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Composed: 1987

Orchestration: 2 flutes (1=piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, E-flat clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (wood block, triangle, cymbals, snare drum, bass drum), and strings

About this Piece

Glass had composed a large and pioneering body of ensemble pieces since 1965, but the Violin Concerto from 1987 was his first major work for a conventional symphony orchestra. (As a student he had composed many pieces, including another violin concerto that he worked on with Darius Milhaud at the Aspen Festival in 1960.) “This piece explores what an orchestra can do for me,” Glass said. “In it, I’m more interested in my own sound than in the capability of particular orchestral instruments. It is tailored to my musical needs.”

The concerto was written for Glass’ friend and former Juilliard schoolmate Paul Zukofsky, who gave the premiere with Dennis Russell Davies and the American Composers Orchestra in April 1987. It is cast in the familiar three-movement, fast–slow–fast form of concerto tradition, and the agile, energetic, idiomatic solo figuration of the first movement suggests a sort of punk Vivaldi. The slow movement, with its floating cantilena over a passacaglia bass line, also recalls Baroque textures. The main body of the finale is again fast and florid, goaded to a darker, more urgent edge than the opening by aggressive percussion. Zukofsky had wanted a slow, high ending, and Glass closes the concerto with a long coda that reflects on the previous movements.

—John Henken