Opus number: 33

Title: Piano Concerto

Instrumentation: 1-1-1-1; 1-1-1-0; strings

Date written: Summer 1989, Boston

Length: twenty-five minutes

Commissioner and dedicatee: Gerard Schwarz

Premiere performance: Gerard Schwarz conducting Music Today, November 22, 1989, Merkin Hall, New York

Important subsequent performances: New England Conservatory Orchestra, Tamara Brooks, conducting, Larry Bell, pianist, February 10, 1994, Jordan Hall, Boston; Boston Conservatory, Yoichi Udagawa, conductor, Larry Bell, pianist, April 25, 1996, Boston; Russe Philharmonic Orchestra, Tsanko Delibosov, conductor, Larry Bell, pianist, June 2, 1996, Russe, Bulgaria

Recordings: Russe Philharmonic Orchestra, Tsanko Delibosov, conductor, Larry Bell, pianist, Vienna Modern Masters CD VMM #3037; tape at Boston Conservatory of Udagawa performance; tape at NEC Firestone of Brooks’s performance.

Program notes: The Piano Concerto was commissioned by Gerard Schwarz for Music Today and the Seattle Symphony Chamber Players. It is dedicated to Gerard Schwarz in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the American Music Center, and Schwarz gave the premiere–with Bell as the soloist–with Music Today in New York in 1989.

The Piano Concerto is in three movements of increasing tempo and brevity. The first movement, Lyrical and Majestic, contains two themes, one for the chamber orchestra of twelve players and one for the solo pianist. During a brief moment in the middle of the movement the orchestra shares the piano’s theme. The piano, however, begrudgingly recognizes the orchestra’s theme in an ironic role reversal at the end of the movement.

The second movement, Blues Theme with Variations, is based on an original melody. The popular Blues idiom permeates the set of classical varia-tions. As in the first movement, a brief cadenza introduces a recapitulation of the main theme.

Dancelike and Driving, the third movement’s rhythm is rock influenced. Later the Blues Theme of the second movement reappears.

As the piece progresses, each movement not only gets faster and shorter, but the concertato texture diminishes; the piano ultimately plays with the orchestra and not against it.

Reviews:  [performance] “. . . an amiable, light-sprirted work. And the finale is enlivened by interesting chordal modulations in the piano part, deft wind writing, and hints of a rock influence struggling to shine through the work’s Neo-Romantic surface.” –Allan Kozinn, The New York Times (November 26, 1989)

[recording] “A return to a neoromantic America is marked by Larry Bell’s vibrantly melodic, Piano Concerto (1989) in three movements (“Lyrical and Majestic,” “Blues Theme with Variations,” and “Dancelike and Driving”), carried off with great aplomb by the composer as pianist. The second movement’s blues theme bears a certain viscosity resembling the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields,” which was of course also used to good effect by Alvin Lucier. The powerful mixed-meter finale uses the hammering rhythms of rock to impressive effect and finds ways to connect with the early movements.” –Elizabeth Agnew 20th Century Music, August 1999