessarily pejorative in implication — they are often beautiful) are taken to a systemic level, perhaps standing for more telling misunderstandings. At issue is the interval of the third (is it major or minor?), an expressively determinant organism since music began.

II. Looking toward a closer accord, the soloists begin to mirror each other, revealing how differently things can look in mirrors of a certain design.

III. The soloists aspire to simply play a theme together in octaves, something the orchestra achieves near the outset of this movement. Their eventual realization of this objective signals the conclusion.

Knowing in advance that this piece would be initially programmed with Mahler's Symphony No. 7, the longest and in many ways the most diverse and expansive of the Mahler symphonies, I found pleasure in trying to make something contrasting, for such a space.

A composer might be like a builder who on one occasion makes a twenty-room mansion for players to roam around in, and on another occasion makes a small modern house with irregular rooms, secret compartments and fake doors. Above all he might say let's build this house not one like you've already done, that you are too sure will work out.

The Double Concerto was commissioned by the Friends of Dresden Music Foundation for The Boston Symphony Orchestra, James Levine, Music Director, Mira Wang, violin and Jan Vogler, cello in honor of Roman Totenberg.

— John Harbison