About this Recording
8.559840 - HARBERG, A: Viola Concerto / Elegy / WOLPERT, M.: Viola Concerto No. 1, "Giants" (Deubner, Southern Arizona Symphony, Lerner)

Amanda Harberg (b. 1973) • Max Wolpert (b. 1993)
Viola Concertos


Amanda Harberg strives to find emotional and spiritual meaning through music. Composer John Corigliano says, “Amanda Harberg writes truly beautiful music. This is rare in our time—in fact, in any time. She touches the soul and invigorates the brain at the same time. I love her work.” Harberg has been commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Sound All Around series, the Dorian Wind Quintet, the Grand Rapids Symphony, the Albany Symphony’s Dogs of Desire and the New York Youth Symphony First Music Program, among many other ensembles and individuals. Harberg’s music is published by Theodore Presser Company, and has been recorded on Naxos, Koch International, American Modern Recordings, Albany and Centaur Records. Her Clarinet Sonata sold out within two hours after its performance at the International Clarinet Association’s ClarinetFest in 2016, and in the same year she received a first place Newly Published Music Award from the National Flute Association. Other awards include a 2014 New Jersey State Council on the Arts fellowship, a Fulbright/Hays Fellowship, the New York Youth Symphony’s First Music Award, a New York State Council on the Arts fellowship, and Juilliard’s Peter Mennin Prize for outstanding accomplishment. Harberg currently teaches composition at Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts and at the Interlochen Arts Camp. Harberg lives with her family in Glen Ridge, NJ, where she is the founder and artistic director of the Music in Montclair series. To find out more, please visit www.amandaharberg.com.

Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (2011/12)

The Concerto for Viola and Orchestra was written for violist Brett Deubner. The first movement is a meditation on flight. The two trumpets that introduce the work evoke a pair of eagles perched high in the trees; then the wind of an orchestral arpeggio carries us to the viola soloist, who introduces the main soaring theme of the movement. A dance-like middle section, full of playful acrobatics and interactions between the viola and the orchestra, comes to a climax as the main soaring melody re-enters, this time in sweeping counterpoint with the secondary dancelike theme. The cadenza develops the opening theme and resolves with the eagles quickly and powerfully racing up into the sky.

The second movement is a meditation on the fragility of life. It opens with a viola rising gently out of simple harp arpeggios. The piece flows seamlessly from beginning to end, with one long rising and falling line, which is articulated through the rich sound of the viola, punctuated periodically by gentle orchestral responses. The movement arcs twice, with the viola working its way up to its highest register in pleading gestures, and then falling away to a place of peaceful surrender.

The third movement is about celebration. A steady rhythmic groove propels this movement. Low string pizzicati quietly emerge as the last chord of the aria fades away. Snake-like woodwinds have a prominent role in this movement and they enter mysteriously in the orchestral introduction, which gradually builds, heralding the entrance of the viola’s driving and syncopated main theme. A brass chorale evolves from the first four notes of the viola’s initial statement, and then transitions into a lush, expressive secondary theme, set against a backdrop of shimmering strings. The movement is full of energetic dialogue and exchanges between the orchestra and the viola soloist. In the finale, the two principal themes are tossed back and forth, finally uniting joyfully in the coda.

Elegy (2007)

Elegy began as a prayer. The initial musical ideas came to me when I found out that my beloved piano teacher, Marina Grin, was terminally ill. But the full realization of the piece only emerged spontaneously after I learned of her passing. Elegy is dedicated to the memory of Marina Grin, who first showed me how to live a life in music.

Originally for violin and piano, Amanda Harberg arranged Elegy for viola and string orchestra for Brett Deubner.

Amanda Harberg

Fiddler, composer, and storyteller Max Wolpert conjures up monsters and myth where the traditional, classical, and theatrical meet.

Drawing from tradition both musical and mythological, Wolpert makes music inspired by stories from around the world. Whether built upon the verve and bounce of an Irish jig, the endearing asymmetry of a Welsh pipe tune, or the drive of a Virginian breakdown, his pieces are crafted with taut detail and a flair for the dramatic honed over years as a pit musician, conductor, and orchestrator for theatrical productions.

