Bringing a new orchestral work to life in the 21st century is no easy task. A perfect storm of proven skill, interested conductor, available orchestra and—in this instance where the result is a triple concerto—soloists ready, willing and able to make the considerable investment of time to add a new piece to their repertoire has docked in Thunder Bay just as the maiden voyage of this season’s Great Lakes shipping traffic begins its inaugural voyage.
JWR had the opportunity to sit down with composer Jordan Pal in the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium just a few hours before the première performance of his Triple Concerto for Violin, Cello, Piano and Orchestra. We began our conversation tracing the genesis of the commission.
JP: While at the University of Toronto where Gary Kulesha was my mentor, I accepted a contract to adapt Bastien et Bastienne [one of Mozart’s first operas written at the age of 12] for the Gryphon Trio [along with singers Naomi Forman, Lawrence Wiliford and Robert Pomakov]. The libretto for Freida and Fred was written by Anne Hodges who added a new twist to the original story. Then in 2011, my overture, On the Double, was played by the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra. That performance began a commissioning conversation with music director Arthur Post and, after a little back-and-forth discussion, we agreed on the triple concerto with the Gryphon Trio as the soloists.
JWR: And what a fine bit of programming to couple your work with Beethoven’s Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano. A bit daunting to share the same bill, but you mentioned how much you admire the humanity and “struggle” in Beethoven’s music. How did you proceed with the creative process once the go-ahead was given?
JP: Let me begin by debunking the myth where it all comes in a wave. We’re all different. At times the ideas flow easily, on other occasions I have to work at it, feeling like a sculptor from the Romantic era: I know what I want and gradually work the clay down. Whether from impulse or actual notes, I get chills as the music develops. It’s pure bliss when I get the germ to the point that I know I can get a piece out of it—you feel confident. Then I write, I work and I refine the passages. There’s a visual aesthetic to my music. I look for symmetry and patterns within the clay—you’ve got to find the patterns that work, patterns allow the audience to know what’s going on.
JWR: What was your work schedule once you began “sculpting?”
JP: It spanned January 2012 to December 2012. After feeding the dog at 8:00 a.m., I begin. Not every day is the same, sometimes I can go twelve hours. I use Sibelius [computer software and also a favourite composer of Pal’s] once I’ve got the ideas on paper; Midi helps with the rhythms. I had to deliver the parts 40 days before the concert; there was a lot of editing and layout work with the [individual] parts—every page turn had to be carefully planned.
JWR: Did you get much input from the soloists?
JP: After receiving their parts in late November, they made a few comments. Our biggest concern was with the balance both within the trio and with the orchestra. I am sure there will be some tweaking once the première is over.
JWR: The triple concerto is a relatively rare form. How would you compare yours with Beethoven’s?
JP: We both use three movements, Fast, Slow, Fast with the first movement being the longest [Pal’s remaining movements are successively shorter; Beethoven uses his “Largo” as an extended introduction to “Rondo alla Polacca,” cross-reference below]. Beethoven’s is more melodic, mine is more textural, using the trio as a unit somewhat like a concerto grosso.
JWR: How important are commissions these days?
JP: It’s a blessing to get work; working is half the enjoyment. I want to have more of that hard work.
With another major composition now before the public, Pal’s growing reputation and ability to deliver on time, coupled with his ever-engaging curiosity should result in many more opportunities to utilize his considerable skills for ensembles large and small.
Note: JWR’s review of this concert will first appear in American Record Guide. JWR