A new Concerto Grosso - with a few surprises
Allan Gravgaard Madsen’s Concerto Grosso is a work that contains the epic, the romantic and quite a few surprises.
by Solveig Lindeskov Andersen, Edition·S – published May 10th 2022
Behind the composition lies a complex web of number systems, inventive obstructions, references to music history and personal tales – Allan Gravgaard Madsen‘s own as well as the stories of the four soloists.
Centerstage you find one of the greatest capacities in the new music world, the American string quartet JACK Quartet, and various elements in the work derive from the composer’s conversations with the musicians.
It is a pivotal aspect of Allan Gravgaard Madsen’s compositional process to get to know the musicians on a more personal level in order to write music for them.
In Concerto Grosso this is manifested in – among other things – a distorted reference to Irving Berlin – the composer behind the favourite lockdown piano repertoire of one of the soloists.
And the tempo through most of the first movement matches the running tempo of another soloist.
Video interview with insights about piece by JACK Quartet’s John Pickford Richards, composer Allan Gravgaard Madsen and conductor Ryan Bancroft.
Bancroft: “for me, to be able to be working with living artists, with living music, essentially making history – I’m obsessed with it.”
Standstill and movement
Allan Gravgaard Madsen talks about his music as standstill and movement:
“You have this one pitch which sounds for a long time, but you hear it through various rhythms, registers and timbres. The pitch is dressed in different colours you might say, and even though the pitch itself stands still, it is moving.”
The entire first movement of Concerto Grosso consists of no more than four pitches. Not four random notes, of course, and this is where Gravgaard Madsen’s number systems come into play:
J, A, C and K are the 10th, 1st, 3rd and 11th letters in the alphabet and transferred to a chromatic scale from the middle C this gives you the notes A, C, D and B flat.
“I believe that the audience will not notice that the material is limited to four pitches because the registers, timbre and rhythm constantly change,” Allan Gravgaard Madsen explains.
“When I limit the musical material to a minimum and start digging into these limitations, I am free to create new possibilities and push it to the limit.”
“That incites a certain presence in the material – and in the musicians when they work with the piece. It is my hope, that the music will capture the audience in that presence.”
Reality and dream
Concerto Grosso is filled with techniques and ideas that will capture the attention of the audience.
The first movement consists of 23 variations, and the second movement is an extremely short remix of the first movement with just a glimpse of music from each of the 23 variations.
In the third movement, a number of jazz chords are layered on top of each other in a descending musical cloud and in the fourth movement the distinction between reality and dream world is dissolved.
“Concerto Grosso is modern minimalism, and it’s only fair to call it Allan Gravgaard Madsen’s aesthetic magnum opus. […] Throughout the piece, it manages to maintain a pleasantly tantalizing aesthetic, that leaves me on the edge of my seat. […] It’s allurring.”
Photos from the premiere
- First performance: JACK Quartet and Aarhus Symphony Orchestra with Ryan Bancroft (conductor) in the Symphonic Hall, Musikhuset Aarhus, 19th of May 2022.
- Instrumentation: 18.104.22.168 / 22.214.171.124 / timp / perc (2) / hrp / strings (126.96.36.199.4) + solo string quartet
- Duration: ca. 25 mins