Program Notes

Richard Sortomme (1948) – Violin Concerto
Performances September 23 & 24, 2017
Lynn University, Boca Raton, FL, with the Lynn Philharmonia
Elmar Oliveira, violin soloist
Guillermo Figueroa, conductor

After a long and successful career as a violinist, American composer Richard Sortomme returned to the world of composition in the 1990s and dove into it in full force in the 2000s. His work has brought great accomplishment and acclaim including many commissions, most recently a Concerto for Two Violas on Themes from Smetana’s String Quartet, From My Life , premiered by The Cleveland Orchestra in November 2015. Following on its success, Mr. Sortomme was delighted to receive a commission to write a new concerto by renowned violinist and longtime friend Elmar Oliveira, the only American violinist ever to receive the prestigious Gold Medal at Moscow’s Tchaikovsky International Competition in 1978. For this piece, Sortomme would return to his technique of reaching to other composers for inspiration, settling on the beautifully melodic and exuberant violin concerto by Erich Korngold (1945). “Although mine was not based on any of Korngold’s material,” Sortomme says, “the extreme virtuosity and dedication to wonderfully long melodic content served in no small way as a model. It was always my goal to create a concerto that would be a vehicle to showcase Elmar [Oliveira’s] remarkable talent.”

The first movement, marked Moderato, immediately illustrates that Sortomme is a gifted violinist in his own right, as fluid writing for the solo violin weaves throughout lush chords with long and luxurious melodies. A slower B section finds the solo violin creeping eerily along through occasional pizzicato strings, accelerating as if being chased through some dark forest. Emerging triumphantly, the solo line soars freely among thick and lush writing for the final few minutes of the first movement, building to a climactic finish.

The second movement, Chorale and Romance, opens with what Sortomme describes as a “solemn and religious brass chorale”. Interrupting sharply, the violin enters with a slow descending sigh of a solo line, ushering in the melancholic Romance. Continuing the illustration of an unnerving forest scene from the opening movement, the violin wanders in and out of winds in rocking and ghostly chords, showing occasional glimpses of daylight with the chance major chord. A middle tutti section finds random pizzicato strings accompanying a duet between the flute and piccolo. Strings adopt the rocking lines from the earlier winds and the melody creeps into the oboe and a solo cello. Peeking out from hiding, the solo violin returns in a slow and deliberate melody, singing off into the distance as the movement comes to a careful close.

The third movement begins attacca, or without a break, with a virtuosic introduction and perpetuo mobile character. Out of this blooms the first true motive of the movement which will sound familiar to observant listeners. In this movement Sortomme employs another characteristic of Korngold’s work – that of “borrowing” themes from elsewhere in the same piece and reintroducing them in a new form. The expansive and melodic opening theme from the first movement is now heard in a dancelike fashion, accompanied initially by brass and then followed by orchestration of a much more chamber variety as the melody broadens. Two verdant tutti sections are the heart of this third and final movement, both featuring the full forces of substantial woodwind and brass sections. The ending Coda section includes an exact quote of the 1st eight bars of Korngold’s 1st movement opening melody (up an octave) and then finds the solo violin racing along, drawing the piece to a grand finale.

Chris Merkle,
Director of Artistic Operations, Savannah Philharmonic