Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (Piano Concerto No. 1) (1995) by Kevin Volans

Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (Piano Concerto No. 1) (1995)

I wanted a maximum of piano resonance in this piece to allow the piano to stand out against the dense winds, so I simplified the harmony. There are plenty of superimposed major and minor chords, giving the piece a sound somewhat reminiscent of early twentieth century Western music.

There are also, however, two quite African characteristics: I decided to treat the orchestra like a vast panpipe ensemble, whose makeup is anti-hierarchic. Each instrument is treated as an equal (and frequently opposite) partner of its neighbour. The instruments are often interlocked in several different ways - where one part complements the other - the simplest example being when one instrument is silent while the other plays, and they play alternate single notes. The piano and orchestra are also often interlocked: the piano part is on the whole meaningless without the orchestral part and vice versa. There are virtually no solos for the orchestral instruments and few for the piano.

Secondly, the piece is constructed around the ratio of 4:3. It was pointed out to me (after the fact) that rhythmically this is very common in Africa. There are passages in which the piano plays a pattern in fours against the orchestra in threes, and vice versa. Later on in the piece there are 'walking' passages where the orchestra plays four against three and the piano plays three against four in their respective parts, the one sounding a quaver later than the other. Most of the consecutive tempos have a 4:3 relationship (with slight adjustments). I was surprised when the piece was finished to find it was one of my most conventional works to date.

I wrote the Piano Concerto in South Africa and Ireland. The piece was commissioned by the BBC for the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, to be performed at the Proms, and is dedicated to Barbara Bailey, who generously lent me her room facing due east over the sea, where I worked each day from sunrise.

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