Foundation - Concerto for Cello and Orchestra

Year Composed: 2011
Instrumentation: vcl solo + 2+picc.1+eh.2.2/ perc/hp/pno/strings
Duration 25 minutes

I Light
II Water
III Illusion

Audio Excerpts (MP3)

Program Notes

Foundation is, first and foremost, a concerto for cello and orchestra, conceived in a relatively traditional three-movement format (fast, slow, fast.) It is based on mythological themes that have occupied me since the composition of Starsail (2008), for cello and piano.

I have been fascinated by stories - by storytelling in general - ever since I was a child. Myth is the distillation of those stories that we have - collectively, over centuries upon centuries - deemed as essential to our being, and are thus a magnificent window and into the human condition. In this work, I have sought to explore one of the core precepts of myth through music: the traveler who encounters something unexpected (unknown, chaotic) which upsets the balance of her world, and how she chooses to act in the face of this challenge. The concerto is divided into three movements:

Light represents the world of order, knowledge, and stability. As such, it adheres to several familiar, classically-derived devices: a rough sonata-allegro structure as the overarching framework, brimming with motivic variation and even an extended fugal episode in the return of the 'A' section. The movement opens with a lush melody for the soloist in D minor, which unfurls over a bed of strings; spirited, upward-moving, carefree. But a shadow soon falls upon this idyll, disrupting the movement's predominantly Romantic frame of reference. In an attempt to repel the darkness, the music gradually adopts a more mechanical, aggressive demeanour that nonetheless fails to resolve the eventual onslaught.

II. Water
The second movement depicts a descent into darkness and chaos in all of its mythic grandeur. Mysterious, not-quite-defined textures lend the orchestral background a somewhat sinister, 'living' quality. Structurally ambivalent, the movement surges to-and-fro between moments of harmonic clarity and moments of hallucinatory restlessness. After this extended period of submersion, the music resurfaces unexpectedly transformed and luminous.

III. Illusion
There is little time for reflection in this propulsive movement, which sports an outwardly heroic subject only to undermine it with disturbing currents of disorder and skepticism. These currents threaten the very fabric of the subjective world - hence, illusion. The virtuosity of the solo part suggests a field of intense action; despite the movement's brief, lyrical episode, the 'heroine' (the soloist) ultimately chooses a darker path, in a severe and defiant coda.

Foundation is in many ways a spiritual sequel to Starsail, as it, too, features the cello in the central heroine's role. I've been blessed to work with one such heroine on both works: Rachel Mercer, who commissioned this concerto and to whom it is dedicated.


  • February 4, 2011 - Sneak Peek Orchestra, featuring Rachel Mercer (cello), conducted by Victor Cheng. St. Gabriel's Passionist Church, North York.

Commissions and Awards

  • Commissioned by Rachel Mercer with the generous assistance of the Ontario Arts Council, 2012


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