When the Jerusalem Symphony approached me to write a violin concerto, my first reaction was very enthusiastic – I had always wanted to write a violin concerto, and had many ideas in the back of my head. Of course, as I started to write the piece, intimidation started to creep into my psyche, as I realized the enormous challenge of writing a violin concerto given the great masterpieces of the medium.
I think my most significant decision during this early compositional process was to expand the concept of a concerto into the orchestral writing itself. Unlike a traditional concerto, in which the soloist and the orchestra compete for prominence mainly as two separate entities, in this piece, each member of the orchestra aspires, so to speak, to be a soloist. Moreover, each member of the orchestra tries to pull the piece in a different stylistic direction. For example, the harpsichord may play a baroque figure, while the clarinet, trumpet and double basses create a jazzy jam session. Alternatively, the percussionist might play the salsa, while the solo violin plays a classical theme.
To me, these ideas reflect our era - as opposed to traditional orchestral writing which reflects a more organized and hierarchical society.
The opening movement of the concerto begins with the presentation of all the materials of the movement at once. The movement’s form is based on the most basic idea of the concerto, alternating tutti and soli. However, in each solo section, some members of the orchestra interfere with the soloist’s main display. The entries pull the Soloist in different directions making the movement a journey through different potential developments of the original material.
The second movement is a lot more introspective, and deals with emotions related to loneliness and grief. The movement begins with an air. The material then recedes into a meditative section as if progressing from the experience of sadness to contemplation about sadness. The meditative section is followed by an outburst of emotion that leads to an emotionally exhausted ending.
The final movement is the most exuberant and rhythmic of all three. The material in this movement is very simple and consists of three elements: a repetitive groove (in 7/8), scales (mostly Phrygian and middle-eastern modes), and a simple 4/4 melody. While each element is very simple, their juxtapositions create complex combinations. The movement is structured as a serious of dances that recall the stylistic diversity of the opening movement. In this movement I exploit similarities between various ethnic styles. These enable a smooth transition between Middle-Eastern and Indian styles, to sections that may remind the listener of western folk genres such as country and bluegrass. Other variations in this movement recall the meditative nature of the second movement and present additional complexities of form that use the ancient techniques of the Isorhythmic motet.
While composing the concerto, Ittai Shappira contributed much information and advice on writing for the Violin – for which I am very grateful to him. Since Ittai is involved in the Daniel Pearl Foundation, we decided together to dedicate the piece and its premiere performances to the memory of journalist Daniel Pearl.