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Kevin Volans

Publisher: Chester Music

Piano Concerto No. 2 "Atlantic Crossing" (2006)
Commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony through the generosity of the Ralph I.Dorfman Commissioning Fund.
Chester Music Ltd
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
23 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
Kevin Volans Piano Concerto No. 2 "Atlantic Crossing" (2006)
This is in fact my third piano concerto, because the first piece I wrote when I was twelve was an ambitious, virtuoso Romantic piano concerto (unfinished, however).

This is my most historically retrospective piece to date. I allowed myself the freedom to refer to the repertoire which I have loved all my musical life: so there are references to Chopin’s harmony, the gestures of Brahms, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky, and later on Ravel’s structural ploys. Although the narrative structure of the piece appears to link it firmly to the first half of the twentieth century, rather than the second, I think of the concerto as a post-minimalist piece. It is only at the end (in the last section) that the material is presented in its true colors.

I began the piece while staying in Greece in a house facing due west overlooking the sea. The village is at a point on the Mani where legend has it Achilles set out with a fleet to retrieve Helen from Troy. I was reading several ancient Greek plays while I was there and was struck by the importance of the sea in Greek literature. I was also taken by the rhythms of the language. In particular the seven-beat rhythm of catalexis somehow seemed to reflect the swell of the waves.

I decided to call the piece Atlantic Crossing, however. The sea voyage from Ireland to America has always held a special place in the hearts of the Irish. The hope of a new life, the escape from the Great Hunger--all of these are associated with this journey, more than any other. This gave me an image with which to start the piece, although it is not to be regarded as program music.

The piano was my first instrument. I began at the age of ten and from twelve onwards started buying every Romantic concerto I could lay my hands on and struggling through them. Knowing that few pieces had continued in this line, I decided to write it in the same tradition. Fortunately I had a great virtuoso in Marc-André Hamelin to play the piece. The piano part is very demanding (and hopefully glittering). (The pianist hardly stops playing in twenty-three minutes, and works his way through some 14,000 notes.) In terms of difficulty (only), it comes close to Rachmaninov's third concerto, but is quite a bit shorter.

It is fairly different from any other of my pieces, although not too far from the Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments, I guess. Both aim at a big, rich sound--treating the piano as a resonant, rather than percussive instrument.

—Kevin Volans

  • 15 NOV 2006
    Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco
    San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
    Marc-André Hamelin, piano; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor

    Other Dates:
    16,18 November - Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco

Kevin Volans' splashy, ferocious "Atlantic Crossing" takes a proud stand right out there on the frontier of difficulty. Volans' 25-minute concerto is a breathless orgy of crashing chords, jagged rhythms and tumultuos orchestral textures, punctuated here and there by brief interludes of serenity.'s a wonderfully accessible feast for the audience. Melding the emotional transparency of the Romantic concerto tradition with the varied repetitions of post-minimalism, Volans writes with the listener uppermost in mind, and the results are thrilling.
Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle,17/11/2006
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