Penderecki’s Double Concerto

Notes by Ed Yadzinski

Originally written for violin and viola, this concerto was also intended to feature other pairs of string soloists. The same flexible approach was often employed by J.S. Bach and others in the Baroque Age. The composer writes: “I have spent decades searching for and discovering new sounds. At the same time, I have closely studied the forms, styles and harmonies of past eras. I have continued to adhere to both principles.” While the distinction may be subtle, the role of the orchestra is that of an extended canvas, set as a tonal background rather than a traditional accompaniment. The narratives for the soloists offer a rhapsodic dialog, very much like a gallery tour of tone-painted events. Beginning with lingering high harmonics in the cello, the violin replies with delicate pizzicatos. As the duo blends into a poignant chant, it transforms into an urgent plea, accented by the entrance of the orchestra. Serving to escort the development through a series of cryptic variations, the orchestra leads or follows the diverse facets offered by the soloists, with many changes in tempo and style.

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The New York Times: Exhausted by Harmony, Schoenberg Found Atonality

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“At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the conductor Leon Botstein discussed Schoenberg’s “Erwartung” (“Expectation”), a one-act monodrama for soprano and orchestra, written in 1909, and led The Orchestra Now, an ensemble from Bard College (where Mr. Botstein is the president), and the soprano Kirsten Chambers in excerpts from the piece to illustrate his points.

Mr. Botstein began by describing both “Erwartung” and the paintings of Munch (the subject of a major exhibition at the museum’s Met Breuer space) as works of Expressionism. The Expressionists rejected conventional reality, he said, believing that individuals, including artists, create their own.

Calling “Erwartung” the “first Freudian opera,” Mr. Botstein played excerpts to illustrate the work’s restless, sometimes rootless harmonic language, the skittish interplay of contrapuntal lines, the composer’s use of recurring motifs and the tormented emotional cast of the music. He drew rich, expressive playing from the orchestra, and Ms. Chambers’s bright lyric soprano lent fragile innocence to her portrayal of the desperate Woman.” – Anthony Tommasini

Photo by David DeNee