My Concerto for Cello and Orchestra was commissioned by the extraordinary cellist Dmitry Kouzov in 2007 and composed the following year. Funding for the commission and Russian premiere generously comes from International Performing Artists LLC. Vladimir Lande led the Chamber Orchestra of Southern Maryland in the premiere in 2008. The piece is comprised of three movements and scored for standard-sized orchestra with double winds and brass.
In this work, I wanted to fuse my interest in neo-classical clarity and design with what I feel is the songful, heroic nature of the greatest cello concerto literature. The first movement entrance of the cello should indicate a bit of the latter, with large leaps a characteristic that can be found in all three movements. The opening quickly moves to a chorale-like section for woodwinds and a faster section that introduces a simple motive in the cello that generates the material for most of the rest of the movement, which dies away to a question mark ending.
Like Sibelius, who I had in mind in the early days of composition, the second movement attempts to make much of fast music that sounds slow. Pizzicato low strings introduce an eight-note motive that is answered by quiet and ominous timpani. A tuneful yet anguished mid-section sees the cello in its expressive element. Throughout this time, I was haunted and dismayed by the constant images of the futile bloodshed in Iraq, a conflict now six years old. Though I didn’t intend my work to have any sort of programmatic element, the extended cadenza – for cello and mixed percussion - most certainly describes the individual anguish of the innocent people in war’s crossfire, while the percussion battery details the constant droning of guns and bombs. The cello succumbs to a form of keening, a lament on the low strings. An English horn fairly rescues the soloist by introducing a doleful melody, but the movement ends with the cellist asserting life, while the drums of war play on.
The third movement has no such programmatic association, and gets under way quickly. This fast section displays some incredible virtuosity from the solo cello as well as some of the individual members of the orchestra. The solo cadenza is here marked by double-stops, harmonics, and asks the cellist to play at the bridge for a haunting sound. Exiting the cadenza an extrovert, C-major section tosses a simple theme around the orchestra before a headlong rush to a firm end.
Dmitry Kouzov has since performed the work many times, including St. Petersburg where the piece was recorded in the legendary Melodiya Studios, also with Vladimir Lande leading the orchestra. The concerto appears on my debut orchestral disc, Concertos, on Delos.