About my Double Concerto for Trumpet, Double Bass and Symphony Orchestra (2014-15)

Savikangas_DoubleConcerto_Score_page1In 2012 Finnish conductor talent Santtu-Matias Rouvali gave the premiere of my orchestral piece Whisked Whistle (2011) at the Helsinki Music Centre with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. I was very satisfied with the performance and especially with Santtu’s interpretation, so when he called me later and asked if I would be interested in composing a new double concerto for trumpet, double bass and orchestra to be premiered in Australia and then again in Finland under his baton I didn’t have to hesitate.

Santtu-Matias_Rouvali
Conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali in Brisbane before the World Premiere.

This might be the first ever double concerto for trumpet, double bass and symphony orchestra? At least I have not been able to find information of an earlier double concerto for this instrumentation. At first this solo duo might seem a bit odd, but actually it offers some unique musical possibilities. The trumpet is the leader and highest voice in the brass choir, while the double bass is the foundation of the strings, which opens an interesting connection and also a contradiction between the soloists and the symphony orchestra. I also discovered that the contrasting characters of these two instruments provided a fruitful starting point for composing.

Savikangas_Meyer_MorrisonThe composer with soloists Edgar Meyer (db) and James Morrison (tr) after the World Premiere in Brisbane.

Improvisation has a special meaning to me. I believe that improvisation can release the full energy of a musician, allowing her or him to be truly free and express his or her personality in a very direct and intuitive way – “to allow me to be me” as James Morrison put it when I met him in Finland after his wonderful multi-instrumental jazz concert with the Marian Petrescu Trio. Improvisation may also produce music which is played only once and cannot be repeated live exactly. Intergrated into an orchestral score which is mostly notated in every detail, improvisational elements might also help the piece to stay fresh and interesting over several performances.

Savikangas_DoubleConcerto_FinnishPremiereBowing after the Finnish Premiere in Tampere.

My Double Concerto is putting all these ideas together. It is partly fully written out and relies partly on the improvisational skills and imagination of the soloists, the members of the orchestra and even the conductor. The flowing interchange between these two ways of making music is in focus.

I composed the Double Concerto with the idea in mind that the double bass solo would not need to be amplified. However, in both of the performances so far it was. Edgar Meyer, the double bass soloist in the World Premiere actually considers a slight, “natural sounding” support amplification as the default practise for his solo performances with orchestras. Which, to sound enjoyable, obviously requires high quality  technology from the venue and a skilled sound engineer. Which we luckily had.

So far my Double Concerto has been performed twice. The World Premiere took place in Brisbane, Australia, at the opening concert of the Queensland Music Festival in July 17th 2015. The Queensland Symphony orchestra was conducted by Santtu-Matias Rouvali and the soloists were James Morrison (tr) and Edgar Meyer (db). The second performance, which was also the Finnish Premiere, was given in April 22nd by the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Santtu-Matias Rouvali with Aki Välimäki (tr) and Petri Mäkiharju as soloists.

DC_FinnishPremiere_SoloistsConductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali rehearsing the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra with soloists Aki Välimäki (tr) and Petri Mäkiharju (db).

The score is available in two versions, the orchestra either or not including four saxophones (SATB). With the saxophone quartet the orchestra will sound much more colorful, but obviously the production costs will be somewhat higher. The music remains the same in both versions. Both first performances were given without saxophones. I personally hope that the saxophone quartet would be soon adopted as a standard element of the modern symphony orchestra, which would highly enrich its sound palette and thus provide new possibilities for composers.

I was truly and equally satisfied with both of the dedicated performances of my Double Concerto. It was a great pleasure to get to know the four soloists – all great musical personalities of their own right! Working with conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali and having the possibility to follow the emergence of his interpretation of my music was again a fascinating learning experience.

My Double Concerto was indeed very well received both in Australia and in Finland. The feedback from the conductor, soloists, from the members of both of the orchestras and of the audiences was warm, positive and enthusiastic.

