Viola Concerto

Photo credit: WASO
26 mins
I=mar/crot/fl tom/lge chinese cym;
II=vibr/t.bells/lge Tam-t/bell t/SD/single crot;
III=xylo/glspl/lge BD/
clsta(=synth)-vla solo-strings

Premiere: 4, 5 October 2019
Perth Concert Hall
Brett Dean, viola
West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Fabien Gabel, conductor

Programme Note

This concerto was written for my good friend, the composer and violist, Brett Dean. When it comes to concertos, the viola has come off as the poorer cousin to both violin and cello. I find this a peculiarity as the viola inhabits a world of rich and earthy colour. Each of the four movements of this concerto inhabit spaces that reflect the viola’s unique character:
1. Rorschach Canticle: The Rorschach Test, commonly known as the inkblot test, is named after its creator, Hermann Rorschach. We have probably all made ‘Rorschach art’ at some point in our lives: by folding one half of a piece of paper onto the other that is blotted in paint, a symmetrical image is created when unfolded. At the halfway point of Rorschach Canticle, the music immediately turns around and heads back to the beginning (the second half is the reverse of the first half), creating a symmetrical form.
2. Infinite Jester: This movement is a comedic, reckless and restless kitchen-sink type of affair. The title comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who says to Horatio whilst holding the skull of Yorick, “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.” Brett has written an opera on Hamlet and I thought this was a nice connection.
3. Alien Troubadour: I thought of a wandering folk musician on Mars. The viola plays lofty folk-like double-stopped material over strange outcrops in the orchestra. Over the course of the movement, the music becomes increasingly earth-bound.
4. Where Angels Hover: Two of the earliest pieces I heard of Brett’s had “Angels” in their titles. “Beggars and Angels” is a large orchestral canvas and “Voices of Angels” is a highly-charged piano quintet. This movement tips its hat at those early works of Brett’s that really introduced me to his music. The viola floats above a surreal landscape of whispered utterances that build in intensity until the orchestra eventually swallows the viola. (Not all angels are nice!)
Viola Concerto was commissioned by Geoff Stearn for the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. This is the third work Geoff has commissioned from me for the orchestra.
It won the 2020 APRA AMCOS Art Music Award Work of the Year: Large Ensemble

To borrow or purchase the score from the Australian Music Centre click here

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