Sinfonia Concertante in C
for Oboe, Bassoon, Fortepiano, Violin, Violoncello, and Orchestra.
One movement in three parts: Allegro spiritoso – Andantino grazioso – Tempo primo
Scoring: Flute, Principal Oboe, Oboe II, Principal Bassoon, Bassoon II, 2 Horns in C, 2 Trumpets in C, Timpani, Fortepiano, Principal Violin, Principal Violoncello, Strings
Composed: January 10 - March 10, 2017
Commissioned by Billy Traylor, Director, Austin Baroque Orchestra.
The Sinfonia Concertante is a form that had its heyday of popularity in the second half of the 18th Century. It is essentially a concerto for two or more solo instruments (five in this case) with orchestral accompaniment. It is considered to have emerged from the concerto grosso of the Baroque period, and is a cross-over form incorporating elements of the concerto and the symphony. Ordinarily, as with the concerto and symphony of the same period, it is in multiple movements, usually three or more. However, the present work was conceived as a single-movement work in three contiguous parts, contrasting in key and tempo (similar to an early opera overture) at the request of the commissioner, who also requested that the entire piece be less than 10 minutes long. As is often the case, all the principal players play ripieno with the orchestra when not performing a solo part, and likewise the fortepiano plays figured continuo when not soloing. The instrumentation is nearly identical to that of the Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat (1792) by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), the addition of the concertatofortepiano being the only difference - again at the request of the commissioner - and I studied that work extensively before and during the writing of this piece. Perhaps the most famous example of this form is the Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra (1779) by W.A. Mozart (1756-1791).
There is a lot going on in this piece. Not only is the form condensed, but much of the time the texture is such that there is a very active quintet layered on top of an orchestra, as if it were a chamber work and an orchestral work all at once.
I found the feedback I got from the soloists during rehearsals very interesting indeed. The oboist complained that I called for E and E-flat above high-C from him, which for a skillful player should be doable even on a period Classical oboe; and in fact he cracked both of them in performance. The bassoonist was thrilled with her part, saying that what I had written was not only reasonably playable, but very idiomatic for the instrument and a lot of fun to play. The fortepianist (who played my own Peter Fisk fortepiano for the performance) had nothing to say at all, but I got a sense that perhaps his part wasn’t demanding enough, because he was often tempted to rush the tempo. The violinist and ‘cellist both got after me for taking them too high without adequate preparation, which I found very strange; being a string player myself, I know for certain that any player worth his salt should be able to jump to a high position and begin playing without having to be led up there through a series of position shifts, even in 18th Century music. At any rate, I was not persuaded by anything I heard from the players to make even the slightest change to the music, and with a knowing smile I nodded and expressed condolences where necessary, but did nothing to assuage their discomfort where there was any. It is a concerted work after all, and meant to be challenging – and if Mozart had written it, there wouldn’t have been a peep out of anyone.
This work was premiered on May 26, 2018 by the Austin Baroque Orchestra – on period instruments! It was my first performance of one of my pieces to have been performed by such an ensemble, and it was most gratifying. I have been trying to get a live recording of the piece ever since, but the Director is hesitant to give it to me because there were a few mistakes made here and there. It was an excellent performance, nonetheless, but he’s a perfectionist. I’ll keep after him! In the meantime, I hope the present electronic rendering will serve. Enjoy, and by all means let me know what you think.