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