Wolpert ’s latest work for viola, St. Melangell’s Voyage Across the Sea, wields the unsung hero of the orchestra to call up the thrill of storms, the solitude of the forest, and the rather improbable tale of a prince, a hermit, and an unusually-perceptive rabbit.

His two string quartets, Myths and Song of Four, serve as pedagogical tools to introduce the classical musician to traditional forms and improvisation, and in performance bring forth an Irish war goddess, two enchanted ravens, a young girl with dreams of piracy, and a ferociously contrapuntal chase through a twisting labyrinth.

Wolpert is dedicated to music education and is a passionate advocate for new music. He encourages his students and collaborators to explore stories and traditions that spark the imagination, and to bring forth the outlandish, the macabre, and the magic inherent in music.

Viola Concerto No. 1 ‘Giants’ (2015)

Over the years I’ve come to notice many shared concepts and images in the stories which inspire much of my music. One of these common threads is that notion best summed up by the line from Genesis 6:4: ‘There were giants in the earth in those days’—the implication of course being that there were giants in those days, but not today; they are long gone; the magic is disappearing; the world is getting smaller. To encapsulate this notion, this concerto is framed around a melodic interval which gradually diminishes and draws together; thus, the first movement is built on an ascending perfect fifth, the second movement on an ascending perfect fourth, and the third movement on an ascending major third. This work was written for and is dedicated to Brett Deubner, whose unbridled zeal and diligence in championing new music is a tremendous inspiration.

Father Time

The personification of time as an old man with a long white beard is fairly commonplace, but this movement focuses on one of his more intriguing depictions: CS Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, in which Father Time is the ‘giant of giants’ who sleeps in the caverns at the bottom of the world, and who wakes only at the end of days to blow his horn and call the stars down from the sky. Here, the giant’s pleasant dreams of the world above are depicted by the lyrical solo viola (accompanied by gently pulsing strings), and it is only after the horn call’s reminder that things begin to grow calamitous. Col legno strings tick ominously away underneath frantic counterpoint until, at last, a tolling chime indicates that the time has come. The return of lyricism offers a moment of hope, before a trumpet sounds the call again and the world comes to an end in a fiery orchestral tutti.

The Golden Harp

Another common thread in our shared cultural mythology is the idea that giants don’t primarily dwell here, in our world, but in some kind of mystical over there, whether it be high on a mountain, or on the other side of a magical river, or, as is the case here, up in the clouds. As our world collapses into disaster, the gently rolling sound of a harp invites us to look upward, into the castle of a giant who possesses a magical harp which can play by itself. Indeed, as long as the harp continues its hypnotic 15/8 ostinato, the giant remains placidly asleep, but when it finally stops he comes awake and shouts four thundering orchestral syllables (I’ll note only that the first of these, the raised fourth pitch of the scale, is described by a solfège syllable pronounced ‘Fee,’ and say no more). Eventually, the harp resumes and lulls the giant back to sleep, and the movement comes to a placid close.

Dance of the Cloud Women

Whether it be the crackling virtuosity of Vivaldi’s Summer, the frantic energy of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, or the truly terrifying power of Strauss’s Alpine Symphony, there is a grand history of orchestral music depicting thunderstorms. In stories, there is also a strong relationship between such storms and the supernatural, be it Thor the Thunderer smiting the jötnar with his hammer, Tolkien’s stone-giants hurling rocks at each other through the rain, or Rip Van Winkle’s mountain men playing ninepins in the clouds. And while we tiny people have good reason to fear this weather (as brilliantly depicted by these cornerstones of the classical repertoire), it’s always seemed to me that anything capable of causing thunderstorms must find them rather more fun than we do. So, this movement is inspired by the idea of a thunderstorm, not as a natural disaster, but as a wild dance party. Rhythmically driven, with a Balkan-influenced groove, the movement powers along (with a brief calm interlude and playful cadenza) before bringing the concerto to a boisterous finish.

Max Wolpert

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