Tuesday, October 05, 2004
Writing a Piano Concerto
An excerpt from the first movement of my Piano Concerto No. 1.
I've been writing a piano concerto. And I've reached that stage with it where my mind is stimulated by all the different ways of presenting, manipulating and orchestrating raw ideas. Which is the true appeal of composing. Hearing a final work performed is a thrill. But performances are too rare to be the singular driving force to keep writing. Composing is a solitary dialogue. And stylistically, with my compositions, this dialogue orbits around harmonic conceptions.
I've been thinking about writing a piano concerto for some time. There are many great concertos to draw inspiration from. I’ve been drawn to the Arnold Schoenberg Piano Concerto Op. 42 (1942) lately. I’ve also spent some time marveling at the Piano Concerto No. 2 (1978) by Teizo Matsumura. Normally I reserve my composition energies for smaller chamber ensembles and the odd electronic work. The concerto for piano and orchestra is a relatively old medium. The sheer scale of the instrumentation seems daunting and the excellent literature for it is intimidating. There’s a sense of “seriousness” attached to it. A pervasive feeling that a “serious” composer’s body of works should include at least one piano concerto and perhaps a number of other concertos featuring other instruments as well.
There's no shortage of obituaries proclaiming the death of the orchestra both as a performing institution and viable medium for 21st century composition. I have no connections with any active orchestras or conductors and don't really know if or when I might hear this particular work performed. But I can't stop thinking about writing this piece. The ideas seem compelling. The prospect of never being published and/or read isn't enough to stop the novelist driven by the force of creative necessity. If anything, such independence frees me from the political constraints of having to second-guess the peculiarities of a real-world institution’s aesthetic prejudices and the political games associated with striving to conform to a particular “movement” or “-ism.” I’m free to explore my own ideas and draw completely from internal sensibilities. It becomes an act of faith that an honest effort might one day be presented for external ears, minds and hearts.
I currently have a near-complete set of pre-composition notes outlining the full form of the piece as well as formal descriptions of how each instrument is to be tuned in preparation for this particular work. The first movement is in a final state (I. Prelude). The second movement is on its third draft as work out the specifics of orchestrating a particularly thick texture. As I get closer to having a complete work I’ll have to start digging around for possible places to submit the full work for consideration (I’m toying with the idea of sending a score to the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, who I admire a great deal). Self-promotion is a tricky business. For now, just working at something that feels so close to my personal sensibilities feels like its own reward.