Dedication: Julian Lloyd Webber
Instrumentation: solo cello, 2(1).1 + cor anglais, 2(1), 2(1); 126.96.36.199.; harp; perc.(2 players) (bells, marimba, vibes, 2 suspended cymbals, Tam-Tam, Bass Drum, timps – 4 drums); strings
First performance: Julian Lloyd Webber, cello, English Chamber Orchestra, cond. James Judd, Barbican, London November 24th 1995
Cello Concerto (1995)
(Farewell to Philosophy)
I have a great fondness for the lower string instruments: I am a bass- player; my mother was a cellist, as are both my daughters; my own ensemble includes two violas, a cello and a bass, and in a number of orchestral works, starting with my opera Medea I omit the entire violin section from the orchestra. As I have written a number of works for solo instrument or voice with orchestra, I welcomed the opportunity to write a concerto for cello and orchestra and especially one which focuses particularly on the instrument’s lyrical qualities. The cello is, arguably, the most ‘vocal’ of instruments with its range going from the lowest notes of the average bass voice, to the highest notes of the soprano. Although the piece is in one continuous movement, and the soloist is playing almost without a break, it nevertheless falls into distinct sections which are recognisable by a shift of tempo, a change of instrumental focus, as well as by a change in the music’s character.
One of the early ideas the original soloist Julian Lloyd Webber and I discussed was that it might form a companion piece to one of the Haydn concertos. This immediately suggested a number of particular musical references. The subtitle to my cello concerto, for example, combines the subtitles of two idiosyncratic Haydn symphonies and I allude to them in different ways – chiefly through orchestration. For The Philosopher I include a section in the concerto where the accompanying orchestration resembles that of the symphony’s first movement (alternating pairs of English and French horns, muted violins and unmuted lower strings) as well as the implacably strict tempo. For The Farewell, the allusion is effected by the progressive reduction in orchestration towards the end of the concerto. Indeed, apart from the orchestral tutti in the last few bars, the last pages of the score are virtually for string quartet. Haydn was also, after all, the “father” of the string quartet.
The piece is not a show-piece calling for great virtuosic display, although it is not an easy work, but rather one in which the soloist is called upon to play extended melodic phrases, and to shape the piece, almost like the leader of a chamber music ensemble. There is no cadenza, but the piece calls for great stamina and bow control – the soloist is given only four or five bars rest in the whole concerto.
The subtitle of the cello concerto also refers to my own background as a philosophy graduate who moved into a career in music….
The piece was commissioned by Philips Classics for Julian Lloyd Webber and is dedicated to him.