Concerto for Piano and Winds
Robert Morris

Program Notes

The Concerto was written in the summer of 1988 for the pianist James Avery. It consists of five distinct but connected movements; a full stop only occurs between movements two and three and the last two are bridged by a cadenza.

Although this is my first work for piano and a large instrumental complement, it is not actually my first piano concerto. The "first" is my composition Exchanges of 1982 (for piano and computer generated tape) in which the piano and electronic sounds periodically exchange basic musical roles such as leading, articulating, controlling, and the like. In the present work, however, the piano and ensemble are more allied, both working on and through musical interactions ranging from stark contrast to commingling within intricate polyphony.

The use of woodwinds (including saxophones), brass, and percussion, without strings, suggests the timbres, voicings, and ensemble interplay in many kinds of wind music, extending from the classical divertimento to the jazz band arrangements of the 1940s and 50s. In addition, a number of twentieth-century piano concertos also feature a wind orchestra: Alban Berg's Chamber Concerto, the Stravinsky concerto of 1924, first movement of Bartok's Second Piano Concerto, and Exotic Birds of Oliver Messaien. Of course, any further comparisons between these works and mine would be inappropriate due to vast differences in musical language, the aforementioned fluidity of the piano's role, and the way in which my music moves through time.

For, although the concerto is partitioned into discernable movements, each with its own tempo and temperament, the musical interrelations between them are designed to be so rich as to link gestures and events that are quite temporally disconnected so they become adjacent, as it were, in memory. Yet the composition of intricate and exquisite cross-affiliations does not necessarily overcome the temporal unfolding of a piece of music. And, in this case, such scenarios as the following are legitimate and appropriate, providing they are not taken too literally:

The first movement brashly places the piano's opening statements within a constellation of wind gestures and textures; the progress of the movement gradually releases the soloist from the instrumental grip. In contrast, the longer second movement features the soloist in a more graceful, ornamental mood fusing with the ensemble in the stream of freshly associated musical ideas. This movement's often optimistic and lively chatter is almost bluntly cut off heralding the more serious and expansive third movement. The fourth movement serves to defer the repercussions of the dramatic moments of the third. Its almost icy textures lead to the cadenza and beyond to the frenzied piano writing of the last movement.

use this controller to hear a passage from the last movement of Concerto for Pano and Winds
(James Avery, piano; Donald Hunsburger conducting the Eastman Wind Ensemble)