Hands (2011) by Ronan Guilfoyle
Concerto for Electric Guitar and Orchestra
Note by Ronan Guilfoyle
After Jimi Hendrix, the electric guitar became an instrument with incredible sonic range and power. In this new piece I've harnessed the power and colouristic possibilities of this amazing instrument and allied it to the power and colouristic possibilities of the modern symphony orchestra. The electric guitar is the most popular instrument in the world today, yet this is not represented in the 'classical' world. In this new piece I wanted to show off the instrument in this orchestral context, and the rhythmic and improvisational skills of the great guitarist Rick Peckham.
The piece is called Hands (for various reasons) and is in a traditional three-movement format. What perhaps is not so traditional about it is the fact that the guitar improvises extensively in the first movement, improvising over the orchestral textures and also improvising the cadenza which connects the first and second movements. This improvisational element will allow the piece to be somewhat different each time it is played. The whole first movement is based on a bass figure (heard right at the beginning), which I improvised on a recording that took place shortly before I began the composition of the piece. I'm not too proud to steal from myself!
The second movement is based on a series of intervals that have some meaning for me, and the movement features a lyrical melody - something quite deliberate on my part. I feel that contemporary composers often exercise a kind of emotional apartheid in which certain emotions and atmospheres (anger, chaos, fear) are somehow cool to use in your music and others (happiness, optimism, lyricism) are not. This movement has wistful and lyrical qualities to it, but also a faster more active section where the guitar engages in a dialogue with sections of the orchestra before returning to the lyrical theme
The final movement is quite frankly a celebration - a celebration of good things that sometimes come to us unexpectedly, of being alive, and a celebration for me of having the opportunity to represent this feeling through this music.