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Composer Corigliano Has New Concerto

November 18, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) _ In the 1800s, composer Hector Berlioz asked string players to tap the wood of their bows against the strings for a percussive effect. Nicolo Paganini had his fiddlers perform devilish magic by ricocheting the bow on a string and simultaneously plucking another string with the left pinky.

What’s a 21st century composer to do?

John Corigliano uses ``the crunch,″ ``extreme flautando″ and ``the accelerando finale,″ among other innovations, for his new ``Red Violin Concerto.″

The four-movement piece, which expands Corigliano’s Academy Award-winning score for the 1999 movie ``The Red Violin,″ had its world premiere Sept. 20 with soloist Joshua Bell and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra led by Marin Alsop. The orchestra jointly commissioned it with the Dallas and Atlanta symphonies, and Bell has presented it with those orchestras, too.

On Thursday night, he begins five performances through Tuesday in Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center with Alsop and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Future performances include Bell with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in May at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, the 61-year-old Corigliano spoke about the new techniques in his 38-minute concerto, and the challenges of preparing for the first performances of a new composition in the era of peripatetic musicians and orchestras with little rehearsal time.

AP: How difficult of a piece is it technically?

Corigliano: Oh, boy! It’s out really out there. First of all there are things to do that most players have never done, including Josh. ... For example in the slow movement, there’s a technique I learned from a violinist (extreme flautando) in which when you put your bow ... 2 inches or 3 inches up on the fingerboard ... and you play. The sound changes from the violin to a flute. ... It’s hard to believe that a violin is playing.

AP: Joshua Bell recently told me about ``the crunch″ in the last movement.

Corigliano: When he presses the bow down very, very hard and moves very, very little, like a half an inch, what you get is a percussion sound with no pitch. And I have the whole orchestra doing it and him doing it, and he’s had to learn how to do it. Then he teaches the orchestra when he goes there. ...

The last thing he does after a crash, the very last thing he does, he starts out with this awful sounding crunch. It’s really wonderful _ it’s cccccccccchhhhhhhhhhhhhh slowly as he’s winding up _ and it merges into a real sound and gets faster and faster and faster. And finally the orchestra comes out on the last note for him. I tell you, when I showed it to him, he said, ``Do I really have to do that? It’s ugly. They’ll think I can’t play the violin.″

I said, ``Josh, trust me.″ That’s what happens when you do that. And sure enough everybody (in the Baltimore audience) jumped to their feet, screaming. Everybody was so electrified to see him go from crunch to gorgeous sound within say 3 1/2 seconds. A wild run.

AP: How did you come up with these techniques?

Corigliano: I spoke with players. The crunch is a technique I’ve used it before in ``The Pied Piper.″ But I never used it in short bursts. I used it as a long-held crunch with the whole orchestra playing it. And that seems a problem because if you don’t play it right, you get a pitch. ... We worked out a fingering and the use of the left and the right hand and play it so that we could get a dependable crunch.

AP: How long did you work with him?

Corigliano: I worked with Josh in Sapporo (Japan) first because we were at the Sapporo Festival, which was a year ago last summer, when I was just starting it. ... And then I worked on it with Josh maybe a month before the (first) concert. I had written most of it, but there were questions and details and customizing it to him. It’s not possible to work with a superstar _ who is in a different country every week _ with reliability. If I had a question, you know he could be in London or Paris, Germany or Los Angeles, and the next day he’d be somewhere else. So it’s very difficult for me as I am sitting in my room for months and months that you work on these things to ask questions. At the end it’s not difficult because he’s back working on the project.

AP: He told me he worked with you on some tricky rhythms in the last movement.

Corigliano: It’s called ``accelerando finale.″ What happens at one point is Josh is playing and the orchestra is playing bum bum, bum bum bum bum bum bum. Then he starts to get faster and they don’t. He accelerates and he’s getting faster and faster. Then at one point, he reaches the point and loses his speed where the orchestra starts to get faster. It tries to catch up to him. And then they start playing material against his material and they’re racing each other. And then the brass interrupts with this huge chord, and then he starts again with the orchestra but he stays and doesn’t accelerate and they start to accelerate. And then at the end they both accelerate.

AP: It must be difficult to coordinate.

Corigliano: You have to realize they see the piece on Wednesday and they play it on Thursday, the orchestra. ... They always tell me that (conductor Arturo) Toscanini had 100 rehearsals for ``La Boheme.″ ... Now you get three rehearsals, or four for the whole program, which this concerto is only less than half. ... It is amazing because it’s so complex.

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