Augusta Read Thomas : Violin Concerto No. 3, Juggler in Paradise
Related WorksViola ConcertoFirst performance:
January 16, 2009
Frank-Peter Zimmermann, violin
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
Andrey Boreyko, conductor
Salle Pleyel, Paris, France
I think of my compositions as luminous, crystalline poems very precise yet ablaze with spontaneous life and human spirit. [Gerard Manley] Hopkins poems are burning off the page they’re so hot, imaginative, creative and full of explosively gorgeous images and words, even (or perhaps especially) when the words are quiet, subtle and slight. Ditto with Emily Dickinson. Every word is like a miniature bomb. Poets’ beautiful utterances, elegantly crafted, in blazing juxtapositions remain vastly inspiring to me and my music for their meanings, sounds and concision.Composer note:
Augusta Read Thomas
Flowering across a 20-minute arch, Violin Concerto No. 3
, can be thought of as a series of poetic outgrowths and variations, which are organic and, at every level, concerned with transformations and connections. The violin solo is present for almost 100% of the sweeping arc, serving as the protagonist as well as fulcrum point on and around which all musical force-fields rotate, bloom and proliferate.
The work begins with a slow, spacious, elegant solo for violin, accompanied, at first, by delicate sounds in the harps and percussion. Steadily the orchestration thickens, providing natural momentum for the soloist’s necessity to continue “singing” with an inner energy that is ever so gradually becoming animated and increasingly characterized. With each new phrase, across a 14-minute arch, the tempos quicken. At the point when the bongo drums’ solos appear, the music progressively becomes playful, spry and jazzy. This builds into an all-out 3-minute romp – loud, punchy, virtuosic and athletic! Toward the end of the gambol, there is the option for the soloist to play a 30-second cadenza providing it is in the style, syntax and language of the composition and continues a high level of rhythmic energy. The intensity climaxes, ends and we are suddenly in a spacious landscape. A feeling of timeless space leads to the final 3-minutes of the composition, which is dreamy - as if the soloist was delicately floating while chanting an ardent incantation.
The work's subtitle, “Juggler in Paradise” is a poetic image for the way solo and orchestra relate, a continuous rhapsodic cadenza set against colorful 'paradisiacal constellations'. It's physical, too: dance is often close by. When the violin starts to speed up, the score suggests playing 'as if "juggling" the notes, rhythms, articulations'; and further on, 'like several objects in motion, in the air'. The animated, quicksilver orchestrations, at times pointillist like a Seurat paining, at other times akin to bold brush strokes, full and brassy, are continuously juggling and flexibly rearranging.
Augusta Read Thomas
The Schumann scores bookended the U.S. premiere of Violin Concerto No. 3, "Juggler in Paradise," by Augusta Read Thomas. This NSO co-commission represents a significant addition to the repertoire.
Structured in a single, 20-minute span, the vividly orchestrated score "juggles" ideas and rhythms to create an absorbing dialogue between soloist and orchestra. There's a lot of jaunty, pointillistic writing that gradually builds up to what suggests Bernstein's jazziest dances from "West Side Story" -- but on speed.
An enormous percussion battery is employed, with the bongos providing extra color, but the violin nonetheless holds its own, eventually taming the orchestra in a concluding section of rapt lyricism.
Jennifer Koh was the confident, communicative soloist. She enjoyed supple partnering from Eschenbach, vivid interaction from the NSO.
Tim Smith, Baltimore Sun, 13/06/2011
Augusta Read Thomas writes music that is dense and smart but also listenable. Thick with complex rhythms, bright with textures, dappled with particular shades of dissonance alternating with snatches of melody, it doesn’t blatantly try to seduce the hearer, but it doesn’t want to be off-putting, either.
Hers is emphatic music, making its points with a care that approaches the finicky, but it’s always looking over its shoulder to make sure that you’re following.
Its blend of intellect and accessibility makes her music very popular with orchestra programmers and conductors. Indeed, all of the National Symphony Orchestra’s recent conductors have liked her music; the orchestra has played eight of her pieces since 1992, when Mstislav Rostropovich led the world premiere of her first symphony, “Air and Angels,” on the season’s opening night. And though the co-commission for her third violin concerto, Juggler in Paradise, was made in 2007, well before Christoph Eschenbach was appointed music director of the NSO, Eschenbach likes her music so much that he opted to conduct the work’s American premiere in his last program of his first season, offered Thursday night.
… a 20-minute arc in which the violin trails through the orchestra and accumulates sounds, like a strand of string picking up sugar crystals to form rock candy. Thomas makes emphatic gestures built of sometimes unperceived subtleties, repeating them, with a kind of stuttering effect, to make sure you’ve got it.
Juggler in Paradise — its epithet perhaps one of the less successful of Thomas’s signature poetic titles — is a Harlequin-like piece spangled with bells and wood blocks, in which the violin solos are often joined by bongo drums, or lead into passages of big-band jazziness. At one point, the orchestra held its breath for a solo bongo cadenza, then pounced with a quick powerful chord, like a cat leaping on a mouse….
Jennifer Koh, who played the piece at the Proms in 2009 — it had its world premiere in Paris earlier that year — gave an expressive, strong performance, epitomizing the kind of tough grace that’s present in the music, almost in spite of its tendency to fussiness.
Anne Midgette, Washington Post, 10/06/2011
The American composer Augusta Read Thomas calls her newest violin concerto (her third) Juggler in Paradise, and its circus tricks are certainly spangled across a colourful sky. Bright, dappled effects — Read Thomas likens them to the pointillist style of Georges Seurat — are speckled across a small orchestra whose full power is never heard, but whose glistening, open textures are primarily drawn from the bell-like sonorities of celeste, piano and percussion.
Neil Fisher, The Times (London), 11/09/2009
The UK premiere of the third violin concerto by the US composer Augusta Read Thomas was the most engaging part of the programme. Thomas's concerto sets a lyrical solo part, played with great style by Jennifer Koh, against refreshingly spare orchestral writing that conveyed a great sense of space and brightness...In effect, it was less a concerto than a long violin cadenza with an accompaniment of bell-like orchestral effects.
Martin Kettle, The Guardian, 10/09/2009
The subtitle of American composer Augusta Read Thomas’s Third Violin Concerto, Juggler in Paradise (a BBC co-commission, receiving its UK premiere), is apparently metaphorical. Relating to the interaction of soloist and orchestra, it hints both at the athletic part given the solo violin and the almost celestial regions inhabited by the orchestra.
At the start of the work it is the violin that establishes that sphere, though it is soon surrounded by an aura of bell-like sounds produced by harp, celesta, vibraphone, glockenspiel and indeed tubular chimes. Before long the soloist has embarked on her juggling act, a pointillistic technique in which a nervous, spiky effect is ameliorated by the soft plops of marimba and crotales.
There are few if any grand statements by the whole orchestra: more in the way of mini-discussions among groups of instruments, with a gathering of forces for a brief exclamation before a return to the rarefied spheres high above the stave.
Soloist Jennifer Koh, comfortable at the top of her fingerboard, brought a sweet tone and secure technique to the latest offering from this prolific American composer.
Barry Millington, London Evening Standard, 10/09/2009