At one point in my life I resolved that I would never write a violin concerto. I no longer recall why exactly I made this resolution; perhaps it was sour grapes, as all of my attempts at violin writing up to that point had been failures. (The audience is invited to comment on how well I did this time around.) Nonetheless, I promptly forgot all about it upon receiving a commission on behalf of Joshua Bell. The resulting one-movement concerto features much dialogue between soloist and orchestra; while it opens with an orchestral introduction, a practice first developed in the 1700s and 1800s in order to accommodate latecoming aristocrats so that they would not miss the "main event," it also contains many virtuosic passages showing off the full range of the violin. Throughout, the concerto contains a variety of dancelike elements, (the motionless opening aside), from the 7/8 orchestral hammer-blows of the exposition to the extended accelerando at the end.
The main theme of the piece is introduced by woodwinds and glockenspiel. A short cadenza for the soloist leads into the first of three major divisions of the piece. The first division consists of the orchestral exposition and the soloist exposition, introducing three distinct themes. The second division is slower and more lyrical, corresponding to the Classical Adagio. The third division, or finale, is a restatement of the first division with the major elements reorganized in a sort of frenzied dervish dance, interrupted only by a march rhythm in the middle. The work concludes with the introductory theme, this time harmonized and scored for full orchestra.
28 October 2007
Joshua Bell, violin
Orchestra of St. Luke's
Robert Abbado, conductor
Carnegie Hall, New York City
Mr. Greenberg's concerto provides evidence of strikingly rapid development. Though cast in a single 24-minute span, it effectively adheres to the time-honored model of three contrasting movements. An ethereal orchestral introduction and a devilish cadenza for the soloist bring on an animated swirl of frisky, odd-meter rhythms. Mr. Bell dispatched passages of dizzying intricacy with apparent ease; the orchestra, conducted by Roberto Abbado, played with ample spirit but occasionally sounded breathless.
Mr. Greenberg reiterates his knack for creative orchestration, including an increasingly subtle use of percussion. But transitions often feel abrupt. A sudden gear-shift leads to a seductive adagio, which showcased Mr. Bell's lyricism. Another ushers in a more mysterious passage, in which the soloist's melodies are passed among orchestral players.
The frenzied whirl that opens the concerto returns in the rowdy final section, where it is temporarily disrupted by a military march. Gleefully jigging motifs and bawdy brass outbursts rush by before a climactic passage strikingly similar to the finale of Barber's concerto. A final growling thrust from the orchestra is neatly parried by the soloist in the work's affirmative conclusion.
Steve Smith, The New York Times, 30/10/2007
Greenberg skillfully leads the listener through a gamut of emotions with touches of 21st-century tonality, excitement and lyricism.
It's a compelling addition to the genre, and was a perfect companion to Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto, which Bell played earlier in Sunday's program.
Martin Steinberg, Associated Press, 29/10/2007