I completed my Trombone Concerto in Fairport, New York on April 5, 1991. The work was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for its principal trombonist, Joseph Alessi, in honor of the orchestra's sesquicentennial. This was the first in a series of back-to-back concerti I composed for various instruments, later ones being composed for violin, violoncello, and flute.
It occurred to me as I was planning the piece that composers, when writing concerti for brass instruments, have often elected to give such works something of a light character. As a result, I set out to compose a work which, while requiring substantial virtuosity from the soloist, would contain music of a primarily somber and introspective character, one whose tone was serious in tone. I was aided in this by my wish to dedicate a score to the memory of Leonard Bernstein, and it seemed natural to ally such a desire to the realization of a work for the New York Philharmonic, the orchestra which Mr. Bernstein so loved and which he directed for many years.
I got the opportunity to know Mr. Bernstein only in the summer of 1989, although I had admired his work as composer, conductor, and musical evangelist for most of my life. He remains for me a figure of inestimable importance in the history of music, one whose passion for and commitment to his art was insurpassable, and his sudden death in October 1990 robbed us all of an almost superhuman musical giant. The third movement of my concerto is, in particular, a memorial to Mr. Bernstein, and the quotation of what I call the "Credo" theme from his Symphony No. 3 ("Kaddish") a gesture of the most profound affection and gratitude, mingled with sorrow at his passing.
The concerto is organized as two adagios flanking a central scherzo. the first movement begins and ends with sparse, ritualized music of an understatedly rhetorical nature, with its centerpiece being an expanding passacaglia featuring the soloist accompanied by the strings of the orchestra. The middle movement alternates scurrying music (which introduces the orchestral brass section for the first time in the score) with a more dancelike central part -- the music ultimately builds to a loud, almost apocalyptic climax, and this gives way to the elegiac finale, primarily a funeral march, in which the Bernstein quote leads the music back to the hieratic material which began the piece. Each of the movements is connected by a brief cadenza for the solo trombone.
The concerto is scored for an orchestra consisting of two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, harp, timpani, xylophone, glockenspiel, chimes, marimba, two suspended cymbals, snare drum, tenor drum, five tom-toms, two bongos, bass drum, a pair of crash cymbals, two tam-tams, and strings.
This work was awarded the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Music.
© 1993 by Christopher Rouse
These program notes can be reproduced free of charge with the following credit:
Reprinted by kind permission of Christopher Rouse
Time is right for the truth of Flute Concerto
"Last night's concert was one of the finest in the Colorado Symphony's 5 1/2-year existence, a major musical event...The occasion was the Colorado premiere of Christopher Rouse's Pulitzer Prize-winning Trombone Concerto, written for the 150th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic and magnificently performed by the Philharmonic's principal trombonist, Joseph Alessi.
"..While the piece was in gestation, Leonard Bernstein died and Rouse turned it into a tribute to the great man, movingly quoting from Lenny's "Kaddish" Symphony No. 3 in the finale.
"After an eerie start by harp, gong and double basses, the doloroso first movement slowly built to a well-paced climax and a trombone cadenza, without any relief from the gloom.
"In a brief talk, [CSO music director and conductor Marin] Alsop noted how a "New York gig" for strings formed part of the sardonically dissonant fabric of the Scherzo, in which Alessi kept up staccato chatter leading to a thunderous orchestral meltdown, complete with hammer and gongs, before the soloist won his angry argument with the trombone section at the rear.
"A lovely bassoon duet opened the elegiaco finale before the Kaddish quote, with the trombone singing out over chromatic strings and in one sublime passage playing call-and-response with the bass drum. Finally at the work's pianissimo close, there was resolution as the trombone hit the tonic G that had evaded it for three searching movements.
"...the audience happily containing many young people listened intently and rewarded Alessi, Alsop and the orchestra with a sincere standing ovation. I'm very glad I was there."
"Easily the finest offering here is the concerto by Rouse which, though dark and introspective, holds the listener compulsively in its grip. It opens in the mists, climbing from the lower depths (the effect not unlike that of the Ravel Left-hand Piano Concerto). A sudden, exciting climax follows, then the soloist has a brief, thoughtful cadenza before starting a hair-raising scherzo (marvellous virtuosity from Lindberg, with the orchestra scampering to keep up and managing with considerable flair). There is a series of apocalyptic orchestral explosions, followed by a breathtaking melee of running brass figurations which then slowly peter out and lead to the affecting finale marked Elegiaco, lugubre. This concerto is, as the title suggests, a memorial to Leonard Bernstein and quotes what Rouse describes as the Credo theme from Bernstein's Third (Kaddish ) Symphony. The movement has a remorseless momentum and the powerful central orchestral peroration insistently clamours its grief before the soloist softly enters with his own gentle and moving lament. A sense of peace is finally established before the trombone, like Orpheus, eliptically descends back into the depths."
"Given the publicity that accompanied its premiere, as well as the winning of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize, Christopher Rouse's Trombone Concerto is certainly one of the most important works in the history of the trombone. And when Christian Lindberg's recording came out not long ago, I was amazed, because I expected it to be done first by Joseph Alessi, who played the premiere in January 1992. Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for its 150th Season, Rouse began writing the work in 1990. Shortly thereafter, Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland died. As befits the trombone, so often used to portray death or grief, the concerto became a profoundly serious lament for Bernstein. It consists of two slow movements that surround a wild middle one, all done without pause. Opening with what sounds like gurglings from the primeval murk, I slowly ascends and becomes passionate, then descends again. A brief cadenza leads to the frantic II, which reminds me quite strongly of the Tarantella in Corigliano's Symphony 1. There are ferocious exchanges, including a memorable one between the solo and orchestral trombones. III begins with a quote from Bernstein's Symphony 3 (Kaddish) in muted horns, followed by lovely trombone lyricism. There is another major buildup of tension and emotion, after which it becomes clear that this is a funeral march. A final descent returns the trombone to its lowest register, and the concerto ends as it began.
"Both Alessi's and Lindberg's accounts are superb..."
"This is a major work of serious mien; three connected movements last twenty-eight minutes. It begins pp, the sounds climbing up from the orchestra's bass register; the somber first movement ends with a cadenza. A loud, boisterous fast movement includes another cadenza; the Finale is marked Elegiaco, lugubre. Rouse has written a powerful work, an instant highlight of the trombone literature."
"It is high time we had a disc devoted to the music of Christopher Rouse (b.1949), one of the more genuinely individual composers working in America today. His Cello Concerto has enjoyed a high profile courtesy of Yo-Yo Ma, but the three pieces recorded here are even more striking...
"[The Trombone Concerto] received enthusiastic praise from Ivan March when it first appeared on CD with Christian Lindberg as soloist, having won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize in music. It packs a formidable punch once again in a virtuosic and concentrated performance from Joseph Alessi...
"... As you will have gathered, this is an invigorating and accessible programme and I do urge you to sample it."