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Philip Glass

Publisher: Chester Music

Violin Concerto No 1 (1987)
Commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra
Publisher
Dunvagen Music Publishers Inc
Category
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
1987
Duration
30 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
violin
Alternate Orchestration
saxophone; 2(I/pic).2.2+bcl(Ebcl).2/4331/timp.4perc/hp/str


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Programme Note
Philip Glass Violin Concerto No 1 (1987)
With a commission from the American Composers Orchestra - his first from an American orchestra - he composed the Violin Concerto. Though the actual writing took some four months (November 1986 - February 1987), Glass says ideas were germinating for a time before writing commenced. The Concerto is dedicated to Dennis Russell Davies and Paul Zukofzky, who present the first performance. The orchestral accompaniment consists of two flutes (one doubling as piccolo), two oboes, E-flat clarinet, two clarinets and bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (snare drum, bass drum, triangle, cymbal, woodblock) harp, and strings.

"The search for the unique can lead to strange places. Taboos - the things we're not supposed to do - are often the most interesting. In my case, musical materials are found among ordinary things, such as sequences and cadences. All that I threw out in 1965 I've gradually brought in again, making it my own."

It is certainly news that Philip Glass - whose career has been most closely associated with opera, film theatre, dance, and his own Philip Glass Ensemble - has written his first orchestral work since his student days. What is perhaps most newsworthy is that, in choosing to write a violin concerto, he has not only taken ion one of the most enduring genres in Western art music but, he has cast it in most familiar terms. Glass' new concerto falls in the three-movement structure common to the vast majority of concertos written in the last three centuries, and is scored for an orchestra of conventional size and configuration. "I like the normal orchestra," comments Glass, whose operas also use orchestras of similar size. "I have an alternative electronic medium which is my Ensemble. By writing for both there's a balance in my activities."

Familiar, too, are the opening chugging chords, the solo violin's first arpeggios, and the repetitive patterns that cause time to be absorbed into large units rather than to be divided up: the Concerto is instantly identifiable as a work by Philip Glass. "This piece explores what an orchestra can do for me. In it, I'm more interested in my own sound than in the capability of particular orchestra instruments. It is tailored to my musical needs." Familiarity also plays a part in Glass' confidence in having those needs realised: Dennis Russell Davies has conducted the opera Akhnaten numerous times and his advocacy of Glass' music has done much to widen the understanding of Glass' style among performers from Stuttgart to The Philadelphia Orchestra. In addition, Glass knows many of the ACO's members personally; they in turn have followed his career closely.

Of course, Glass is quick to point out, a concerto is not a purely orchestral composition. "It's more theatrical and more personal." And even if this particular concerto is less theatrical than some nineteenth century concertos *in which, as Glass put it in a 1981 interview, "the solo instrument becomes more and more the alter ego of the composer. And the listener identifies with it, too, as the instrument experiences happy moments and sad moments until there is a triumphal end…a narrative mechanism in which he violin ahs a kind of identification with the story…"), it is nonetheless suited to Glass' orientation to theatre.

Paul Zukofsky was in on this project even before the commission and has influenced its direction. A long-time friend and collaborator of Glass', Zukofsky has performed in Einstein on the Beach and The Photographer. The two had often discussed the possibility of a violin concerto, Glass putting if off while waiting "to see what developed" in terms of writing opportunities. When Glass began this commission Zukofsky asked that the finale be slow and high. Glass' plans to comply were thwarted when he found his original conception of a work in five short movements giving way to a long first and second movement. "The material finds a voice of its own," he concedes, in acknowledging that the Concerto's three-movement structure was actually "an accident". While Glass ultimately wrote a fast third movement, its slow coda satisfies Zukofsky's request (as well as harkening back to the other two movements). The violinist also offered suggestions in the first movement that led to large-scale harmonic transpositions. "I heard the piece with a 'tonal identity' of C minor and D," recalls Glass, "but by moving it up a step the violin sounds far better." Composer and soloist have continued to fine-tune the violin part as the premiere approaches, and Glass, too, is satisfied. "This is the piece that I wanted to write."

© Susan Feder
1987


Preview the score


  • Ensemble
    Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
    Soloist(s)
    Gidon Kremer, violin
    Conductor
    Christoph von Dohnányi
    Deutsche Grammophon:
  • Ensemble
    Houston Symphony Orchestra
    Soloist(s)
    Robert McDuffie, violin
    Conductor
    Christoph Eschenbach
    Telarc:
  • Ensemble
    Ulster Orchestra
    Soloist(s)
    Adele Anthony, violin
    Conductor
    Takuo Yuasa
    Naxos:
  • Ensemble
    Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
    Soloist(s)
    Amy Dickson, Violin; Catherine Milledge, Piano
    Conductor
    Mikel Toms
    Sony Classical:
Performances
Date
Title
  • 22 SEP 2018
    The Vets, Providence, RI
    Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra
    Jennifer Koh; Anu Tali, conductor
  • 28 JUL 2018
    Aspen Music Festival
    Aspen, CO
    Robert McDuffie, violin
  • 30 JUN 2018
    The King's School, Canterbury, UK
    The King's School Chamber Orchestra
    Andrew Pollock, conductor
  • 12 MAY 2018
    El Dorado Municipal Auditorium, El Dorado, AR
    South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra
    Natasha Korsakova; Kermit Poling, conductor
  • 20 APR 2018
    Konservatoriets Koncertsal, Copenhagen, Denmark
    Copenhagen Phil
    Gunvor Sihm, violin; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor
  • 20 APR 2018
    Det Kongelige Danske Musikkonservatorium, København, Denmark
    Copenhagen Phil
    Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor
  • 14 APR 2018
    Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra Con Brio
    Pieter van Loenen, violin; Willem de Bordes, conductor

