Philip Glass’s Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra was composed in the spring of 2010 as a commission from the Netherlands Dance Theater, premiered by the Hague Philharmonic (Residentie Orkest) conducted by Jurjen Hempel on April 22, 2010 with violinist Cecilia Bernardini and cellist Maarte-Maria den Herder. The music was composed as original score for the ballet Swan Song by choreographers Sol Léon and Paul Lightfoot. The original commission was simply for an orchestral work from Glass. However the composer had wanted to compose a double concerto for violin and cello for quite some time and this provided the perfect occasion to realize the piece. Glass felt that the solo instruments would make perfect dramatic analogs to the lead dancers on stage. The dance world has long been a birthplace for concert works (including Glass’s own Heroes Symphony) and NDT with the choreographers graciously embraced this idea and the ballet was premiered and taken on tour an extensive tour through Holland in the spring of 2010 with soloists who premiered the work as well as soloists whom Glass recommended to the theater: violinists Tim Fain, Maria Bachmann, and cellist Wendy Sutter (in fact, the concerto was originally composed for Bachmann and Sutter.)
The form of the concerto is unique. Conventional knowledge makes available two methods of approaching the composition of concertos. The first is to cast the soloist as hero battling against the orchestra. The second method is to have the soloist supported by and playing with the orchestra with a still defined solo role. Glass concerto is unique because the composer largely ignored those two models. Glass composed a duet to precede each of the three orchestral movements. These movements, while undeniably Glassian, are quite intimate and possess a timeless classical tone while reminding the listener more of chamber music. By contrast, the orchestral movements are dramatic symphonic statements without necessarily featuring the soloists with virtuosic technical shows.
After the opening duet, we move into the first fast movement is infused with energy and force. The second movement, the heart of the concerto, opens with a slowly building dirge in the brass to an incredible volume before erupting into an explosive rollicking dance for the soloists. It's here that perhaps the dance element is at its most present in Glass' orchestral writing. After the climax of the second movement, the third duet then leads into a mad dash of wonderful vibrancy. Curiously, and consistent with the individual character of this concerto, Glass concludes the work not on the triumphant emotional conclusion of the third orchestral movement, but he includes a final somber duet. A fitting epilogue and satisfying conclusion to this atypical and exceptional work.
– Richard Guérin, 2011