I completed my Concert de Gaudí in Pittsford, New York on August 1, 1999. The work was a joint commission for guitarist Sharon Isbin from the Norddeutsche Rundfunk and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, with additional funding provided by Richard and Jody Nordlof, to whom the work is dedicated.
In conceiving a guitar concerto, my thoughts went immediately to the great Spanish tradition of music for this instrument, and it seemed logical for me to exhibit my admiration for this tradition in my own composition. This in turn led me to reflect upon the work of the extraordinary Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, hence the Catalan-language title for the concerto. What has always struck me particularly strongly about Gaudí is his quintessentially Spanish combination of surrealism and mysticism, and I strove to include these elements in this score.
Towards this end, I used that music which most might well recognize as archetypically Spanish -- flamenco as a foundation for the score. I then proceeded to "melt," "bend," and otherwise transform this material into something I hoped would be musically akin to the way in which Gaudí would take a traditional design and add fanciful, phantasmagoric touches to make it unlike the work of any other architect. As a result, there is an intentionally "unfocused" quality to the musical language of my piece, which ranges from clear, traditional tonality to music of substantive chromaticism.
The structure of the concerto, on the other hand, does follow tradition, following as it does the standard three-movement, fast-slow-fast, outline. For the most part, I was not attempting to equate given sections of my work with specific buildings of Gaudí; an exception is the early moments of the second movement, where I did visualize Gaudí's Cathedral of the Sagrada Familia while I was conceiving the music.
As much of my music has come to be associated with what might be called the darker aspects of human existence, I wanted in the Concert de Gaudí to compose music that looked more towards the light, and it is therefore a score I intend to be more amiable and genial in nature. It is scored for an orchestra of two flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, harp, celesta, timpani, percussion (three players), and strings. The percussion contingent includes tambourine, tenor drum, bass drum, castanets, wood block, rute, suspended cymbal, Chinese cymbal, triangle, tam-tam, xylophone, marimba, and antique cymbals. In performance, the concerto lasts approximately twenty-five minutes.
© 1999 by Christopher Rouse
These program notes can be reproduced free of charge with the following credit:
Reprinted by kind permission of Christopher Rouse
"Dr. Rouse is the ninth in a distinguished line of American composers including John Corigliano, Lukas Foss and Aaron Kernis whom Miss Isbin has commissioned to expand the notably limited guitar concerto repertoire...
"For inspiration, Dr. Rouse turned to his love of Spanish art and music, specifically his admiration for the visionary Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926)... The concerto is in three connected movements fast, slow, fast, and the idiom is wonderfully eclectic.
"...Miss Isbin and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra produced a beguiling tissue of polychrome sound that suggested the fluid line of Gaudi's architecture by moving fluidly from one harmonic or textural episode to the next. From the opening swirl of flamenco-style gestures, through the poignant, ballad-like slow movement and the scintillating finale, the score kaleidoscopically presents memorably expressive passages for the guitar against a brilliant, subtle orchestral palette underscored by shifting rhythmic patterns in the large percussion section.
"...the music certainly caught [the] audience's fancy, for I actually saw people moving their heads in time to the music. No post-modern Angst here!"
Sharon Isbin, guitarist. Concertos by Christopher Rouse and Tan Dun. Gulbenkian Orchestra; Muhai Tang, conductor. (Teldec 8573-81830-2)
"Sharon Isbin has an enviable track record of commissioning and championing new works for classical guitar; with this compact disc, recorded live in Lisbon, she documents another two worthy additions to that record.
"Baltimore-born Christopher Rouse's Concert de Gaudí for Guitar and Orchestra from 1999 takes as its starting point the fanciful Spanish architecture of Antoni Gaudí, who died in 1926. From the first percussive measures, it's clear that flamenco is very much on Rouse's mind. He gives the guitar lots of flamenco riffs, propels much of the music with flamenco rhythms. Passionately lyrical melodies and a few big, juicy, traditional harmonic progressions also help to give the work an old-fashioned flavor. But the composer adds plenty of his own spice to the mix, creating a concerto with a distinctive personality.
"Isbin performs the solo part with her usual brilliance; Muhai Tang is her supple partner on the podium, getting an assured, colorful response from the Gulbenkian Orchestra.
"...The combination of Dun's moody multi-nationalism and Rouse's spirited sonic spires makes this a potent disc."
"Christopher Rouse's tribute to Gaudí is as spectacular and unconventional as its eponym's cathedral in Barcelona...The strummed opening seems to herald another Concierto de Aranjuez but it is utterly deceptive; any connection with traditional Spanish music is soon submerged in a polychromatic and eclectic succession of episodes.
