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Peter Maxwell Davies

Publisher: Chester Music

Violin Concerto No. 2 Fiddler on the Shore (2009)
Chester Music Ltd
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
25 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)

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Programme Note
Peter Maxwell Davies Violin Concerto No. 2 Fiddler on the Shore (2009)
My second violin concerto was born one day when I took a walk with a local traditional fiddle player along the shore near my house on the island of Sanday, Orkney, Scotland (population about 500). There is a strong tradition of folk music in Sanday, with a flourishing ‘fiddle club’, for whom I have composed quite a lot of music in folk style: they play for dances, and give concerts. However, these traditions are under threat from contemporary commercial music, and the shore walk, where the sound of folk tunes on violin combined with the sounds of the sea, brought home the bigger threat of climate change: it is reckoned that one of the first places to disappear under the sea due to climate change will be Sanday, and that my house, so close to the water, will be one of the very first to be inundated.

So the new work is at the same time a celebration of Orkney traditional fiddle music, and of the sheer wonder and beauty of the sea, whose sound permeates every moment of your life, and also a meditation on the fragility of this music under modern pressures, and the vulnerability of a sandy island in the way of ever-rising seas, as icecaps melt.

The work is in one movement, whose mercurial changes of pace and mood reflect the extremely quickly changing weather patterns of the island, while at the same time reflecting and celebrating the contrasting emotional moods of the slow air, strathspey and reel.

I wished to end the work on an affirmative and positive note – I did my best – however, I felt that under the circumstances, with whole futures in doubt, it was only honest to end with a question mark: the music literally dissolves quietly into the sea.

© Peter Maxwell Davies

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Score preview:

The folk-fiddling of Davies adopted Orkney home is magically transfused [into the piece]...
Paul Driver, The Sunday Times,13/09/2009
The work, subtitled “Fiddler on the Shore”, packs a lot into its 20 minutes. Like so much of Max’s oeuvre, it ponders the coexistence of the natural world and its human inhabitants, the former represented by brooding waves of brass and glistening strings, the latter by a solo part that dances, rhapsodises and meditates, as if untroubled by the threatening majesty of its surroundings. The best comes at the concerto’s heart, where the violin launches into a songful elegy, as touching as anything Max has written – only to be diverted by a trivial duet with marimba.
Andrew Clark, The Financial Times,10/09/2009
The big draw of the first concert was the U.K. premiere of his Violin Concerto No. 2 "Fiddler on the Shore," which has its world premiere in Leipzig on Aug.22. Davies wrote his first concerto in 1988; since then he has turned out 15 of them. The newest is a fine addiction...Davies conducted a warm and clean-edged performance, nice understated with a well-judged sense of shape...The new concerto, 20-minutes in duration, is at once accessible and communicative, wearing its modernity lightly. It is scored for a large orchestra and makes great use of pungent brass and tunes percussion; the soloist shines thorough its ethereal transparency, which is at times mesmerizing...Davies uses his big orchestra sparingly, making all the more effect when he occasionally calls on its might. There is much quiet, ruminative material providing a winningly intimate backdrop for the solo instrument's evocative contributions...It was the concerto that proved the highlight of the evening...A sparkly eyed republican turned Establishment figure, the Master of the Queen's Musick is clearly still at the peak of his powers.
Keith Clarke,,10/09/2009
In a tangle of orchestral virtuosity and solo gesture, the single-movement, 20-minute work launches itself with menace and a certain morose edginess, Its ebb and flow of idea is worked toughly and exhaustively until a moment of stillness, as though a tide were about to turn.
Hilary Finch, The Times,10/09/2009
... the highlight of his 75th birthday celebrations at the Proms.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian,10/09/2009
... the concerto opens with a series of glockenspiel and crotales. This idea returns at key moments - Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture is also invoked - but it is the soloist who introduces the folky material with its whirling, reel-like figures and Scotch snaps.
Barry Millington, The Evening Standard,09/09/2009
... a substantial and impressive score...
Michael White, The Telegraph,09/09/2009
... this is a fine work.
Chris Caspell,,08/09/2009
Yet another of our leading composers gets a double Prom for his 75th birthday: this time Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the Queen's official composer...Swapping his customary fisherman's rig for white tie and tails, he looked positively Viennese as he mounted the podium, and there was something of the city in the polish he brought to the music. Opening with a rolling smoothness, he steered the Royal Philharmonic in a way that was all the more effective for its tenderly understated decorum...It opened with a flurry of abrupt and emphatic low dissonances, out of which the violin soared with lyrical grace: this was the contract to which the whole work proved to turn. Time and again, thick orchestral fogs were dispelled by solo excursions that seemed to take place in a well of silence, so cleverly muted was the ambient sound.
Michael Church, Indepedent,01/01/0001
The concerto opens with a bright, brassy sound, with rising pitches crowned by crotales. This sound is unmistakably Maxwell Davies and the introduction of Scotch Snap rhythms further enforces this. He uses a large orchestra for a concerto, with full woodwind and brass sections, but Maxwell Davies is a master of orchestral technique, eliciting a vast array of colour from the players. Particular highlights included rich string melodies in the tenor range, bright bursts of sound from the brass and rising and far-reaching melodies which on occasion are allowed to spiral upwards to the extremes of range. The soloist was never overpowered. The violin part incorporates folk music, with Scottish-infused melodies spinning around the orchestral material. The breathtaking slow movement was melancholic and deeply expressive, bringing to mind the image of the title’s fiddler on the shore of a remote island, and a plea for the survival of traditional music making on the islands. This was stunning, wholly absorbing and impassioned playing from Daniel Hope, who communicated the music impressively. The audience shared my enthusiasm for the work and allowed composer and soloist multiple curtain calls.
Carla Rees,,01/01/0001
The concerto deploys the soloist's full range, from long, mellifluous phrases to spry detail, and from complex, ornamented lines to the recognisable tang of a Scottish reel... There is plenty of contrast in the orchestral textures, with huge climatic surges collapsing into stillness and tranquillity, with a glistening quality to the string-writing highlighted by touches of the glockenspiel and the jingling of crotales.
Geoffrey Norris, The Telegraph,01/01/0001
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