Christopher Theofanidis

Press Kit

Concerto (2003) for viola and chamber orchestra

I. black dancer, black thunder
II. sorrow
III. the center of the sky
IV. lightning, with life, in four colors comes down

Duration: 32 minutes
FIRST PERFORMANCE: January 2002/ Kim Kashkashian, viola; Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, Isaiah Jackson

Kim Kashkashian, photo by Steve Riskind.

The conception and inspiration of this concerto comes largely from Kim Kashkashian.  Early on in the process Kim sent me a collection of native American Indian poems, most of which were quite old and anonymous.  These poems were wildly different in character, but they had in common a supernatural sense of nature and an extremely evocative, if often terse, vocabulary.
I fixated on certain lines from these poems, and in an almost meditative sense, the music has come from these lines.

The other aspect of this concerto which I feel is personally linked to Kim, is that it is written literally for her- I wanted it to be an extension of her incredible intensity and focus as a performing artist.  For many years now, I have admired the way in which her music-making is an amplification of her spiritual being.

Each of the movements is quite serious in sentiment.  The first, "black dancer, black thunder," is based on a three-note figure first heard in the soloist's part.  It's character is incisive and foreboding.  The textures are often spartan, but volatile- fire and earth.  The movement is highly developmental and the transformations to the material spin out very large sections of material.

The second movement, "sorrow," contrasts a melancholic tune in the soloist's part with a static background in the orchestra.  It is a voice that speaks but receives no answer.  This material alternates in a blockish way with material in which the orchestra has longer lines and the soloist provides commentary over them.  The alternations between the lyrical and the musically abstract form the architecture of this movement.

The third movement, "the center of the sky," counterbalances two affects- sadness and beauty.  It is a kind of aria for viola and orchestra, and the materials are long melodies that spin out in time against often stark textures.

The last movement returns to the fast, turbulent world of the first and takes a decidedly virtuosic turn.  It is the most chromatic of the three and is also the shortest.

This work was written in before, during, and in the shadow of September 11th, and I believe is deeply influenced by that event.

—Christopher Theofanidis