My second violin concerto is written in one through-composed movement and is scored for a medium-sized orchestra. It opens with three chords, and the notes which the soloist plays in these (pizzicato) outline a simple theme which is the core ingredient for much of the music. This three-note theme incorporates a couple of wide intervals which provide much of the expressive shape to a lot of the subsequent melodic development throughout the concerto.
When the soloist eventually plays with the bow, the character of the material sets the mood for much of the free-flowing, yearning quality of the music throughout. The prevailing slow pulse is punctuated by some faster transitional ideas, and after a metric modulation the second main idea is established on brass and timpani, marked alla marcia. The wide-intervallic leaps in the solo violin part continue to dominate in a passage marked soaring, even as the music becomes more rhythmic and dance-like.
An obsessive repetitive-ness enters the soloist’s material just before the first main climax of the work, where the wind blare out the wide-intervalled theme. The central section of the work is reflective, restrained and melancholic, where the soloist’s part is marked dolce, desolato and eventually misterioso, hovering over an unsettled, low shimmering in the cellos and basses.
The martial music returns and paves the way for an energetic section based on a series of duets which the violin soloist has with a procession of different instruments in the orchestra – double bass, cello, bassoon, horn, viola, clarinet, trumpet, oboe, flute, and violin. After this we hear the three notes/chords again developed in the wind over a pulsating timpani beat, which sets up the final climax marked braying, intense and feroce.
The final recapitulation of the original material provides a soft cushion and backdrop to the soloist’s closing melodic material, marked cantabile, before the work ends quietly and serenely.
My second violin concerto is dedicated to Nicola Benedetti and in memoriam Krzysztof Penderecki, the great Polish composer who died in 2020.
Sir James MacMillan, 2022