ROREM: Double Concerto for Violin / After Reading Shakespeare
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Ned Rorem (b. 1923)
Double Concerto for Violin and Cello • After Reading Shakespeare
The American composer and essayist Ned Rorem was born into a Quaker family of Norwegian stock in Richmond, Indiana, in October 1923, and was brought up in Chicago. In 1944 he moved to New York City, studying piano and composition first at Northwestern University and then composition at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia with Rosario Scalero, with whom his own musical preferences were not always in agreement. His fellow-students there included the composer Lukas Foss. He worked as an assistant and copyist to the critic and composer Virgil Thomson and also studied with Aaron Copland. He completed his musical training at the Juilliard School.
Rorem's first acknowledged compositions appeared in 1943, when he was nineteen. Since then he has produced some four hundred individual songs with piano accompaniment and song-cycles with orchestra, setting the poetry and prose of American, English and French writers. His reputation as one of the most prolific of contemporary song composers has tended to obscure his achievements in other fields, although the first major recording of a work of his, bringing his name before the wider musical public, was of his Second Piano Sonata, a composition from 1949, suggesting the work of a neo-classical composer. In 1949 he went to Paris, and then almost immediately to Morocco, where he stayed for two years before settling in Paris, until 1957, when he returned to the United States. In France he studied first with Honegger, and had contact with musicians such as Francis Poulenc, Georges Auric, with Paul Bowles and Jean Cocteau, and especially with Nadia Boulanger, together with the patronage of the Vicomtesse Marie-Laure de Noailles. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Rorem's work is his singular understanding and love of French music, literature and art.
Rorem's life, as his diaries have revealed, has been unconventional, but his music is conceived largely in accordance with traditional, tonal norms, treated with originality and immense inventiveness.
Rorem's Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Orchestra (1998) was commissioned by Jane and Andrew Paine for Jaime Laredo, Sharon Robinson and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. The première was given by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Raymond Leppard, Music Director, on 15 October 1998. The commission was in assocation with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and additional support from the Scottish Arts Council. The work was recorded on 4 April 2004 at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre, Germantown, Tennessee, with Jaime Laredo, violin, Sharon Robinson, cello, the IRIS Orchestra, and Michael Stern, conductor. This recording was made possible in part by the generosity of an anonymous donor.
After Reading Shakespeare for solo cello (1981) was commissioned by Sharon Robinson, who gave the première at Alice Tully Hall, New York City, on 15 March 1981. The recording was originally released on Grenadilla Records, and has been re-mastered by Adam Abeshouse.
Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Orchestra (1998)
In the more than 25 years that we have known each other, Sharon Robinson and Jaime Laredo have performed, separately and together, a great deal of my pre-existing chamber music. Gradually they came to exemplify for me the ideal string players. Thus in 1980 I wrote, specifically for Sharon, a suite for cello alone called After Reading Shakespeare; five years later, at Jaime's behest, came the Violin Concerto. Now the time seemed ripe to compose something for the pair of them. And so, thanks to a commission from the Indianapolis Symphony, in the state where I was born, the present work has come to be.
Music being the least representational of the arts (it does not depict other than itself), the overall title is abstract: Double Concerto. Nevertheless, just to get the juices flowing, I did impose "concrete" titles onto the eight movements, which require 35 minutes to unfold. These titles connote whatever the listener chooses. I will state only that in Adam and Eve the two soloists are literally born on stage: they emerge from the womb of the orchestra.
The scoring is plain: only eight winds, four brass, and strings. No glamorous harps, keyboards, or mallets, and no percussion, none. (In growing older I have come to feel that percussion is, at best, mere decoration, at worst, immoral, like too many earrings or too many exclamation points!!)
The music was composed on the islands of Manhattan and Nantucket between 27 July 1997 and April 1998. The orchestration was completed in June.
When Michael Stern played me the final edit of the Concerto, I realized that here was a perfect performance. Whatever the piece may be worth (as the composer, that is not for me to say), the interpretation of the piece is ideal (that is for me to say).
The interpretation is ideal because each performer - Laredo, Robinson, Stern - retains his separate excellence while blending with the others into an "ensemble personality". This unique being plays at the speed of my heartbeat. What composer could ask for more?
After Reading Shakespeare for solo cello (1981)
There is little a composer can say about his music that the music cannot say better, except how it came to be.
After Reading Shakespeare results from a commission by Sharon Robinson, to whom it is admiringly dedicated. She and I had often spoken about the possibility of something for cello and piano. But when Sharon's request became formal in the spring of 1979, something for solo cello seemed more necessary: more flattering to the instrument itself (why must strings forever share the limelight when they can be complete in themselves?), and more of a novelty to me (I had already produced a lot of chamber music featuring cello.)
The individual titles were not fixed notions around which I framed the music; they emerged, as titles for non-vocal pieces so often do, during the composition. Yes, I was rereading Shakespeare that July (the month that the piece was accomplished, mainly in Nantucket). Yet the experience did not so much inspire the music itself as provide a cohesive program upon which the music might be formalized, and thus intellectually grasped by the listener. Indeed, some of the titles were added after the fact, as when parents christen their children. In this sense, my suite is remote from the "abstract" cello suites of Bach.