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Three years earlier I had composed Cello Multitracks, a suite for cello nonet, which gave me the chance to explore and enjoy the huge variety of sounds that this instrument can create, and reaffirmed my belief that the cello is one of the most versatile classical instruments. I was impatient to compose a concerto for cello, so when Sasha Ivashkin approached me with the chance to compose a concerto for him and the St Petersburg Philharmonia I was already full of ideas.
Because the premiere of this concerto was in St Petersburg, and in the very concert hall where so many inspirational Russian compositions had been premiered (including works by my grandfather), I instinctively started to write music that connected to my Russian heritage, albeit with a contemporary twist. My father grew up in Russia, but I was born in London and this premiere was my Russian orchestral debut. So I allowed those aspects that connect to my Russian side to sing out louder in this work. This is particularly the case in the second movement which I subtitled ‘in memoriam’, as it is inspired by the memory of my father, uncle, grandmother and grandfather, and it remembers in particular the difficult times they faced in the 1940s and 1950s in Russia. My grandmother was sent to a gulag for eight years, and there is a striking photo of my young father (taken by my uncle) looking at their ransacked apartment just after she was taken by the KGB. Experiences like theirs were shared by many during the Stalinist era.
The first movement is lighter, a Scherzo, with some humour, sarcasm, but also a tougher edge at times. It ends with a surprise end section created from a one and half beat loop of the main theme which changes the mood into a light, almost pastoral, setting.
As already explained, the second movement is more introspective and it connects with lyrical styles of the mid-20th century. There are some glimmers of hope and peace, but there is a feeling of despair that will not go away. The middle section (marked ‘scuro’ in the score) has a darkness that cannot be escaped, and the ending repeats the heavy closing phrase inexorably; a dark impending force that feels like it may never end.
The final movement opens with a humorous, quasi-classical introduction (marked ‘curioso’ in the score) but then launches into head-nodding hip-hop stabs set in triple time which are occasionally looped, stuttered mechanically and then slowed right down as if manipulated by a DJ. This movement originally had working title of ‘Bang Waltz’, referring to the bastardisation of the old classical form it hints at. However, the ornamental cello theme has a more classical shape, but without strictly adhering to classical harmony, and it really tests the technique of the soloist.
Very sadly the cellist Alexander Ivashkin, who commissioned this work, died suddenly of cancer less that 8 months after the premiere of this concerto (on 31st Jan 2014), and I would like to dedicate this recording to his memory.
Commissioned by Alexander Ivashkin with kind support from the Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust.
The first performance was given by St Petersburg Academic Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Sabrie Bekirova, solo cello by Alexander Ivashkin, in St Petersburg Philharmonic Great Hall on 18th May 2013.
from notes by Gabriel Prokofiev © 2020
|Prokofiev: Concerto for turntables No 1 & Cello Concerto|
Boris Andrianov performs Gabriel Prokofiev's Cello Concerto, a work drawing its inspiration from the Stalin-era deprivations faced by so many in the 1940s and 1950s, the composer's family among them. Concerto for turntables No 1 (two concepts ther ...» More