The Concerto for Clarinet is a composition written to pay homage to: a) an instrument I revere; b) the 'jazz baggage' I carried through my first forty years: Ballad/Boogie/ Waltz/ Bebop; c) the early American symphonists, particularly Riegger, Piston, and my teacher Bernard Rogers; and d0 an artist friend of impeccable musicianship. The three movements are marked by a (hopefully) clear structure and an absence of any contemporary 'sound-effects'. Much of the solo part is filtered through, and perhaps encrusted with, my own youthful jazz 'clarinet-memories': particularly Benny Goodman and Buddy DeFranco.
The first movement opens with the annunciation of a brief ascending signal-motto which continues to reappear in many guises as a cyclical, binding-force throughout the course of the entire work. Two thematic idea (A and B) are then presented by the soloist: the first cantabile, the second more vociferous. A third melodic fragment (C: a brief series of syncopated chords) serves later as a closing-theme. All three groups are born out of the opening harmonic blocks, and each idea partakes predominantly of its own special diet of intervals. While the formal structure carries many harbingers of conventional sonata-design, its shape is 'doctored' as the piece wends its course. For example: 1) the B theme, which starts to be developed even as it is being presented, and further modified in its reprise, is (therefore?) absent entirely from the development section itself; 2) the A theme undergoes considerable variation before the closing theme appears; 3) the C group, previously dormant, later functions as the climax of the recapitulation; so that 4) the A theme, now slower, can only wistfully die away. The movement closes with echoes of the opening signal motto, carrying over into...
...The second movement, which starts as a simple 2-part form, more in the nature of a Fred Astaire-like (1930') Grand Ballroom Waltz' than a true slow movement. An unadorned, somewhat naive theme (first started in the orchestral winds) dives way to an arpeggiated figuration which serves as the genesis for all of the material. Following a brief 'false reprise' and the recapitulation itself, the soloist, instead of ending, commenced a momentarily-excited development section of rapid, virtuosic runs over echoes of the waltz tune. The orchestra finds this elaboration to their liking and adds its own contribution. The soloist never plays the main waltz theme until relaxing into the Coda, however, apparently being reluctant to comment upon it.
The third movement commences attacca. Although its form is somewhat akin to the traditional Rondo structure, the material is all a varied recapitulation of the two previous movements: The principal group (A) is derived from the previously neglected first-movement B theme, now at a faster pace, and a second more cantabile episode (B) echoes the character of the second movement waltz. The third section (C) is the one solo cadenza of the work which is stolen blatantly, almost intact, from the middle of the first movement. Unlike standard cadenza practise, however, the soloist never truly 'breaks tempo', but drives both clarinet and orchestra into a vivace coda. Since so much previously-heard material is restated here, albeit in a new guise, the entire concerto tends to mold itself into one extended single-movement 'sonata' or, if one prefers, in gigantic A-B-A design. Accordingly, the first movement is as long as the second and third combined.
The Concerto for Clarinet is approximately 26 minutes in duration and the soloist is accompanied by pairs of woodwinds (including piccolo, English horn, and bass clarinet), five brass, timpani, percussion, harp, piano/celesta, and strings, with a major role assigned to an obbligato string quartet. It was written, with grant support from the National Endowment for the Arts, for the American virtuoso Kenneth Grant, principal clarinetist of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.