About this Recording
FECD-0004 - ZWILICH: Chamber Symphony / Double Concerto / Symphony No. 2

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich


Raymond Chandler once criticized the intellectual establishment for its bloodless dissection of things that matter. A cutting off from the root. Case in point some contemporary composers have been guilty of language that is parched and calculated. Somewhere along the line, a few composers reacted to this.


Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. "Taaffe" as in safe - but her work is neither safe nor un-safe. "Zwilich" as in "Tillich" - and she has the courage to communicate. This is a composer who asks only that we do our part. It is not a question of historical perspective. She could be called a composer who resides in the abode which houses those ordained to define the new resurgence of meaning. But Ellen Taaffe Zwilich shares no allegiance to any of the "isms" advocated by the above.


A native of Miami, Florida, she studied with Ernst von Dohnanyi, one of the 20th century's most able bearers of Brahmsian romanticism. An accomplished violinist, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich departed for New York where she trained under Ivan Galamian. For seven years she was a member of the American Symphony Orchestra founded by Leopold Stokowski, an orchestra that created a great deal of excitement in the New York music scene throughout the 1960s. But what emerged during this period was that her true gift was in composition. Consequently, she pursued this at Juillard under both Elliot Carter and Roger Sessions.


What emerged was a disciple of neither of these esteemed figures, but a truly original voice - a voice which was honored in 1983 when her Symphony No.1 "Three Movements for Orchestra" received the coveted Pulitzer Prize for music. Since then, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich has consistently and successfully embraced the challenge of creating music that endures.


- Mark Yacovone


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania



Chamber Symphony


"Simple musical elements expressionistically touched on grief, outrage, bewilderment."

- Edward Rothstein, The New York Times


Chamber Symphony was written for the Boston Musica Viva, Richard Pittman, conductor, who premiered the piece shortly after its completion in November, 1979.


Scored for flute doubling piccolo, clarinet doubling bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and piano, the work is cast in a single movement which evolves from the initial material. Perhaps the most significant formal process in the piece is the development of long lines from shorter ideas. The character transformation that occurs in the course of thematic and motivic evolution is also of formal importance. In Chamber Symphony; the "orchestration" also contributes to the shape and meaning of the work. I sought both to exploit the solo capabilities of each instrument and to contrast that with the use of doublings and other devices to achieve an almost orchestral sound.


For me, however, the ultimate meaning of this Chamber Symphony is in connection with the fact that it was written not long after the sudden death of my husband, violinist Joseph Zwilich.


- Ellen Taaffe Zwilich



Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra (Double Concerto)


Composed in memory of sculptor Albert Wein


Comprising two thirds of the wonderful Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson team up for a penetrating and convincing excavation of the Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra. Although a product of the last decade of the 20th century, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's concern is not how we bow out of a century; rather, how we respond to the purity of a violin, cello, and orchestra.


This is a work for the soloists. Two exceptional players and two movements which allow the drama to unfold. And unfold it does. The sheer expressiveness of players propels the piece. Zwilich enjoys a mix and match of moods. Serenity and lyricism capture one's attention and then cascade into joyfulness.


- Mark Yacovone



Symphony No.2 "Cello"


The Symphony No.2 "Cello" came about in 1985 as a commission from Edo de Waart and the San Francisco Symphony. As the subtitle implies and Ellen Zwilich's following commentary articulates, this is a work that revels in splendor of the cello. The instrument's full range is laid bare in a seemingly endless voyage of discovery, allowing us to become the discoverers. The Louisville cello section is the star. Melding all of the work's disparate elements into a cohesive whole, the cellos emerge victorious. It is quite a feat. And what a generous composer to give them such a splendid cadenza in the first movement!


- Mark Yacovone


The following annotation by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich is reprinted from the original 1990 First Edition LP release.


A modern symphony orchestra can be expected to have an entire section of solo-quality cellists (violinists of that caliber might well be having solo careers), and my aim was to write a piece that would exploit the artistry and virtuosity of these players while exploring the "soul" of the instrument. To me, the cello is the quintessential singer among string instruments, encompassing, as it does, the entire human vocal range from the lowest bass voice to the highest soprano.


Another aspect of the cello that fascinates me is the enormous range of expression, so I wanted to explore a wide gamut of techniques and dramatic moods. Additionally, I find the sound of multiple cellos thrilling. For these reasons I decided I would combine concepts of symphonic development with a concerto attitude. The work bears the subtitle Cello Symphony because it is a symphony in which the cello section is the protagonist. In fact, the piece is virtually a concerto for the cello section, calling far highly virtuosic playing and exploring the full range and scope of the instrument. The first movement even has a cadenza for the cello section!


Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

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