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Farewell to philosophy
I have a great fondness for the lower string instruments: I am a bass player, my mother is a cellist, as are both my daughters; my own ensemble includes two violas, a cello and a bass, and for the instrumentation of my opera Medea I omit the entire violin section from the orchestra. As I have written a number of works for solo instrument or voice with orchestra I welcomed the opportunity to write a concerto for cello and orchestra and especially one which focuses particularly on the instrument’s lyrical qualities. Although the piece is in one continuous movement, and the soloist is playing almost without a break, it nevertheless falls into distinct sections which are recognisable by a shift of tempo as well as by a change in the music’s character.
One of the early ideas Julian Lloyd Webber and I discussed was that it might form a companion piece to one of the Haydn concertos. Given my friendship with some members of the English Chamber Orchestra and my awareness of their repertoire, this suggested a number of particular musical references. The subtitle to the work, for example, combines the subtitles of two idiosyncratic Haydn symphonies and I allude to them in different ways but chiefly through orchestration: for The Philosopher by including a section in the concerto where the orchestration resembles that of the symphony’s first movement (pairs of English and French horns, muted violins and unmuted lower strings); for The Farewell, by the progressive reduction in the orchestration towards the end. Indeed, apart from the orchestral tutti in the last few bars, the last pages of the score are virtually for string quartet. The subtitle also refers to my own background as a philosophy graduate...
The piece was commissioned by Philips Classics for Julian Lloyd Webber and is dedicated to him.
The first performance was given by Julian Lloyd Webber and the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by James Judd, 21 November 1995, Barbican Hall, London.