"...No superlative would be excessive in describing Sharon Isbin's performances in this vivid recording."
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Sharon Isbin Plays Tan Dun/Rouse (WEA/Atlantic/Teldec)
Rating: Scorcher: Belongs in your permanent collection
"Anyone who thinks of the contemporary musical landscape as being as bleak and devoid of beauty as the face of the moon needs to hear the middle movement from guitarist Sharon Isbin's new recording of American Christopher Rouse's Concert de Gaudí.
"Quiet and reflective to spell-like and mysterious, the1999 score features beautiful writing for both the solo instrument and the orchestra. The orchestration is intimate and exotic, yet direct and lovely in its tonal support. The guitar, such as in Joaquin Rodrigo's famous Concierto
de Aranjuez, references the flamenco tradition. Together, soloist and orchestra create a sacred tableau, pivoting in mood and color as the music shimmers in the ear.
"Rouse drew the inspiration for his score almost literally from the work of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, and uses his unexpected twists, bends and exotic colors to shape the work in fascinating ways. The finale's driving, polyrhythmic "sizzle and dance" sense of progression artfully references not just the architect but also the famous Rodrigo work, acting as a prism of time and soul. In the end, the work becomes the most worthy successor to the Aranjuez since the oft-played score was penned in 1939.
"The disc is rounded out by another work commissioned by the multiple Grammy winning guitarist Oscar-winning ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") Chinese born composer Tan Dun's "1996 Concerto for Orchestra (Yi2)." Like the Rouse, it draws inspiration both from the flamenco tradition and other sources... Both are masterful, if very different, scores, moving the genre of the guitar concerto forward artfully and personally into the new millennium."
"[Gaudi is] uncommonly pleasing, beautiful...here's predicting it's going to be performed and recorded a lot...Its emotional impact is reminiscent of Nights in the Gardens of Spain."
"If Sharon Isbin won a Grammy this year for her...Dreams of the World, then she deserves a Nobel for this recording of two terrific new guitar concertos, written for her and played with gripping persuasiveness. Christopher Rouse, a composer with a plucky taste for classic rock and a contradictory tendency to slip into dark Shostakovichian moods, shows off neither here. Instead he sets conventional Spanish guitar style surrealistically on its ear. His [Concert de Gaudi] begins as though it was a sequel to Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez gone wonderfully awry. The middle movement, however, is the work's treasure, with a lyricism that is about as compulsively memorable as the beloved middle movement of Rodrigo's concerto."
In the past, adjectives such as 'anguished' and 'mournful' have often been used to characterize the music of Christopher Rouse. However, recent works increasingly find the composer in a sunnier mode, "searching for the light, rather than the darkness." The trend began with Kabir Padavali (1998), his often blissful 1998 song cycle for Dawn Upshaw and the Minnesota Orchestra. It continued with a pair of major pieces that premiered in 2000: Concert de Gaudí, a guitar concerto for Sharon Isbin with the NDR (Hamburg) and Dallas Symphony Orchestras, and Rapture, commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony.
Concert de Gaudí made its debut on the second day of the new millennium, with Isbin joining the NDR Symphony under Christoph Eschenbach; she gave the work its American premiere two months later in Dallas, with Andrew Litton conducting. Gaudí scored a decisive success in both cities: Olin Chism of the Dallas Morning News called the piece "uncommonly pleasing, beautiful even, and here's predicting it's going to be performed and recorded a lot. The work...is a salute to the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, whose fantastical cathedral is an unforgettable part of the skyline in Barcelona.
"Mr. Rouse's work is unusual but not as strange as Gaudí's cathedral design. It's an atmospheric work rather than a dramatic one.... There are some soft, caressing string sounds and gentle music from the celesta, but there are also sliding pitches in the strings and brass, a broad spectrum of sound color in the percussion and a few offbeat touches such as sound produced by breathing through the brass instruments. The guitar writing is consistently appealing, especially given the virtuoso performance of Sharon Isbin."
Barrymore Laurence Scherer reviewed Concert de Gaudí for Public Arts, a new national online magazine (www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcpn/arts). "The idiom is wonderfully eclectic," wrote Scherer. "Under the sympathetic baton of Andrew Litton, Miss Isbin and the Dallas SO produced a beguiling tissue of polychrome sound that suggested Gaudí's architecture by moving fluidly from one harmonic or textural episode to the next. From the opening swirl of flamenco-style gestures, through the poignant, ballad-like slow movement and the scintillating finale, the score kaleidoscopically presents memorably expressive passages for the guitar against a brilliant, subtle orchestral palette underscored by shifting rhythmic patterns in the large percussion section."
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