Written for pianist Neil Rutman. Commissioned by the Astral Foundation. World Premiere: Neil Rutman, piano, with the Erie Philharmonic, conducted by Eiji Oue.
I. Allegro Risoluto
II. Fantasy-Nocturne ("Luka's Lullaby")
III. Presto Assai
Neil Rutman, piano; Erie Philharmonic, Eiji Oue, conductor:
From the composer's description in the program booklet of the world premiere performance:
While the modern concert grand developed from the great 19th century works for piano, it is also a tool in many popular forms of music which have developed over the last fifty years. It is from this perspective that I hope to have found my own voice in the majestic form of the piano concerto, and from which I speak musically as well as pianistically. The various sonorities and techniques of rock and jazz piano that my generation takes for granted are as idiomatic to the instrument as the great 19th century vocabulary of sounds. It would be impossible for me to ignore the techniques of the 19th century piano, but combined with, and set against, the newer sounds, I believe there is still something to be expressed in this form. It is my hope that the listener will feel something nicely familiar in my concerto: both the familiarity of the traditional, and of the rich variety of popular musics surrounding us at the present time.
The concerto, written between September 1992 and February 1993, is cast in the traditional three-movement form, with two fast outer movements surrounding a middle movement of slow, lyrical character. The first movement, Allegro Risoluto, is set in a free sonata-allegro form. The principal theme is heard at the outset by the unaccompanied piano in a cadenza-like declamatory statement. After a series of short episodes and a large orchestral tutti, a lilting syncopated motive is introduced by the piano as the second theme. Winds, and then strings, pick up this theme as a background to a sequence of variations on the first theme played by the piano. After a large climactic summation of these ideas, a development section follows in which the principal melody is treated in a slow and lyrical manner and the second theme appears in a canonic variation. An abbreviated recapitulation leads to a full cadenza which grows to become a brief and energetic coda to conclude the movement.
The second movement, Fantasy-Nocturne ("Luka's Lullaby"), is a tribute to my young son, Luka. Late one evening when I sat at the piano developing sketches for the concerto, I came upon a melody which suggested to me the quality of a lullaby. I thought of my then year-and-a-half old son Luka, asleep upstairs in his room, and reflected on the idea that he might be dreaming to the background of this melody as I played it. I considered the significant things and events at that stage in his life, and wondered what adventures he might be having in his sleep, and if my music provided the sound track. From these musings, I soon developed the concept for the movement: a theme and variations in which the theme (the lullaby) is played by the piano alone (representing Luka as he falls asleep to my playing), followed by a series of variations with orchestra, characterizing the adventures of his dreams. As Luka wakes up at the end of the movement, the orchestra (and the dominion of his dreams) gradually recedes, leaving the solo piano in a reprise of the opening lullaby theme, depicting Luka's return to his room and the sound of his father's playing once again. The sections of the movement are as follows: Theme (Luka's Lullaby); Luka Travels to the Land of Somnia; Luka Meets the Emperor of Ice Cream; Luka in the Hall of Telephones; Luka and the Dogs of Finazzo; Luka Recalls His Home; Luka Flees the Biting Children; Luka Reaches the Land of Dawn; Luka Climbs the Dayspring Ladder; Luka Down the Sun Slide; Luka's Awake.
The third movement, Presto Assai, is cast in a three-part scherzo/trio form. Following the initial scherzo material, a contrasting slower trio section develops a variation of the principal theme of the first movement, in maestoso fashion. After a return of the opening scherzo section, a brief coda brings the concerto to a swift and virtuosic conclusion.