Tomi Vuokola of Aamulehtithe biggest newspaper in Tampere, Finland, wrote of the Finnish Premiere in April 23rd 2016: “…the Double Concerto by Max Savikangas includes everything possible, such as crackling of the strings and other extended playing techniques, jazz-feelings and a bit of improvisation, too…the piece as a whole could be said to be on the other hand a bit messy and shapeless, but also fun and vivid on the other. The listener is free to choose.”

Jagdish Mistry, prominent violinist of the famous international Ensemble Modern, next to whom I had the pleasure of  playing viola in an festival ensemble at the Time of Music Festival 2015, kindly listened on my request to the World Premiere recording of my Double Concerto with the score and wrote back to me: “I have listened to your Double Concerto and I must say, I really admire and like it! I find the basic material at the beginning interesting harmonically and rhythmically and just ‘mad’ enough to arouse and sustain the curiosity so that one is always thinking ‘where is this going to…!’…The jazz club style of section I found absolutely super in that this treatment of the material is harmonically well integrated into the structure and language of the piece altogether. The strings-scrunching music (at around 19’) is introduced at absolutely the right moment in the piece and the trumpet cadenza accompanied is also good and at the right structural position. I also like your use of orchestration as a structural component of the dramaturgy of the piece and not just a function of making everything sound lush and attractive. I get the feeling you are a very experienced composer…And your statement of your compositional intent is very much what I heard in the Double Concerto – as you can see from my remarks! Now that I see that some of the parts were improvised I think it is great that one doesn’t hear the difference between improvisation and the fully composed bits – it all sounds integrated as a composition! Congratulations!”

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to The Queensland Symphony Orchestra, The Queensland Music Festival, The Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra and The Madetoja Foundation of the Society of Finnish Composers for making the composition and first performances of my Double Concerto possible.

Hoping for more performances in the future!

Listen to the World Premiere
Listen to the Finnish Premiere
See the Score

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About my Composition Whisked Whistle for Symphony Orchestra

 

WhiskedWhistle_premiereWhiskedWhistle_Sample

The sounds of the string section carry along my first orchestral composition, ten-minute Whisked Whistle (2011), commissioned by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Actually, one of the extended string playing techniques even lent the work its title!

The variation of and tension between contrasting timbres propels the piece along, on equal terms with the six-part harmony developed by me and other more traditional devices such as melody, harmony, rhythm and orchestration. Timbre, in the context of this piece, should be understood broadly as an umbrella term for all the components of a sound event. The hoots, wails, hisses, gushes, whispers, crackles and buzzes heard in the piece are thus by no means effects or seasoning added afterwards; they are an organic part of my musical expression.

I had for a long time imagined – but never actually heard – how wonderfully some extended string playing techniques would sound when skillfully performed by a large string section. Fortunately the commissioner, the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra kindly offered me a 30-minute possibility to test just that before actually starting the compositional process. So, in May 2011 I prepared a kind of a sound test drive score and parts for the orchestra and listened carefully it to be played in the concert hall in a rehearsal conducted by Santtu-Matias Rouvali and then went home to assess which techniques in my opinion worked well and which didn’t. I’m certain that this possibility was essential for the success of this composition.

As no one can claim copyright to a playing technique or a sound thus produced, it is more essential how a composer can use them in a personal, interesting and musical manner in her/his composition! I eventually decided to utilize seven extended string playing techniques and sounds produced with them in Whisked Whistle. Some of these techniques I think I might have invented myself and some others I might have seen and heard elsewhere.

Sul tasto ”pan”: Position bow moltissimo sul tasto, approximately in the middle point of the sounding string. This way of playing is intended to result in a hollow sound, somewhat like the sound of the pan flute (or perhaps the clarinet in a low register, played softly).

Circular bowing: The bow, positioned in the upper third, is to be swept in a direction parallel to the strings with a slightly circular, free movement, which starts from the upper arm. This bowing thenique is intended to result in a blowing-like sound which however has a short, pitched impulse for each note.

