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 cadenzastwo 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.