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Joan Tower

Publisher: AMP

Concerto for Clarinet (1988)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
19 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Clarinet or Basset clarinet
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Programme Note
Joan Tower Concerto for Clarinet (1988)
Composer Note:

The clarinet is, for me, one of the most extraordinarily flexible of all instruments, capable of producing an incredibly wide range of dynamics and expression, and I responded enthusiastically when the Naumburg Foundation commissioned me to write a concerto for it. I was particularly excited about writing this piece for the extraordinary clarinetist Charles Neidich. The Concerto is the successor to three of my earlier pieces written for exceptional clarinetists: Breakfast Rhythms I and II for clarinet and five instruments (for Anand Devendra, clarinetist with Speculum Musicae); Fantasy for clarinet and piano (for Richard Stoltzman); and Wings for clarinet (for Laura Flax, a member of the Da Capo Chamber Players and co-principal clarinetist with the New York City Opera).

The Clarinet Concerto, which lasts about 19 minutes, is divided into three large sections (fast-slow-fast), and includes four cadenzas—two for the soloist and two for two clarinets; one of the solo cadenzas in the slow movement is accompanied by the orchestra. The work is built on two themes. The first theme, a "melodic" idea, unfolds slowly throughout the introduction. The soloist presents the second theme, which is more motivic and scalar in character. These two ideas interact throughout the Concerto, and are developed in some instances to such a degree that they are transformed into new themes, which are in turn developed. One of these later derived ideas, a chord made from the notes of the first theme, is sustained for a long time through a crescendo and diminuendo. This chord, which occurs throughout the Concerto, was borrowed from my latest orchestral work, Silver Ladders, and was in turn taken from a long-held note in the solo clarinet movement of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. The Concerto ends quietly with the second half of the first theme and the long-held chord. Mr. Niedich performs the concerto on the Basset clarinet.

—Joan Tower

  • Ensemble
    Louisville Orchestra
    David Shifrin, clarinet
    Max Bragado Darman
    D'note Classics:
  • Soloist(s)
    Robert Spring, clarinet; Eckart Selheim, piano (recording of clarinet and piano version)
    Summit Records:
The Tower concerto… had all the excitement and drama and power one could wish for. This work, from 1988, is for a very large orchestra with an expanded percussion section. It’s in one movement with three clearly defined sections. This is an incredible work, displaying an abundance of dramatic writing for the orchestra. Color, too, is an important element in this work, harmonically and musically. It’s a very melodic work and at times quite lyrical and utterly listenable. At times the music is reminiscent of early Schoenberg in its powerful and dramatic writing, and at times it’s very modern in the coloristic effects and, of course, in the writing for the solo clarinet. …The writing for the solo instrument is extremely difficult, and Towers asks for the near impossible from the soloist. She writes for the extreme high range of the instrument; she also asks for extremes in the dynamics and in how the soloist must compete with the entire orchestra. …A great effect in this concerto was the duets between soloist and the first clarinet in the orchestra. There was some fine play between these two musicians. According to Tower, this effect was borrowed from the Schumann Cello Concerto where the soloist also plays in duet with the first cello in the orchestra. Tower, who was present for the concert, received a huge round of applause from the audience that was well-deserved.
Edward Reichel, Deseret News,31/01/1998
[The Clarinet Concerto] is lean and assertive, crafted with [Joan Tower’s] typical expertise. She has the gift of a discerning ear, something not always to be assumed. …Tower does not compose in isolation; her works draw actively from the greater body of music that preceded her. The Clarinet Concerto offers a listener numerous hooks: It sounds quite familiar in a broad sense, and not just because it’s cast in the customary fast-slow-fast progression within an uninterrupted framework. The piece is inventive and inviting. It is fun.
Andrew Adler, Courier Journal,29/03/1996
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