    Other Dates:
    15 April - Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 19 JAN 2018
    Sala MCM Zielona Góra, Poland
    Zielona Gora Symphony Orchestra
    Czeslaw Grabowski, conductor
  • 13 JAN 2018
    Extremely Close - Choreography by Alejandro Cerrudo | Soma - Choreography by Marguerite Donlon | Luminous Heart - Choreography by Alfonso Palencia
    Hagen, Germany

    Other Dates:
    21,25 January - Hagen, Germany
  • 29 SEP 2017
    Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, NY
    Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
    Charlie Albright; Joann Falletta, conductor

    Other Dates:
    1,7,8 October - Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, NY
  • 09 JUL 2017
    Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival
    Hamburg, Germany
    HR Sinfonieorchester
    Daniel Hope, Violin; Hugh Wolff, conductor
  • 14 APR 2017
    Perth Concert Hall, Perth, UK
    National Youth Orchestra of Scotland

    Other Dates:
    15 April - City Halls, Glasgow, UK
  • 29 MAR 2017
    Doug Varone and Dancers
    Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY
    Brooklyn Academy of Music
    Doug Varone, choreography

    Other Dates:
    30,31 March; 1 April - Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY
  • 26 MAR 2017
    CATALUÑA RADIO (Programa: Transmissió des de l’ Auditori de Barcelona
    Orquesta Sinfonica de Barcelona
    Steven Schick, conductor
  • 25 MAR 2017
    Barcelona Auditorium, Spain
    Barcelona Symphony Orchestra
    Karen Gomyo, violin; Steven Schick, conductor

    Other Dates:
    26 March - Barcelona Auditorium, Spain
  • 25 MAR 2017
    L'Auditori, Barcelona
    Orquesta Sinfonica de Barcelona
    Karen Gomyo; Steven Schick, conductor

    Other Dates:
    26 March - L'Auditori, Barcelona
  • 18 MAR 2017
    Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre, Japan
    Yomiuri Nihon Symphony Orchestra
    Fumiaki Miura, violin; Tatsuya Shimono, conductor

    Other Dates:
    19,20 March - Yokohama Minatonirai Hall, Tokyo, Japan
  • 11 FEB 2017
    Mondavi Center, Davis, California, United States of America
    Bruckner Orchester Linz
    Robert McDuffie, Violin; Dennis Russell Davies, conductor
  • 21 JAN 2017
    Gewandhaus, Leipzig, Germany
    MDR Sinfonieorchester and Leipziger Universitätschor
    Kristjan Järvi, conductor
  • 20 JAN 2017
    Tivoli/Vredenburg Utrecht, NETHERLANDS
    Noord Nederlands Orkest
    Karen Gomvo; Anthony Hermuss, conductor

    Other Dates:
    21 January - Oosterpoort Groningen, NETHERLANDS
  • 28 OCT 2016
    Redding, CA
    Shasta Symphony
    Bryan Hall, violin; Dr. Dwayne Corbin, conductor
  • 15 JUL 2016
    Berlin, Germany
    Konzerthausorchester Berlin
    Chad Hoopes, Violin; Dennis Russell Davies, conductor

    Other Dates:
    16 July - Berlin, Germany
  • 19 MAY 2016
    Norfolk, VA
    Virginia Symphony Orchestra
    Vahn Armstrong; Joann Falletta, conductor

    Other Dates:
    20 May - Norfolk, VA
  • 04 MAR 2016
    Louisville, KY
    Louisville Orchestra
    Teddy Abrams, conductor

    Other Dates:
    4 March - Louisville, KY
  • 11 FEB 2016
    Czech Republic
    Hradec Kralove Philharmonic Orchestra
  • 11 FEB 2016
    Czech Republic
    Hradec Kralove Philharmonic Orchestra
  • 19 NOV 2015
    Dallas, TX
    Dallas Symphony Orchestra
    Karen Gomyo; Simone Young, conductor

    Other Dates:
    20-22 November - Dallas, TX
  • 05 NOV 2015
    Kosice, Slovakia
    Kosice Philharmonic Orchestra
    Zsolt Nagy, conductor
  • 23 OCT 2015
    Argentina
    Orq.Sin. Nac. de la Univ. de San Juan
    Juan Carlos Bosch, conductor
  • 17 OCT 2015
    Richmond, IN
    Richmond Symphony Orchestra
    Guy Bordo, conductor

Reviews
Last night, the first Prom to be devoted exclusively to the US composer opened with his debut major orchestral score, the 1987 Violin Concerto. Penned for his father, the concerto is one of Glass's most popular. And it's classic Glass, full of elements that emerge in his later work. Longer than his movie scores, it builds slowly to the final movement, rising at a relentless pace and, just as it's about to peak, drops back to where the concerto began....Though he may be best known for his film scores, last night's Prom was proof that Glass can create rich visual ideas with music, without the need for a moving image. And with the rapturous applause he got, you would have thought, as two grumpy old men behind me said, "he was a bloody pop star."
Guy Ivison, The London Paper,13/08/2009
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