My viola concerto was commissioned for the 1986 Cheltenham Festival, where it received its first performance from Paul Silverthorne - who requested the piece originally - and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Wilfried Boettcher. Paul Silverthorne has performed it subsequently in Scotland, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Oliver Knussen, in Finland with Avanti conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste and at the 1991lichfield Festival with the City of London Sinfonia directed by Richard Hickox. This is its London premiere.
The work is in four linked movements which trace a path from the lyrical opening to the viola's eventual 'defeat' of the orchestra. The viola has always seemed to me to be the most human of instruments, one which is easily submerged by or lost in the crowd, and my concerto exploits this characteristic at the outset. Soon, however, the soloist takes on a more aggressive stance, one not usually associated with the instrument and, as the introductory movement gathers momentum, the relationship between soloist and orchestra becomes increasingly unsettled. This breaks into a dance which, having reached a climactic tutti, subsides into a slow, sustained movement in which the solo viola is able .to sing once again. Left alone in a suspended peaceful state, the viola is interrupted by the orchestra beginning the final movement with disturbing outbursts. Now there is real conflict, during which both soloist and orchestra recall previous movements momentarily, but all is swept aside as the orchestra launches into a full attack on the soloist. The latter will not be defeated, however, and the orchestra at last falls silent, the solo viola achieving its final ascent playing at great speed, having survived the orchestral onslaught.
The concerto is dedicated to Paul Silverthorne and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and to the memory of Benjamin Britten who was a viola player and who helped me so much when I was a boy.
© Robert Saxton