I. alone, inward
III. threatening, fast
Duration: 22 minutes
FIRST PERFORMANCE: Winter 2007/Martin Kuuskmann, bassoon; Absolute Ensemble, Kristjan Jaarvi
I wrote my bassoon concerto for my good friend Martin Kuuskmann, whom I had known since 1992 from my days as a student at Yale. Martin was always the last person out of the school of music at night, and I would often pass his practice room and wonder what drove him- he seemed to have an obsessive zeal for mastering the bassoon, and he was determined to build a repertory and to represent it in the most visible way. I have known many musicians of an extremely high caliber in my life, but Martin really stands out from among even the most accomplished of those.
A few years later he was playing with the Absolute Ensemble in New York and was able to commission a new work from them, and that is how my piece came to be. At that time, I wrote just a two-movement piece- the now outer two movements of this version, but later in 2002 when we were offered the possibility of programming it again, I added the current middle movement which incorporated elements that had become part of my writing in the interim.
The opening movement starts with an introspective cadenza which then opens into a fast and restless first movement that makes use of several of the materials from the opening cadenza. The second movement is based on a kind of melodic ornamentation that one would hear in the Greek Orthodox church- fast inflections of long tones that keep the notes ‘alive’ in time. It is also a style of ornamentation that one finds throughout the Balkan region, and I think that, as it is heard here in the bassoon, now reminds me most of Bulgarian bagpipe playing- in no small part because Martin regularly circular-breathes to play it, creating the sound of continuous breath. The third movement is based on a fast pattern of sixes in the bassoon line and a slower background harmonic progression which is eventually revealed clearly near the end of the work as the faster notes peal away.
The piece is approximately 22 minutes in duration.