Piano Concerto


piano concerto
Solo Instrument(s) with Orchestra, Piano
2(II=picc).2(II=ca).2(I=ebcl).2(II=cbsn) – – timp(=claves) – strings ( players)

Commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with generous support from The Idlewild Trust, Britten-Pears Foundation, RVW Trust, Cruden Foundation and The Hope Scott Trust

First Performance
12.10.2016, Younger Hall, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Scotland, UK: Tom Poster/Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Thierry Fischer

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Programme Notes



For a long time, I considered giving this concerto the title ‘And this was how it started’ after a poem from Niall Campbell’s collection Moontide. In it, a singer, challenged to sing a thousand songs, moves from songs of drinking and dancing to wedding and to mourning until on the fifth day he continues with the clicks and whistles of the birds. ‘And then he sang the wave-fall when there’s moonlight, /sang the black grain, its bending in the wind, / then sang the stars – and then, and then, and then.’

I love the proliferation in this poem, the seemingly trivial starting point which leads to the sense that the world is being sung into existence before our eyes. These were ideas important to me in the writing of this concerto: that the soloist, rather than being a heroic protagonist striving against the might of the orchestra would instead somehow set the musical world in motion, and that the music would proliferate and spiral into more and more diverse regions; that the pianist would have such an excess of life and energy that they would set the orchestra spinning around them, and that song would be at the music’s heart.

There are five movements. The first presents the piano in energetic counterpoint with various small subgroups of the orchestra: cor anglais and viola; strings; clarinets, oboes and horns; piccolo and violin; claves; and finally solo viola again. Movements II-IV form a sequence of three linked Intermezzi, each of which takes a small fragment of material from the first movement and explores it to an extreme. Hammered semiquavers run continuously through movement II, while movement III expands bell-like chords into gentle microtonal waves of imagined resonance. The fourth movement highlights the percussive capabilities of both the piano and ensemble. Melody returns in the final movement, a lyrical version of the first movement’s opening line, begun by the piano and gradually taken up by the entire orchestra. Underpinning the flowing music of this song, an almost-passacaglia spirals – falling, and falling, and falling.


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