This new concerto was jointly commissioned by The Toronto Symphony and Symphony Nova Scotia for Steven Dann, principle violist of The Toronto Symphony. It is always a great joy for me when I am able to work with a gifted performer like Steven Dann.
I found composing the work very pleasurable and straightforward, even though I had been forewarned about the dangers of composing a concerto for viola. These dangers are cited principally as the need for a delicate balance with the orchestra, the marked differences between the individual strings of the viola, or even the difficult personalities of violists themselves! (In the case of Steven Dan, however, I found a very even-tempered and patient one.)
My entry into composing the concerto was through my love of the viola sound itself. The viola as a singing instrument not particularly the sweetness of sound that we associate with the violin but a more passionate and forceful singing was the inspiration for the whole first movement. For that reason the movement is called a rhapsody.
The second movement is called a scherzo, but it could also be called a rondo since there is a return to a principle section and melodic idea throughout the movement. In fact this melodic idea the minor third interval B-D repeated three times is the seed syllable for the whole work.
In this movement I often treat the orchestra as a large chamber ensemble, wherein orchestral families and soloists from each family play with the solo viola.
In general, while the first movement is passionate and romantic, the second movement is playful and rhythmic. Only at the coda of the second movement does the music return to the mood of the rhapsody.
I think there are a few difficulties for the listener. I certainly did not compose the music to be difficult for its own sake. I have not been interested in such things for a long time, but rather in being true to my musical ideas and to convey the pleasure I have in making music.