Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Double Concerto Vol II No. 1

[Photo of David Ludwig and conductor Sarah Hicks (who will conduct David's piece) courtesy of Mr. Ludwig.]
I kept a blog for the Vermont Symphony while writing my last big piece for them—a cello concerto that Margo Tatgenhorst (now Drakos) played.  That was three years ago and I wrote the bulk of the music at the MacDowell colony.  I’m currently at an “undisclosed location” working away again at my next VSO piece, a double concerto for Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson.  It’s over six weeks before the deadline, and I feel under the gun every day.  I can’t imagine it any other way, however, because so much creative work is produced under deadline and always has been.  Sure, there are pieces that take years to compose—big pieces like operas or long ballet scores.  But it appears that composers of these pieces write them in piecemeal, repeatedly coming back to them as they finish other smaller works along the way.

A deadline is a great source of inspiration—most any artist will agree.  There’s a psychology there, as if your brain unconsciously knows it’s time to start producing and so, it (hopefully) does, opening the spigot more and more as you get nearer to the destination.  A working artist needs some command over this process, or every single work will be a stressful race to the finish.  There is often some cramming going on, but one has to be very careful going deadline to deadline to pace oneself, or the work will get compromised and perhaps remain in draft form.

The concert that will premiere the double concerto has a theme, already.  The first piece is a lovely and elegant work by Vermont composer Jorge Martin called “Romance.”  I first heard it while reviewing pieces for the orchestra’s 75th anniversary seasons (they are taking two years to celebrate).  This year will be only pieces written since the orchestra has been extant, and the motto is “Music of Our Time.”  Jorge’s piece was originally written for the “Made in Vermont” tour a few years ago, and he’s re-arranged it for full orchestra.  I’m psyched to hear it—it’s a lush piece that I think will be well-served by the richer instrumentation.

The second half of the program is Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.”  This is one of my favorite pieces, and I’m not alone.  Some people don’t love Prokofiev, but I find myself strangely attracted to his music—even more than to Shostakovich. Pretty much everyone enjoys this piece, though, which is excerpted from a larger score of program music.  The music is so brilliantly compelling and descriptive.  There’s always something special about the surface of his music; some sonority or little orchestrational touch that transforms the music from mundane to glorious.  I think that this piece and “Alexander Nevsky” are his finest orchestral works, but there are so many…So many works we never hear, including much of the bombastic propaganda pieces he was forced to write under the Stalinist yoke.  If he had only written “Romeo and Juliet,” he’d still be great.

So back to the theme—it’s love.  And maybe not love, but “Love.”  I’m sure someone will want to connect it to Valentine’s day, which is only three weeks after the premiere, but I must say I’m more interested in the darker side of Love than the chocolates and batted eyelashes—musically speaking, at least.  I have decided to go with the flow and make my piece about Love, too.  I’ll describe the architecture-slash-game-plan-slash-program of the double concerto.

The piece is three substantial movements, with two interludes in between.  Each movement draws from a story of love.  And these are types of love, as the philosophers tell us there are types.  The first movement is of “Eros,” and I’ve used the Greek myth of Calypso as its inspiration.  For want of a better description, it’s about sex.  The last time the two people in the story will ever see each other sex.  Calypso the nymph will be left alone for eternity when Odysseus leaves the next day.  The first interlude for violin and percussion will be her solitary dance.

The second movement is of “Agape,” or my version of “Courtly Love.”  This is the subject of the troubadours—love for the unattainable, unrequited, honored and esteemed far beyond the puerile concerns of “Eros.”  And I will continue here in the next installment.

If anyone can think of a title...please drop me a line!