Violin Concerto No.2 'Scherben der Stille'(Shards of Silence) (2021)
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Boosey & Hawkes
Leonidas Kavakos, violin / London Symphony Orchestra / Simon Rattle
With my Violin Concerto No.2, titled 'Scherben der Stille' (in English, 'Shards of Silence'), I decided to break my ‚principle' of writing only one concerto for an instrument. Given that there is such a great history with symphonic repertoire, it is always a challenge for a contemporary composer to try to add something to a genre that is new and yet in a way that is idiomatic for the ingenious 19th-century invention named symphony orchestra. Besides, I want to write for many other instruments, ensembles, and set-ups, and every new project requires ample research time. To provide a slightly far-fetched comparison, Glenn Gould once remarked that he only records a piece once but decided to make an exception with the Goldberg Variations, his first and last recording; both are entirely different, but equally brilliant, which is fascinating.
I decided to break with this ‚principle' because of my encounter with Leonidas Kavakos' unique musicianship and artistic personality, which resulted in new ideas on tackling this genre's challenges. Therefore, this work is very different from my First Violin Concerto, which I composed twenty years ago. It also reflects the manifold new experiences I have had with this instrument since then, especially and most lately in ‚Gran Cadenza', a violin duo commissioned by and written for Anne-Sophie Mutter. Nevertheless, it is very different from all the other music I have written for the violin, whether in soloistic function or as part of an ensemble.
My Violin Concerto No.2 is a subjective portrait of and a dialogue with Leonidas Kavakos' musicianship, which is burningly intense, and at the same time, impeccable and completely focused.
It is cast in one movement: the solo violin part forms the foundation of the whole work; the soloist triggers all of the orchestra's actions and impulses. The work also features a composed solo cadenza that is very virtuosic.
The music is rich in contrast: the musical fabric emerges from utter silence but - hence the title of the work - juxtaposed seamlessly with rough edges, tonal shards and incisive outbursts from which new shapes appear.
A small motivic cell of five musical notes (or, to be more precise, two notes embellished by three natural harmonics) that soon turns into a line, a phrase, forms the creative nucleus of this piece, and it appears all over, in a variety of shapes and characters. The orchestra joins the soloist inconspicuously, starting from the almost imperceptible rustle of the beginning. Together with the soloist's actions, it results in delicate, iridescent soundscapes, the music being on the verge between emergence and decay. These minimal moves already catalyze many of the upcoming developments. But soon, the orchestra appears with more angular textures, and the motivic proto-cell turns into a manifold of shapes: occasionally resembling a delicate song, then morphing into ritual-like repetitive pulsations, and, towards the end of the piece into ‚beats' that have a scream-like character. These changes sometimes happen with more fluent transitions and, more often, unexpected turns and even harsh contrasts.
Structurally speaking, Violin Concerto No.2 consists of different sections that merge seamlessly: the grand form of the work resembles a labyrinth.
Unsuk Chin, © 2021
“…a single movement lasting around 25 minutes, and cast as a series of often roughly juxtaposed episodes (the “shards” of the subtitle) which develop from the thematic kernel of repeated string-crossing harmonics with which the unaccompanied violin begins the work. The solo writing is strenuously demanding… But this time there seems to be an undertow of deep seriousness to the brilliance too, which sometimes takes the music in unexpectedly dark directions.”
“Brilliantly conceived by the Korean composer, it places the soloist at the centre of everything for all of its 25-minute, single-movement span, but surrounds him with a flamboyant array of orchestral ideas that intermittently flare up or flicker away in the background yet never overwhelm the violin. There are snatches of an eerie chorale, playful exchanges between the woodwinds and the front desks of violins, and masses of percussion effects, some shimmering in the background, others exploding through the texture.”
“Out of silence, the solo violin tries an opening idea that stretches tentatively into the higher reaches of the instrument’s harmonics. A line, a phrase, starts to coalesce and this forms the nucleus of what follows. In this concerto, Chin has looked beyond the brilliance of the work’s predecessor to explore darker and sometimes violent feelings below the surface… As so often in Chin’s music, the orchestral writing glittered with freshly minted combinations of sounds…”
“…the striking thing about it was its cogency, each new wave starting with the same tentative and yet easily graspable idea… At the end, the orchestra and soloist were locked in an ascending spiral of deafeningly intense sound, brutally cut off; a startling close…”