Whisked whistle: To be played sul pont./quasi flag). A fast, whisking, over-wide arm vibrato, with the left hand finger sliding rapidly along the string, still pressed only half way down, resluting in a whistling, piercing and whisking, electric quitar feedback-vib.-note like sound.

Crackle: Press the bow down very hard at the frog with flat hair so that the tip of the bow points to the up left. Now twist the bow slowly in its place, while maintaining the pressure, approximately 45 degrees so that the bow finally reaches its normal position. This way of playing is intended to result in a dry, crackling, granular, discontinuous sound, like anticipating some violent burst (for example breaking of a tree branch). Sparse crackle is produced by turning the bow very slowly, dense crackle is produced by turning the bow slightly faster.

Whistle staccato: Intended to result in high, short, whistling and piercing, somewhat arbitraty flageolet-like sounds. They are not ordinary natural flageolets, but are to be played sul pont./quasi flag, the left hand finger pressed only half way down. The bow should be “flying”, hitting the string from the air for a very short time while moving fast.

Rumble: Slow bow speed, exaggerated bow pressure, bow close to the fingerboard. Left hand finger pressure is less than normal. This way of playing is intended to result in the note sounding approximately an octave, or, depending of the bow pressure, a major seventh lower than written, with a rumbling sound quality. Brutality is not to be avoided!

Bursting: Crunch the bow from normal playing position towards the tail piece over the bridge and back, resulting in a bursting, machine-like sound. An arrow down denotes the movement of the bow towards the tail piece, an arrow up vice and versa.

Whisked Whistle has been preformed twice so far. The world premiere was given in 25th of January 2012 at the Helsinki Music Center by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by talented and energetic Santtu-Matias RouvaliI was immensely satisfied with the dedicated performance of the orchestra and especially with working with conductor Santtu Matias-Rouvali and his interpretation of my music.

The second performance was given at the ISCM World Music Days 2015 festival in 2nd of October 2015 in Slovenia, Ljubljana by the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by intelligent and sensitive TaeJung LeeIt was a wonderful and lively performance indeed and I’m very glad that I was able to make it to Ljubljana and hear also the second performance live. Hopefully not the last!

The feedback after both performances of Whisked Whistle from both members of the audience and the orchestra has been overwhelmingly positive. Also many composer and musician colleagues personally told me that they had enjoyed the piece. The reviews in the Finnish press were similarly positive, especially Mats Liljeroos of Hufvudstadsbladet wrote: “...Max Savikangas hit a jackpot with his catchy orchestral piece Whisked Whistle, which in a very successful manner combined intricate complexity with clean-cut listener-friendliness.  (HBL 27.1.2018)

Frank J. Oteri of New Music USA wrote of the second performance: Whisked Whistle...is chuck full of unusual sonic effects, but they also always have a clear musical purpose. At one point in this piece there’s a passage that’s very reminiscent of the persistent three-note tattoo in Christopher Rouse’s Symphony No. 1, but Savikangas assured me during the post-concert reception that he was not familiar with Rouse’s piece and the similarities are a coincidence. It is further proof that great ideas don’t belong to any one person but are rather out there in the universe to be discovered and explored.”

Listen to the recording
Have a look at the score

Watch and listen to the performance of  Whisked Whistle by the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by TaeJung Lee. In this video, recorded at the ISCM WMD 2015 festival Ljubljana in 2 OCT 2015 by the Slovenian Radio and TV Broadcasting Company, you’ll find the complete final concert of the WMD 2015 festival with music by composers Veli-Matti Puumala (another fellow Finn!), Vito Zuraj, Nina Šenk, me and Hèctor Parra, also with short interviews or “statements” by each composer before the performances of their pieces. Please find my interview in English (with Slovenian subtitles) at 1:00:02–1:01:51, followed by the performance of Whisked Whistle at 1:01:56–1:13:30.

Watch and listen to music Journalist Jaani Länsiö interviewing me (In Finnish) on the Finnish Broadcasting Compoany YLE website about my composition Whisked Whistle.

Listen to music journalist Karoliina Vesa interviewing me (In Finnish) on the Finnish national radio YLE 1 about my composition Whisked Whistle

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