LESHNOFF Chamber Concerto

Chamber Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (2015)

It’s not difficult to understand why this professor of music at Towson University is being embraced by the music world. Leshnoff writes music that is emotionally powerful, melodically rich, elegantly orchestrated, harmonically innovative, and thoroughly accessible. Unlike many composers working today, he is unafraid to tackle the traditional big genres of classical music: symphonies, concertos, oratorios, and string quartets. “My aesthetic is to breath new, invigorating life into time-honored traditions and forms,” he says.

Concertos have been a particular Leshnoff speciality; he has now written ten of them, including works for two percussionists, for trombone, and for cello. Many audience members may remember his Guitar Concerto commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony and Manuel Barrueco, which was premiered here in January 2014. His Chamber Concerto for Violin and Orchestra commissioned by Shriver Hall Concerts for Gil Shaham and the Knights joins this illustrious list.

“When I write a concerto,” says Leshnoff, “I have to become the instrument. It’s a double refraction: it has to go through me and then through the solo instrument. I have to become a violin and produce what it sounds like, what it likes to do.” In the case of this instrument, Leshnoff has the benefit of being a violinist himself.

For his chamber orchestra, Leshnoff chose roughly the same orchestral scoring that is used in Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto: pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets in addition to strings. The concerto is in two highly contrasted movements, which showcase the violin’s different capacities.

Leshnoff: “The first movement is associated with the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, or ‘Hey,’ which refers to the attribute ‘Malchus,’ meaning ‘summation.’ The writing is very sparse and simple: it has nothing of its own, yet it receives everything. It is really written for the soul of the violin and allows the player to dig deep. It is predicated on line and lets Gil hold onto a note and let the tone bloom. Slow chords unfold underneath in the orchestra as Gil soars above. The silences between the notes are very important.

“The second movement is fast, busy, fun, and highly rhythmic. It’s all about action, but at the end, everything comes together.”

- program note by Janet Bedell, permission from Ms. Badell needed to use.