Christopher Theofanidis

Press Kit

Concerto (2008) for violin and orchestra

Duration: 22 minutes
FIRST PERFORMANCE: October 2008, Sarah Chang, violin/Pittsburgh Symphony, Andriss Nelsons

Chris and Sarah Chang
Sarah Chang, violin
Pittsburgh Symphony/Andris Nelsons, conducting

The collaborative process can take many shapes, but at its core it is about getting some place you could not get to on your own.  I was so happy to be collaborating with Sarah on this concerto over the past two years- she is an incredibly easy person to work with because her disposition is so continuously sunny, and yet  at the same time she exacts of herself the highest artistic standard and works harder than anyone I know.  So many times during this process we spoke into the wee hours of the night from the most ridiculous locations, trying thing out back and forth until we were both satisfied.  There must be a score of passages in each movement that have been worked and reworked to get them to lie just so under the fingers.  We met on a few occasions in person, which was a great thrill for me- to hear her big, beautiful sound literally inches away is an experience I would wish everyone could share.  In short, of the half a dozen or so concerti that I have written, this was the most actively collaborative, and I think the piece benefited enormously from that.  The work is really tailored to Sarah, and I think this is the ideal way to create a new work- to personalize it.

The concerto is in three movements, each having a different starting point.  The idea for the first movement occurred to me several years ago when I was in Monaco looking at the famous rock which overlooks the city of Monte-Carlo.  Francois Grimaldi stood there over 700 years ago looking out into the sea, and he knew that this was the place that he and his family had to build their new future.  There was something awe-inspiring about the image of him making this stand, and hundreds of years later what he established still remains, from the lineage of generations of Grimaldis after him to some of the actual physical structures.  This had a strong resonance with me for the idea of a concerto- the Romantic sense that the soloist stands against the turbulent forces of nature, which in this case is the orchestra, and makes a stand declaring herself inspite of the overwhelming forces pitted against her.  At the heart of this first movement is a gentle melody, which in many different forms pervades the fabric of the piece.  That melodic line also has a less lyrical form- 6 short notes with the same shape, which also work as a kind of counterbalance to the original melody.

The second movement has a personal significance to me.  I wrote the main melody of this movement, which is first heard in the solo violin, on the day that my daughter, Isabella, was born.  I felt a great sense of tenderness toward her, and this feeling somehow translated to me into that melody.  I also had a wonderful moment with her a few days later at home when I was holding her on my lap at the piano just improvising things when
I played a certain chord.  As soon as I played this chord, she sat upright, completely still and attentive.  I was amazed, and she responded subsequently the same way to this chord. This chord, and the way I played it- as 8 quick notes- is the way I end the piece, and this 8-note figure appears in other harmonies throught the movement, though only in its ‘pure’ form at the very end.

I felt that in front of these other two, more lyrical movements, this piece needed a real virtuosic movement, and this became the starting point for the third movement.  The main material is a series of repeated notes followed by a flourish.  There is also a secondary idea of an ascending quarter-note triplet figure which provides a balance to the first idea.

This work is dedicated with gratitude to Sarah Chang.  I am also very grateful to Bob Moir and the Pittsburgh Symphony for the wonderful opportunities they have afforded me, both with the residency in 2006-7, and also with this concerto.  It has been a great pleasure for me from beginning to end.

—Christopher Theofanidis