VC recently caught up with acclaimed American composer Christopher Cerrone following the successful world premiere performance of his new violin concerto ‘Breaks and Breaks’ – with violin soloist Jennifer Koh, conductor Peter Oundjian and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
In a VC-exclusive guest blog, Christopher discusses his inspirations for the new solo work – and the enduring process of taking it from his head to the Detroit concert stage.
JENNIFER KOH | CHRISTOPHER CERRONE | CONCERTO FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA ‘BREAKS AND BREAKS’ | PETER OUNDJIAN & DETROIT SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA | 25TH MAY 2018 WORLD PREMIERE
“I met Jennifer Koh in the spring of 2014. Our mutual friend and supporter Justus Schlichting introduced us at a concert of mine. Shortly after, she wrote me a note asking me if I’d write a short violin piece for her Shared Madness project — which was a series of short solo violin works commissioned from composers from around the world.
She also invited me to see her play an unaccompanied recital at the 92nd Street Y of Bach along with other brand-new works. Something I noticed — beyond her consummate virtuosity — was her ability to burn through bow hair at a furious pace because her performances were so intense and passionate. In the short work that I composed, “Shall I Project a World,” I endeavored to write a piece that would allow her to be both masterful and also ardent in her performing.
I was honored and overjoyed when Jenny called me shortly after with the request that I write her a concerto. I had been tossing ideas back and forth with Erik Rönmark of the Detroit Symphony, and when I suggested the concerto he thought it would make a great collaboration for the three of us.
As I started working on the piece, I met with Jenny to discuss the work and show her some sketches, with many of my initial ideas similar to the barnstorming ideas in my solo violin piece.
She suggested that I combine some of these virtuosic elements with a more lyrical approach. She said to me, ‘Perhaps allow the violin to do what it does best with an orchestra — soar above it and sing.’ Thus was born the opening my concerto — a series of ‘footballs’ (whole notes as we call them in the business) that outlines a very simple and folk-like melody.
The concerto that resulted, ‘Breaks and Breaks’, tries to combine all the things a violin can do — lyrical singing, violent fiddling, Bach-like bariolage, microtonal buzzing, and harp-like pizzicato —and isolate them to structure the work into a seven-part piece. Strung together, the piece is both a palindrome and a cycle, with the short opening melody recurring four times in different guises.
As I composed the piece, a kept a kind of literary diary of different works whose imagery inspired me. In this ramble of notes, lines from Shakespeare, the American poet Stanley Kunitz, the Irish playwright Enda Walsh, the Nigerian-American novelist and photographer Teju Cole, and Chinese-American poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge found their way into a series of evocative movement titles that will ideally color the many emotional states of the work. Berssenbrugge’s poem ‘Fog’ suggested the many fog-like textures employed in the work.