I'd long longed to write a concerto for cello: several attempts to place the project were unsuccessful, so I was particularly delighted to receive a commission from the Oregon Symphony for the orchestra and Johannes Moser, originally scheduled for October 2020 and achieving its belated premiere in January 2022.
The piece had a curious, difficult, prolonged gestation: there were many scattered sketches, all focussed upon the solo instrument and the intended concerto, but isolated and disconnected, with no overall shape or plan. These came last and unpremeditated: and when the time was ripe, all the material lay to hand and the totality was completed rapidly, in late 2019. This diversity can still be sensed, I think. I'd greatly admired Johannes' performance of the Elgar concerto with its wide range of intonations & moods, from plangent elegy to mercurial quicksilver: I tried to get something of this volatility into my own. Each of its four movements – played without break – contains several distinct characters and moods, almost as though personages in a non-existent story.
I: a bravura solo entry leads into a rhetorical orchestral tutti: then in rapid succession come a giocoso, a calmo and an animato; these moods/personages proceed to alternate & interact.
II: the soloist's first opening and the tutti again, now lead to a gentle andante, more sustained, with celesta prominent in the orchestration: thence to animation marked ‘broad and bold’, growing quite grand and confident, before subsiding into alternation between brief tender invocations on strings and the soloist ‘lively and lilting’: then a lyric interlude for soloist and strings together: next, a hymnic tutti, then an extended scherzando with fierce interjections on the brass: these alternate, before yielding to
III: where the soloist's opening figure is developed at greater length than previously, introducing an allegro molto, escalating into scherzo spasmodico, with the cello accompanied entirely by woodwinds and horns. The allegro seems to be all set for a third round…
… but IV cuts it off with the return of the opening tutti now missing the soloist's bravura opening flourish. This tutti extends into the dynamic climax of the whole work: it fades into the soloist's cadenza (celesta again prominent): and thence the Envoi, dolce and melodious; and a calm close wherein soloist and orchestra are completely reconciled and fused into one on a luminous cadence embracing all twelve pitches, widely-spaced to form not a dissonance but a consonance.
Robin Holloway, November 2021
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer