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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


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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

  • 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:
Performances
Date
Title
  • 30 OCT 2014
    Army Hall Skopje, Macedonia
    Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra
  • 24 MAY 2014
    Vanves, France
    Orchestre d'eleves du conservatoire de Vanves
  • 07 MAR 2014
    Sala Koncertowa Lodz, Poland
    Orkiestra Symfoniczna Filharmonii Lodzkiej
    Piotr Pawner; Alexander Mickelthwaite, conductor
  • 02 MAR 2014
  • 08 FEB 2014
    Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Holland
    Residentie Orkest
    Brad Lubman, conductor
  • 08 FEB 2014
    The Apex, Bury St Edmunds
    Wolsey Orchestra
    Jamie Foreman; Anthony Weeden, conductor
  • 15 NOV 2013
    Sala Opery i Filharmonii Podlaskiej Biaystok
    Orkiestra OiFP
    Piotr Pawner; Monica Wolinska, conductor
  • 04 OCT 2013
    Great Concert Hall, Yekaterinburg, Russia
    Sverdlovsk State Philharmonic Society
  • 09 SEP 2013
    Enescu Festival
    Palace Grand Hall, Bucharest
    Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai
    Anna Tifu; Juraj Valcuha , conductor
  • 22 MAR 2013
    Staatstheater Stuttgart, Germany
    Orchestra of the Staatstheater Stuttgart
  • 18 FEB 2013
    Dublin, Ireland
    NOSPR
    Agata Szymczewska; Jacek Kaspszyk, conductor

    Other Dates:
    26 February -
  • 02 DEC 2012
    Town Hall, Leeds
    Orchestra of Opera North
    Richard Farnes, conductor

    Other Dates:
    5 December - Town Hall, Huddersfield
  • 18 SEP 2012
    Argentina
    Organizacion Musical Sudamericana
    Timothy Fain; Guilherme Bernstein, conductor
  • 15 SEP 2012
    Argentina
    Organizacion Musical Sudamericana
    Timothy Fain; Carlos Prazeres, conductor
  • 23 JUL 2012
    Chautauqua, NY
    Chautauqua Symphony
    Alexandra Swittala; Roderick Cox, conductor
  • 21 JUN 2012
    Kosice, Slovakia
    Kosice State Philharmonic Orchestra
    Karsko; Muller, conductor
  • 15 JUN 2012
    RWCMD Cardiff WALES UK
    Sinfonia Newydd
    Huw Williams, conductor
  • 04 MAY 2012
    Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff
    BBC National Orchestra of Wales
    Clark Rundell, conductor
  • 12 APR 2012
    Bratislava, Slovakia
    Slovakia Philharmonic Orchestra
    Hugo Ticciati; Svarosky, conductor

    Other Dates:
    13 April - Bratislava, Slovakia
  • 01 APR 2012
    Youth Centre Pristina Kosovo, Serbia
    State Orchestra of Kosovo Philharmony
  • 17 FEB 2012
    Tampere, FINLAND
    Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra
    Dennis Kim (violin) ; Anna-Maria Helsing, conductor
  • 03 FEB 2012
    Teatro Manzoni Bologna, ITALY
    Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologne
    Francesco D'Orazio (violin) ; Michele Mariotti, conductor

    Other Dates:
    7 February - Teatro Valli Reggio Emilia, ITALY
  • 04 NOV 2011
    Valladolid SPAIN
    Castilla and Leon Symphony Orchestras
    Gidon Kremer (violin) ; Alejandro Posada, conductor

    Other Dates:
    5 November - Valladolid SPAIN
  • 29 OCT 2011
    Carlow, IRELAND
    RTE Concert Orchestra
    Fergus Sheilds, conductor

    Other Dates:
    3 November - Port Laois, IRELAND
    10 November - Navan, IRELAND
    11 November - Wexford, IRELAND
  • 01 OCT 2011
    Mobile, AL
    Mobile Symphony
    Scott Speck, conductor

    Other Dates:
    2 October - Mobile, AL
  • 30 SEP 2011
    Sala koncertowa Filharmonii Narodowej, Warsaw, POLAND
    Orkiestra Symfoniczna Filharmonii Narodowej
    Agata Szymczewska (violin) ; Antoni Wit, conductor
  • 12 SEP 2011
    Parco della Musica, Rome, ITALY
    Orchestra of the Fondazione Petruzzelli di Bari
    Francesco D’Orazio (violin); Alberto Veronesi, conductor
  • 30 JUN 2011
    Kongresshaus Salzburg, AUSTRIA
    Junge Philharmonie Salzburg
    Christine-Maria Höller (violin); Elisabeth Fuchs, conductor
  • 17 MAR 2011
    Sønderborg, Denmark
    Sønderjyllands Symfoniorkester
    David Porcelijn, conductor
  • 21 DEC 2010
    Pamplona, Spain
    Sinfonietta Academia

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,8/13/2009
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