My Violin Concerto “The Infinite Dance” was composed for Caroline Goulding and the Atlantic Classical Orchestra, Stewart Robertson, Artistic Director, in celebration of the orchestra’s 25th anniversary through a commission underwritten by the Rappaport Foundation.
I have long been a fan of dance music around the world. As I was composing this concerto, two categories of dance pieces surfaced from memory and inspired me: Bach’s Partitas and traditional Erhu (a two-stringed instrument also known as the Chinese violin) music created for Chinese folk dances. I was fascinated by the energy these piece conveyed – to me, the two bear similarities in rhythm and mood, even though their musical roots cannot be more different: partitas were composed based on matured Western music theory while the Erhu music was often freely improvised. I wanted to add a new perspective to the mix, and to convey a sense of continuity of musical ideas but presented with modern romanticism and energy.
Another inspiration comes from the violin itself. Although like many composers, I was trained first as a pianist and use the piano to compose, it is violin that is closest to my heart. It was the first instrument I learned under the guidance of my father, who’s a violinist and a composer, and I am now married to a violinist as well. I have always loved the sound of the instrument, and composing this piece felt like a release of that love.
The work, consists of 3 movements, starts with the soloist alone in an energetic quasi cadenza, supported by rhythmic sparkles from different sections of the orchestra; it turns more and more lyrical and gradually unfolds into a songful Andante. Here, a simple melody played by the soloist is slowly developed and intertwined through woodwinds and strings as the music grows larger in orchestration. Eventually it reaches a full soundscape and bursts into a vivid toccata, in which the motif from the beginning is rejuvenated on the solo violin and the winds, contrasted by dark and bold harmonies from the brass. After reaching a climactic point, a “real” cadenza appears, succeeded by a shortened return of the toccata.
A second movement follows. Still and chorale-like at first, the soloist joins the plush strings with an airy lullaby – she tenderly alters the sonic color through sul ponticello (with the bow kept near the bridge) and flautando (creating a flute-like sound by moving the bow lightly on the string near the fingerboard), masking the hinted atonality in the melody with romanticism. The prolonged coda, supported by vibraphone, harp, quiet trumpets and strings, features endless variations of a G minor chord – some bright, some dissonant, infinitely changing.
The fast and lively finale is a virtuosic dance in perpetual motion. Here the bold, syncopated orchestral figuration periodically “interrupts” the scherzo-like violin solo, until the roles of the two switch. Perhaps more than the previous two movements, the finale incorporates influences from non-western music, especially in the treatment of the rhythm and gestures such as slides and glissandos. An accumulation of materials sends the piece to a climax at the end.
The violin concerto runs approximately 24 minutes in performance. The score calls for 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (2nd doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, tuba, timpani, percussion (glockenspiel, crotale, vibraphone, cymbals, tamtam, snare drum, bass drum), harp, solo violin, and strings.