85 musicians

Premiere: March 4, 2005, Montréal / Nouvelles Musiques 2005: MGSO (McGill Symphony Orchestra), Salle Pollack — Pavillon Strathcona — Université McGill, Montréal (Québec)

This work was written on my own during the summer and fall of 1963, just before and after my twenty-first birthday. I had been studying composition privately with Samuel Dolin at the Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto and was in my final year of the Bachelor of Music programme at the University of Toronto. I do not remember what possessed me to undertake such a large and impractical project as a violin concerto—probably a large amount of naivety (albeit mixed with plenty of enthusiasm). There was no performance opportunity and, in fact, this is the first performance of the work (giving rise to the old adage that if composers can manage to live long enough, virtually anything they write will eventually be performed—if they really want to hear it). Nor do I remember what Sam thought of the piece, when I finally showed him the score. What I wrote was a lyrical, full-length, three-movement concerto (fast-slow-fast), with cadenzas in the first and last movements. Furthermore, in the outer movements, I used a trite little waltz-like passage, which appears twice in each movement. The violin at first remains aloof from this but, by its fourth appearance, becomes intimately involved. The slow movement is a set of variations in which the theme is preceded by an introductory, cadenza-like passage for the violin. This variation format for the middle movement was probably suggested by the Bartók Violin Concerto, with which I was certainly familiar at the time.

At the time of my Concerto, I was writing what I thought was “dissonant counterpoint”, following what I thought I understood of this in the music of Bartók, but in retrospect, it seems more like “extremely awkward counterpoint” (or perhaps just “extreme counterpoint”!). In any case, coming back to the work after more than forty years, I have made some very minor revisions in details of pitch and instrumentation. Nevertheless, the work remains largely as it was in 1963.

I am dedicating this Concerto to the memory of Samuel Dolin (1917-2002), my wonderful teacher and mentor, who always understood so well how to help his students realize their potential.

Brian Cherney