Unveiling Rautavaara’s new Percussion Concerto…

Season 09/10 sees the world premire of a percussion concerto by one of the most well established composers ever to approach the medium – Einojuhani Rautavaara. The concerto came to exist as the result of my interest in this composer’s mesmeric and expansive  style, which combines immediately discernible romanticism with an air of adventure and the mysterious. Such works as “Cantus Arcticus” and “Angels and Visitations” were at the forefront of my mind in approaching him about the idea of a symphonic work for percussion and orchestra. I felt that the repertoire could benefit hugely from his  reflective dynamic, and whilst I have enjoyed recent success with the boisterous and the clamorous, it would be interesting to invest in a less obvious and in many ways more experimental collaboration.

The result, to be debuted in London, Rotterdam, Tampere and Baltimore this season in a collection of premieres is a concerto of very great intensity and scope. The opening orchestral tutti, which returns twice more in the work at key moments, has a wonderful Sibelius-like sweep and sets up what remains throughout to be a harmonic language that is rich, exotic and evocative. Working at the piano with the full score at present, I am constantly charmed by the unexpected, the glowing chord substitutions and the tenacious bass notes which so pull at the superficially simple 7th chords perched atop. I’m very excited too by his ambitious use of the percussion; I have spent weeks getting to grips with the closing section of the first movement which requires me to play in constant alteration tubular bells, crotales and marimba, which will result in one of the strongest and most sonorous passages yet to feature in a percussion concerto.

I’m also thrilled to be presenting my own cadenza in this concerto; about two minutes in duration it takes a variety of harmonic and thematic elements from the concerto and develops them as best this percussionist can, having some fun en route and finally some reflection of his own at the end to link the music back to the final minute or so of the piece. (Studying the score also left me with an interesting observation, in that Rautavaara’s harmonies occasionally take on those of Balinese Gamelan music, so my cadenza also reflects that overlap too).

I urge all those in proximity to come along to these concerts and engage in what will be a fascinating re-thinking of the percussion concerto; this is am extremely stirring piece of music and one not to be missed at this, its very first stages of presentation where the excitement will be especially keen.

I look forward to meeting you at London’s Royal Festival Hall as well as any of the other venues in question throughout the course of this season…

Best wishes, Colin.

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