July 20, 2009
Trombone Concerto concept
I know it’s been awhile, and it seems like all that’s happening here is home remodeling, but but it’s time to get back to work and write some music. It appears that the funding is coming together after all, so the next big project will be the Trombone Concerto that I’m writing for Joseph Alessi, principal trombonist for the NY Philharmonic. Joe will premiere the piece with the band at West Point, and also with the Ridgewood Concert Band in New Jersey. Where he’ll take it after that, I don’t know, but I guess it depends largely on whether he likes it. The piece is commissioned by 20 high school, college, and military bands, so it should (hopefully) get a lot of play over the next 18 months. Step one, though, is to write the thing.
AEJ and I have been working on the overarching concept for the concerto, and I think we have a great idea. (AEJ was the one who conceptualized the Sax Concerto’s structure, and we collaborate on all of my pieces. She also comes up with titles for almost all of them — Aurora Awakes, Kingfishers Catch Fire, and on and on. And when I say “we” have a great idea for this concerto, what I mean is “she came up with a great idea, and I’m going to use it.”)
The piece will be based on the dual nature of the Greek god Dionysus. As the god of the vine, Dionysus is famous for the ecstasy he could inspire, but he was also subjected to a cycle of agonizing death before glorious rebirth each year, analogous to the harsh pruning and long winter the vines endure before blooming again in the spring.
The concerto’s movements would represent this duality. The first movement would be brutal, with the god’s agonizing cries as he’s torn to shreds by his own worshippers. (AEJ suggested that these worshippers might be represented by the trombone section, with their voices sounding like a fiendish parody of the soloist. I love this idea — and of course, it’s not my idea.) This brutal agony would be followed by the stillness of death (either as a slow central movement, or possibly just an extended ending section of that first movement; I’d see how this was pacing itself before making this decision). The final movement would represent Dionysus’s glorious rebirth, as he rises again, bringing the ecstasy and liberation that have been celebrated in his name for centuries.
There are all sorts of strong directions this could take, with Dionysus being not only the god of wine, but also the god of theater, grapes, ritual madness, and ecstasy. It’s a crazy combination. I should call the movements “Ecstasy,” “Ritual Madness,” and “Grapes.” Then again, maybe not, but “Ritual Madness” ain’t bad.
So the overall idea is that Joe Alessi represents a Greek god — one who is brutally destroyed in the first movement only to be reborn — with incredible joy and beauty — by the end of the concerto. The first movement would be harsh, angular, and energetic, sort of along the lines of a mini-Rite of Spring. The middle would be melancholy and still and (probably) mostly quiet. This middle section would either come from the first movement, or lead like a huge transition directly into the third section. (This is a big question — is it one straight-through piece, or two movements, or three? There are three “big picture” ideas I want to evoke, but how are they broken up?) The final section would be an arching explosion of joy — along the lines of the second movement of “Aurora Awakes.”
What’s better than portraying Joe Alessi, arguably the greatest American trombone player ever, as a Greek god?! This concept would allow for an almost operatic treatment of the trombone — something that’s really appealing to me. Here is this god who is initially strong, only to be destroyed and then come back stronger and more beautiful than before.
I’m loving AEJ’s idea. Now I need to give it some thought to figure out how to put it all together. Three movements? Two? Which movement should I start writing first? Should the entire piece by cyclical, sharing material between the beginning and end of the piece, but giving the material completely different treatment each time? My first though on that question is “yes.” Does this mean I should write the last movement first? Maybe.
And just because it doesn’t feel like a blog entry without a photograph, no matter how random, here’s a picture of Loki in his beanbag, taken with the 85mm f/1.2 L lens. I think this might be for Loki’s Christian music album cover.