The Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra was commissioned by the Frank Jerze Jr. Fund for the University of Southern California School of Music, Daniel Lewis, Lynn Harrell, and the USC Symphony.
As a young student I played violin, but when I entered the Prague Conservatory in 1940, I was immediately exposed to the solo violoncello as my teacher, the important Czech composer Jaroslav Ridky, was composing his Second Concerto. There is a great tradition for both composition for and solo performance of the cello not only including Dvořák, but composers such as Vořišek, Stamic, Mysliveček, Vranický, and Kraft – all have written concertos for this instrument.
After the war, I left Prague to pursue studies in Paris and had the chance to hear the French school and its great cellists. Yet, until now, I have written for this five-octave-range instrument only in my chamber and orchestral music. It was then a great pleasure to be invited to write a concerto for Lynn Harrell, whom I have admired for a long time.
Because of the rich literature for this instrument, many sonorities, much of technique and some of the highest ranges have already been explored (especially when we include the harmonic pitches, we can even extend the five-octave-range). Hopefully, I have found some new paths, but mostly I have been concerned in writing music that would belong to our time, music of today. Naturally, as the title suggests, a concerto is a work in which the virtuosic (and technical) aspect of the solo part as well as the dialogue between the cellist and the orchestra are of great importance. Also, I hope, it will reflect the enjoyment of music making and listening, the excitement of living in this world of much progress, yet with such basic problems as freedom, respect for men and nature unfulfilled.
The concerto is composed in four parts. In this first part, Introduction, the cello solo begins in the lowest register in unison with all the cellos in the orchestra. Progressively, it detaches itself to become an independent voice and performs soloistically in the following Recitative. Remembrance is a slow, meditative movement. The last part is a Hymn, climaxing at the conclusion in which the cello solo soars up to its highest register, perhaps reminiscent of a flight of birds – albatross comes to my mind – but it would be presumptuous to think one could succeed in appropriately expressing such a magnificent exploit.
The Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra was composed in 1987-88 in Ithaca, New York.