Steven Isserlis is an impeccable performer. For the past decade he paid me the greatest honour by playing my little work 'Inner World', for cello and electronic accompaniment, countless times around the globe. The honour magnified when he first urged the creation of this concerto, which the Sydney Symphony Orchestra graciously accommodated into its commissioning schedule and concert season.
It is daunting to compare one's own work with past masterpieces, but also foolish not to seek inspiration from outstanding precedents. I remain in complete awe of the cello concertos by Robert Schumann and Edward Elgar. The first for its continuous, amazingly organic melodic development sustained over 23 minutes, and the second for its utterly compelling emotional architecture and beautifully balanced contrasts between soloist and orchestra. I hope to have replicated some part of these characteristics in my own humble effort.
The very notion of concerto now feels rooted in the romantic notion of the hero (instrumental soloist) facing an indomitable adversary (the orchestra). Certainly the successful merger of these two radically mismatched forces is a primary task of the concerto composer. My concerto begins with a dramatic statement of this mismatch (borrowing a little from Elgar), and the balance of the work might be seen as a quest for coalition.
The soloist continually introduces new melodic material that is appropriated by the orchestra. A slow chorale led by the cellist frames the central section. Unusually, the majority of this typical 'slow' movement is actually quite fast, with only the return to the chorale signifying its stately intent.
The third and final section opens with rapid woodwind figures answered by the cello. The cello quickly converts these into simple rising triplet scales that carry the work through to its finale. Just before the climax the cello reintroduces the slow chorale as the orchestra continues its relentless triplet motion.
Carl Vine, March 2004
"Concerto for Cello and Orchestra " was commissioned by Symphony Australia with support from the Australia Council for the Arts for performance by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. It was first performed by the Sydney Symphony with cellist Steven Isserlis at the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House on 30th June, 2004.