About this Recording
8.559824 - FUCHS, K.: Piano Concerto, "Spiritualist" / Poems of Life / Glacier / Rush (Biegel, A.N. Cohen, Sparr, McAllister, London Symphony, Falletta)

Kenneth Fuchs (b. 1956)
Piano Concerto ‘Spiritualist’ • Poems of Life • Glacier • Rush


Helen Frankenthaler’s work has made a significant impact on my creative life. I was first introduced to it in 1983 by the PBS Television documentary “Helen Frankenthaler – Toward a New Climate.” Through absorbing her free creative aesthetic and my personal encounters with her, I began to find my own creative path and surmount the doctrinaire rhetoric of avant-garde musical composition that prevailed at the time. My Piano Concerto is the fourth work I have composed inspired by Frankenthaler’s visual images. I had been captivated for several years by the idea of using three of her large canvases as the basis for a musical journey in a three-movement piano concerto for my Juilliard colleague Jeffrey Biegel. The titles of the paintings (which are also the titles of the movements), are Spiritualist, Silent Wish, and Natural Answer. Taken together, the paintings and their titles suggest a logical progression visually, emotionally, and musically. The concerto represents my mature musical style, incorporating hallmarks of the American symphonic school, rigorous counterpoint, and aspects of minimalism. The first movement, Spiritualist, in modified sonata-allegro form, is optimistic and playful. The woodwinds introduce a jocular rhythmic motive that the piano comments upon and extends melodically. The piano subsequently introduces two themes, one rhythmic and robust, the other lyrical and legato. The development section features the piano and orchestral sections tossing back and forth virtuosic riffs on the intervallic and melodic material introduced in the exposition. The recapitulation develops the lyrical theme which, in its newly developed form, will appear as the rondo theme in the third movement finale. The second movement, Silent Wish, in modified rondo form, is introspective and reflective. The piano begins with a slow version of the rhythmic theme, then introduces a version of the lyrical theme as a gymnopédie. Two violent orchestral outbursts utilizing all twelve tones interrupt the ambient atmosphere. The piano reiterates the gymnopédie, attempting to pacify the orchestral furor. Slowly, the piano rises from the depths of the instrument to make a Silent Wish and embraces a diatonic musical cryptogram including the pitches F–C– H–S derived from my surname and the German letter names for two pitches: H for B natural and S for E flat. The orchestra quietly ruminates on these pitches as the piano intones one last fragment of the gymnopédie and brings the movement to quiet repose. The third movement, Natural Answer, in modified rondo form, is energetic and optimistic, combining previous mottos and themes and interpolates jazzy syncopated rhythms. The piano and orchestra race to a brilliant and jubilant conclusion. I am grateful to Jeffrey Biegel for organizing the commission of this work by individual donors and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (Massachusetts) and the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra (West Virginia).

Poems of Life is an orchestral song cycle that sets to music twelve poems from Judith G. Wolf’s volume of poetry Otherwise. The poems weave a narrative of love, the pain of loss through death, emotional transformation through grief, and spiritual enlightenment. Poems of Life is cast in five separate movements, in each of which the component poems are set continuously. The work is scored for countertenor, the protagonist of the work; solo cello, the instrumental doppelgänger of the protagonist’s spirit and emotions; and solo English horn, the spirit of the lost beloved. My lifelong friend and musical champion JoAnn Falletta introduced me to Judith Wolf, who commissioned me to set her poetry to music. Special thanks to vocal coach and accompanist David Krane, who prepared Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen for this recording and the premiere performances with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

Although electric guitar is a powerfully expressive instrument, there are few concertos for it in the classical genre. Glacier (Concerto for Electric guitar and Orchestra), commissioned by the Bozeman Symphony Orchestra, is a five-movement virtuoso concerto inspired by the sweeping vistas of Montana. Each movement is based on my aural conception of the natural elements in Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. The first movement, Glacier: Tranquillo, is meant to suggest the glacial mass as seen from a distance. The opening jazz chord introduces the harmonic motive of the concerto, while the soloist intones the melodic motive that undergoes transformation through the remainder of the work. The second movement, Rivulets: Moderato, meant to suggest streams of water, is an étude on sixteenth notes in five-part rondo form with a solo cadenza. The third movement, Vapor: Misterioso, inspired by mist rising from geysers, has a transparent orchestral texture upon which the soloist improvises a modified version of the harmonic motive. The fourth movement, Stone: Vivace, suggesting through sharp, syncopated rhythms the hard edges of stone, is a seven-part rondo that concludes with the soloist trading virtuosic riffs with the full orchestra. A final cadenza leads to the coda-finale. Going to the Sun: Tranquillo, a musical ode to the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road in northwest Montana, is a simple gymnopédie based on a rising lyrical version of the melodic motive intoned over two alternating major seventh chords.

Rush (Concerto for Alto saxophone and Orchestra) was commissioned by Ryan Janus, then principal saxophonist of the United States Air Force Academy Band, and a consortium of 37 saxophonists and ensemble conductors throughout the United States. The work, composed in versions for both band and orchestra, is composed in two movements. The first, which begins with a short cadenza that introduces the thematic material of the work, is a rhapsodic Adagietto with transparent textures. The second movement, which begins with an extended cadenza that introduces blue notes into the harmonic language, is cast in the form of a jazz-inflected passacaglia. The orchestra interjects a series of syncopated chords, and the soloist then intones the passacaglia theme. The orchestra takes up the theme and with the soloist weaves an elaborate tapestry of ten variations based on the theme and the syncopated chords. The soloist concludes the concerto with a bravura display.

Kenneth Fuchs

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