In the midst of my intense contemplations concerning my current in-progress work – my thesis composition for my Master’s degree, to be exact – I came across this fascinating interview with renowned composer, John Adams, concerning his Violin Concerto.
Did the concerto genre and the expectations associated with it—especially that of virtuosic writing for the solo instrument—affect your customary compositional process in any ways that you can single out?
I think it did affect it a lot. I was very slow to come to the concerto form. In fact, even after finishing this work, I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable with the form itself.
There were several issues that tended to make me shy away from the format; one was the problem of handling the dialogue between the instrument and the orchestra, something that really stood quite apart from—almost alien to—my normal way of experiencing musical discourse. It certainly would have been unthinkable for me to write a concerto ten years ago, for instance, around the time of Nixon in China. But in the intervening years my language has become less monolithic and ultimately more melodic…I would say very frankly that there are things about the concerto that even to this day cause me trouble when I hear it. I continue to conduct it quite often, and each time I come back to it I find myself going through oscillating periods of doubt or insecurity over certain aspects of the piece. There are moments when it seems to me very satisfying, very true to what I’d want from a concerto written in my own time. But then there are times when the choice of the conventional form irritates me and makes me wish I’d struck out into less well-charted territory…But then there are moments, especially after a genuinely inspired performance, when the almost Platonic perfection of the traditional form produces an intense sense of pleasure. At those times I can appreciate it for its genuine freshness and novelty…
And what has this to do with me, you may ask? Why did I take heart from these words, aside from my admiration for this composer and his works? Well, let us just say that putting together my 20-minute “Leviathan Concerto” (working title) for six-string electric violin, chamber orchestra, and MIDI instruments has proven at times to be both a joyful and daunting task. But it is beginning to take real shape now, and I do look forward to the finished product… 🙂