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Aaron Jay Kernis

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Too Hot Toccata (1996)
Commissioned by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra with funding by Susan M. Halby in honor of her father, John M. Musser
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Year Composed
6 Minutes
Programme Note
Aaron Jay Kernis Too Hot Toccata (1996)
Composer note:

I considered Too Hot Toccata to be a kind of farewell to my [St. Paul Chamber Orchestra] Residency, but not as a farewell to the Orchestra. This work features just about all of the principal players and treats all of the various orchestra sections as soloists. There is also a horribly difficult honky-tonk piano solo, as well as a fiendish clarinet solo and a big part for the piccolo trumpet, in addition to a lot of virtuoso percussion writing. The music is a little hyperactive — very high energy and quite out of control, but with a slower middle section for balance.

— Aaron Jay Kernis

  • Ensemble
    Grant Park Orchestra
    Carlos Kalmar
    Cedille Records:
Aaron Jay Kernis’ Too Hot Toccata. A short work with unexpected humor, it rolls here and there like a drunken monkey, prodding the orchestra into creating combinations of sounds that sometimes seemed brand new. From “Toccata’s” urgent beginning to its bustling end, this orchestra was plugged in with focus and clear command of the work.
Tracy Mobley-Martinez, Colorado Springs Gazette,14/03/2010
Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960) is a composer who has never hesitated to display brilliantly and often flagrantly his predilection for eclectic composition. The world is his compositional oyster, and he has stated many times that "everything" should be included in music, from gripping drama to subtle nuances of the most delicate emotions, humor, tragedy, passion--everything. This well-played and well-recorded CD from Cedille features two premiere recordings and one new recording of his 1989 Symphony in Waves. Too Hot Toccata (1996) is from the last of his St. Paul Chamber Orchestra residency days, and was meant as a sort of mini-Concerto for Orchestra in the manner of how Bartok crafted his own work of that name, displaying considerable virtuosic functionality with a diverse and interesting orchestral background at the same time. It is brassy, jazzy, and makes a great concert opener.
Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition,28/10/2008
Too Hot Toccata (1996) is closer in style to the pop music-spiced pieces, such as New Era Dance, that alerted the concert-going public to Kernis' arrival as a bright new talent. It's a bubbly showpiece, with plenty of virtuoso licks for individual members of the orchestra.
David Hurwitz, Classics Today,29/09/2008
Kernis, at 48, is one of the most successful composers of his generation: oft-performed and recorded and awarded (he won a Pulitzer Prize at an age when many composers are still cursing general neglect), he is also on this disc about as wildly eclectic a traditionalist as you’re likely to find. The pieces receiving premiere recorded performances from Chicago’s splendid, contemporary-minded Grant Park Festival Orchestra are the 2005 Newly Drawn Sky “inspired by a twilight walk on a Long Island Beach” and the 1996 Too Hot Toccata, which is exactly what it sounds like. The Symphony in Waves from 1989 has been superbly recorded before, but it’s one of Kernis’ best and most representative works and probably deserves to be thought of as a contemporary concert hall staple.
Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News,17/09/2008
A brief, hyped-up gallop, it was fun and skillfully wrought, and it showed off the genuine skills of the St. Paul players. It will surely find wide circulation among orchestras looking to dispense their obligation to new music painlessly.
James R. Ostereich, The New York Times,04/02/1998
Rhythm is its mainspring...
Michael Fleming, Saint Paul Pioneer Press,07/09/1996
As its title suggests, the Kernis piece is intended to be light, though in his vocabulary, light never means superficial but rather music in a bright mood, along with, in this case, surprising flashes of wit.... Too Hot Toccata uses jazz and rock idioms, mixing them with hot, dance-at-the-gym-style percussion effects along with a sense of constant movement from one section of the orchestra to another. The result is a kind of roller coaster-ride fanfare that demands a great deal from the players, and under Wolff's careful guidance, it opened the program with a bang.
Michael Anthony, Star Tribune,07/09/1996
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