Commissioned by the Tanglewood Music Center, through the generous support of the Mervyn Geffen M.D. and Norman Solomon M.D. New Commissions Fund.
First performance by Brent Besner, Clarinet, and fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center, August 2010.
1. With Vigour 2. Free and Enigmatic 3. Calmo
There is usually some sort of extra-musical starting point for my pieces, and for the Clarinet Concerto this was ‘The Cracked Bell’ by Baudelaire. In a short space of time the work seemed to take over and move further away the original stimulus, with the character and interactive roles of the soloist and ensemble were suggested by the wintry, evocative atmosphere of the poem.
The piece opens with declamatory, cadenza-like passages in the clarinet that are in turn commented on by the ensemble. A more playful section, where the clarinet line is very virtuosic, leads to a long, gently-unfolding melody in the ensemble that begins in the depths of the bass register and gradually gets much higher. Virtuosic clarinet lines interject against the accompaniment, and both pursue their own course until culminating in a high, impassioned melody for the clarinet, coloured by fast-moving passage work in the higher registers of ensemble. The movement ends with the ‘call and response’ lines of its opening.
The second movement opens with an extended solo for the clarinet in its haunting chalumeau register. With each rising phrase, the clarinet line gets higher until the ensemble enters in unison. The movement becomes much faster and energetic from this point, with brisk, fleeting lines for soloist and ensemble.
The third movement is the most reflective of the three. It opens with a flute solo leading to the solo clarinet line, and makes much of the poignant singing style which is so characteristic of the instrument. A melancholy falling passage in the ensemble becomes a recurring feature before the clarinet refers to the piece’s opening in a more impassioned section. The piece closes with gentle descending scales in the ensemble, dying away to nothing.