If you live in the greater Seattle area, I hope you made it to the World Premiere of this Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra on Sunday Feb 24th 2008 in Seattle's Town Hall by clarinet soloist Jeffrey Brooks.
During the course of this project, I made the rather bold (let's leave it at that, shall we? :-) decision to conduct the performance myself, having some experience conducting smaller chamber groups, but never a full symphony orchestra. Check out the set of tails that I'm wearing that don't quite fit, especially the vest which I borrowed from my dear friend and talented conductor, Johan Louwersheimer, and my use of the newly invented "triple spiral cutoff" right before the cadenza in the 1st mvt :)
Happily, the community orchestra that we assembled out of friends and members of the Octava Chamber Orchestra, the Lake Union Civic Orchestra, Seattle Philharmonic, the Rainier Symphony, and other Pacific Northwest groups, did a fine job on very few rehearsals, despite the huge challenges of working the kinks out of a brand new work. Unhappily, our soloist who had been working on the clarinet part for months, became ill and could not play the concert. So at the last minute, Jeff Brooks stepped in and learned the whole thing in 3 days, included his own beautiful cadenzas, rehearsed it for the first time an hour and a half before the show, and gave an absolutely miraculous performance.
Bravo to everyone involved!
Here are some program notes for your enjoyment:
The Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra originally began as a Concerto for Oboe and Chamber Orchestra in Eb Major composed in a style akin to Mendelssohn that I began writing back in the mid 90's and then shelved after completing about half of the first movement. Subsequently, I completely forgot about it until coming upon it in the winter of 2007 during the Indian holiday known as Shivarati. For some reason, I was compelled to go through the old material that remained on my computer and listened to a MIDI rendition in order to show my kids some examples of what could be done with the tools that modern composers have available to them. To my surprise, the "sketch" sounded great and I immediately rekindled my interest in classical composition---after a hiatus of over a decade---and vowed to finish it.
The opening theme in the french horns was screaming for a larger sized orchestra, so I added timpani, two more horns, flutes, and bassoons. Soon I wanted a richer sound than the oboe could offer, as well as a greater range, and the opportunity for more virtuosic passage work, so I decided to score it instead for solo clarinet.
As the first movement was reborn, the question of remained what to do with the other two movements. So I began to dig around to see what other sketches might be left that could be resurrected. I found part of a slow movement to an unfinished symphony in G minor, composed about the same time as the original oboe concerto, that contained wonderful thematic material composed in an Italian style akin to Verdi that related surprisingly well to what is now the 1st movement of the Clarinet Concerto. The orchestral introduction to the 2nd movement of the Clarinet Concerto comes from there.
The 3rd movement begins in C minor and is based upon a scherzo from the same unfinished symphony, with an added Strauss-like introduction full of exaggeration/melodrama/humor followed by a short gypsy-like cadenza for the soloist that launches into the Presto-Vivace. Following the Presto-Vivace is a nice pastoral Andante that takes an unexpected turn to quickly present original melodies in 3 North Indian Ragas (Bhairavi, Jog, and Ramkali) all set to a seven beat pattern known as Rupak Tal (tin- tin- na- dhindhin nana dhindhin nana). My sincere gratitude goes to Ujwal Nagar for coaching me in the development of this section. The solo clarinet, flute, and oboe play the melodies of the ragas while the orchestra imitates the sounds of the tabla and tamboura. Following the ragas, we quickly transition into a direct quote of a Vedic chant whose melody uses only 3 notes, the pitches and rythmn determined by an ancient Sanskrit text.
After this, the bass drum rockets us back into the scherzo, slightly changed in the orchestration, followed by some 19th century style transitional material which gets us back into Eb major, thematic material from the first movement super-imposed over the same, and then a rambunctious coda in which the trumpet finally gets to play the opening theme from the first movement, however in a somewhat sarcastic form. This comes off sounding more like added fluff to the contrapuntal melee of the coda and soon the movement concludes like an old jalopy car revving itself up, back-firing and stalling a few times, and then riding off to glory in a puff of blue smoke :)