My Violin Concerto “The Infinite Dance” was commissioned by the Atlantic Classical Orchestra, Stewart Robertson, Artistic Director, through generous support of the Rappaport Foundation on the occasion of the orchestra’s 25th anniversary.
I have always loved the sound of the violin, and composing this piece felt like a release of that love. Although like many composers, I was trained as a pianist, it is violin that is closest to my heart – it was the first instrument I touched and learned (Dad is a violinist and a composer), and I grew up hearing the sound of Tchaikovsky and Sibelius concerti being practiced next door by many violinists (I ended up marrying one as well).
As I was composing this concerto, two kinds of dance music surfaced from memory and inspired me: Bach’s violin Partitas and the traditional Chinese folk music played on erhu – a two-stringed instrument also known as the Chinese violin. I became fascinated by the idea of combining the two and somehow “continuing” the dance with a new perspective – one that is based on the foundation of Western music while still carrying the sense of freedom and improvised nature of traditional Chinese music. In my mind, from Bach’s Baroque to China to Florida beaches (where the piece premieres), the dance never stopped. Thus, the subtitle to the concerto, “The Infinite Dance.”
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 two switch roles. 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.
“MASTERFUL NEW CONCERTO, ROUSING BEETHOVEN MAKE SPLENDID FAREWELL FOR ACO’S ROBERTSON” [headline]
"The first movement (marked Vivo) begins with Goulding attacking fast, difficult runs in a cadenza-like solo that the orchestra soon picks up on, copying her brief statements. Soon, the soloist breaks out into a lovely melodic piece, quite original in its choice of notes. The rich orchestral background texture, especially from the cellos, helps build to a long sustained high note followed by racing scales from the solo violin. Quick interruptions from the flute in dotted notes make for an original touch.
The brass section takes prominence and the music drifts into what can only be described as a sound from East Asia, perhaps reflecting the influence of the erhu, the Chinese folk fiddle that Zhou said inspired him in this piece. Next comes a cadenza of the most magnificent magnitude musically. Soloist Goulding gave it her very best. Another original touch was the single beat of a huge gong, interspersed twice during the soloist’s cadenza and with one extended gong sound towards the end of her playing. The effect was magical.
The second movement (Andante amoroso) begins with strings playing in a reverent mood in the middle range. The solo violin starts higher, picking up the somber mood and begins a series of elegant phrases, masking the hinted atonality with the romanticism of the music she plays. A lone bassoon picks out some of the soloists notes of this particularly lovely music, so easy on the ear. The full orchestra again join in and the solo violin plays with soaring melodic loveliness.
There’s a pastoral quality that infuses the mood of the orchestral accompaniment. The solo violin goes from low to high in continual scales and then plucks her strings to the accompaniment of the timpani and a solo trumpet, leading to a mysterious ending.
The fast finale, marked Allegro con brio, begins with clever staccato notes penetrating the air. A three-note theme surfaces from the orchestra, then from the soloist. Taken very fast, the trumpets blast out a six-note tune, which the soloist picks up immediately and varies. Syncopated rhythms from the orchestra take over as the soloist answers the orchestra in like manner going back and forth with one another. With slides and glissandos, soloist and orchestra race to a final climax where everything is thrown at it.
The last solo violin music kept resonating in my mind continually for hours after the concert. This is new music I’d love to hear again and again. It is a minor masterpiece."
—Palm Beach Arts Paper