The Clarinet Concerto was written in 1968 in response to a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society (in association with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation). It was first performed in February 1969 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Colin Davis, with Gervase de Pyer as soloist at the Royal Festival Hall, London.
The Clarinet Concerto is one of a series of works where I have explored certain ‘dramatic-abstract’ ideas: that is, dramatic in presentation but abstract because there is no programme or ‘story’. In this work, the dramatic idea is basically a simple one and arises out of the original meaning of the word ‘concertare’ - that is, struggle or conflict in the sense of balancing unequal forces; solo versus tutti, or individual(s) versus crowd.
The solo clarinet, as well as having a virtuosic role, also here has another function in that it moves around the orchestra to play with various smaller ‘concertante’ groups. The groups in turn are set against the rest of the orchestra. At these moments the solo clarinet is usually independent of the conductor and leads the other members of the group.
Many notational problems had to be solved to be able to write down these ideas in a clear and practical way without losing general harmonic control.
The work is in one continuous movement and is a kind of concerto grosso; a recurring tutti section, easily recognizable with its fast rhythmic figurations, and then the various contrasting episodes sandwiched in between with a different concertino each time.
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