- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2007

NEW YORK (AP)

Jay Greenberg, the kid composer who got a big-time recording contract in the summer of 2006, has scored again: His violin concerto had its world premiere Sunday at Carnegie Hall with Joshua Bell as soloist and Roberto Abbado leading the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.

The work, which combines a teenager’s rambunctiousness with a mature master’s sophistication, shows that the 15-year-old composer is for real.

By the time Sony released Mr. Greenberg’s first CD in August 2006, he already had written more than 100 works, including five symphonies, 17 piano sonatas and three piano concertos.

The violin concerto, written for Mr. Bell and commissioned by the chamber orchestra for its 33rd season, is Mr. Greenberg’s first for the instrument.

“At one point in my life, I resolved that I would never write a violin concerto,” Mr. Greenberg said in the program notes. “I no longer recall why exactly I made this resolution; perhaps it was sour grapes, as all of my attempts at violin writing up to that point had been failures.”

Then he got the commission, and he worked with Mr. Bell, himself a former child prodigy, to confront some of the problems in composing for the instrument.

The piece is hardly a failure. Mr. Greenberg skillfully leads the listener through a gamut of emotions with touches of 21st-century tonality, excitement and lyricism.

It’s a compelling addition to the genre and was a perfect companion to Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, which Mr. Bell played earlier in Sunday’s program.

Mr. Greenberg’s concerto starts out in a mysterious hush — a soft pizzicato, a nervous tremolo, a piano chord and then the piccolo and clarinet playing a slow theme in unison one octave apart.

Suddenly, an angry violin chord pierces the tense peace, barging in and jumping through a violent arpeggio that gets the music off and running. The full force of the orchestra follows, with the brass going on a romp that’s accented by irregular poundings of the percussion.

It soon settles back into the meandering wind doubling that seems to allude to Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” A calmness prevails, leading to a descending passage that Mr. Greenberg also used in his 5th Symphony. Then another eruption. Eventually the music accelerates to a climax and ends on a big drumbeat.

Mr. Bell occasionally looked at the score during Mr. Greenberg’s 24-minute piece. Mr. Bell’s technical prowess and sensitivity enabled him to navigate the gymnastics of the difficult solo part that covers the entire range of the instrument.

“I’m very happy,” Mr. Bell said in a brief interview later. “We got through it. I really like the piece. It’s growing on me more and more. Now I can’t wait to actually work on the music; I was just trying to get the notes in the right place.”

The audience responded with a standing ovation. Mr. Greenberg left his seat next to his parents and little brother and walked onstage, bowing self-consciously.

Asked later what he was trying to convey in the work, which took him about six months to write, he deadpanned: “I don’t know. I never figured that out.”

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