In the more than twenty-five years that we’ve known each other, Sharon Robinson and Jaime Laredo have performed, separately and together, a great deal of my pre-existing chamber music. Gradually they came to exemplify for me the ideal string players. Thus in 1980 I wrote, specifically for Sharon, a suite fro cello alone called After Reading Shakespeare; five years later, at Jaime’s behest, came the Violin Concerto. Now the time seemed ripe to compose something for the pair of them. And so, thanks to a commission from the Indianapolis Symphony, in the state where I was born, the present work has come to be.
Music being the least representational of the arts (it does not depict other than itself), the overall title is abstract: Double Concerto. Nevertheless, just to get the juices flowing, I did impose "concrete" titles onto the eight movements, which require 35 minutes to unfold. These titles connote whatever the listener chooses. I’ll state only that in Adam and Eve the two soloists are literally born on stage: they emerge from the womb of the orchestra.
The scoring is plain: only eight winds, four brass, and strings. No glamorous harps, keyboards, or mallets, and no percussion, none. (In growing older I’ve come to feel that percussion is, at best, mere decoration, at worst, immoral, like too many earrings or too many exclamation points!!)
The music was composed on the islands of Manhattan and Nantucket between July 27, 1997 and April of this year. The orchestration was completed in June.
This double concerto is my third in the genre. (Water Music, for the Oakland Youth Orchestra, is for Clarinet and Violin solos; Remembering Tommy, for the Cincinnati Symphony, is Cello and Piano solos.) It is also my eleventh concerto-sixteenth, if you count five large works for solo voice and orchestra-of which the preceding ten are: Concertino da Camera (1946) for Harpsichord and Seven Instruments; First Piano Concerto (1948), composed for Eugene Istomin and now stashed in a cave where it shall ever remain; Second Piano Concerto (1950), for Julius Katchen; Water Music (1966); Third Piano Concerto (1969), for Jerome Lowenthal; Remembering Tommy (1979); Violin Concerto (1985), for Jaime Laredo; Organ Concerto (1985) for Leonard Raver; Fourth Piano Concerto for left hand alone (1989), for Gary Graffman; and English Horn Concerto (1993), for Thomas Stacy and the New York Philharmonic.
Ned Rorem, July 1998
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer