Concerto for a Friend, part 2

Written by composer Eric Ewazen
Eric Paris B March 09 003
“Concerto for Marimba and String Orchestra” was written in the summer of 1999, and premiered in the summer of 2000 by She-e Wu, who commissioned the piece, and the Moments Musicales Orchestra of Taiwan,IMG_8467 under the direction of Paul Po Po Chiang. It was subsequently recorded by She-e Wu with the International Sejong Soloists.

I have always loved the sound of the marimba since I first became acquainted with the instrument when I went to college at the Eastman School of Music. It’s glorious golden tone, virtuosic and lyric capabilities, and uniqueness has made it a favorite instrument of mine. It is also an instrument that has been continually evolving over the last several decades. Since I first began composing for it, an entire extra octaveBP134-B was added below (in stages, interval by interval.) Having written a Marimba Solo in 1989, called Northern Lights, I was eager to subsequently write the concerto for this “new, expanded” instrument. That opportunity came in 2000 when She-e Wu contacted me.

Working with She-e was fantastic! I went over to her home, and she played several pieces for me — by Eric Samut, Joseph Schwantner and also my piece, Northern Lights. Her dazzling playing was inspiring. She displayed how expressively the marimba can be played, with a wide variety of dynamics and textures. I was so inspired by her playing I began composing the piece that night when I got home. As I wrote the piece I would give it to her, in some cases, even playing it for her over the telephone. We would get together, and I would hear her play passages of the music, getting and incorporating so many of her wonderful suggestions on how to make the piece idiomatic for the instrument. It was all great fun — and a true collaboration.
 

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The Concerto is in 3 movements, very much neoclassical in style. It is also a huge work requiring tremendous technique of the soloist, with regard to dexterity and musicality. The first movement opens with an introduction, a sonorous chorale which leads to a playful, energetic and joyful Allegro molto, with the marimba and the orchestra tossing melodies back and forth. The 2nd movement is an extended, lyrical song in an A-B-A form with the outer sections singing sweetly and gently and the middle section being quite dramatic, as the music soars. The final movement is a true rondo, influenced by my Eastern European roots, with folk-influenced music,gutsy and bold, alternating with playful contrasting themes. A grand return to the 1st movement chorale is the culmination of the piece, which leads to a final joyful coda.

The premiere of the piece took place in Taipei, Taiwan with Orchestra Moment Musicale, under the direction of Paul Po Po Chiang. The concert was dedicated to the firefighters of TaiwanIMG_8232 who lost their lives during the awful earthquake that struck the country in 2000. The poignancy of the 2nd movement served as a very fitting In memoriam to those heroes.

I am grateful to the Erie Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of Matthew Kraemer and my dear friend She-e Wu for introducing my piece to you this week.


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