Concerto for Violin and Orchestra

Year Composed: 2007
Instrumentation: vln solo + perc/hp/strings
Duration 38 minutes

I Awakening
II Alice's Waltz
III Elegy

Audio Excerpts (MP3)

Program Notes

I am attracted to narratives of all kinds: in novels, in film, and in music. As I wrote this concerto, I began to view the violinist as a character, and the orchestra as the environment (physical, social, psychological) which shapes the character’s life journey. The concerto is divided into three movements, each of which focuses on a different aspect of this journey.

I. Awakening

The movement begins with a simple melody in D minor, which becomes the foundation for the rest of the piece. As life begins to stir, the soloist’s interactions with the orchestral environment become more pronounced. The orchestra, like the natural world, represents a vast and mysterious entity that is by turns warmly supportive, indifferent, or threatening. After the soloist’s cadenza, the orchestra attacks, adopting the role of a machine-like collective which the soloist must struggle against in order to survive. Near the close of the movement the theme is transformed into a chorale, signifying a prayer that is violently shattered in the form of an unusual deceptive cadence (V-bVII), propelling the movement to a defiant conclusion.

II. Alice’s Waltz

The title refers to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Although highly lyrical in nature, this scherzo-like movement contains within it a seed of malevolence which occasionally manifests itself in sudden, terrifying outbursts. These were inspired by the dark subtext in some of Alice’s adventures. Alternating between moments of violence and moments of genuine beauty, the elegance of the waltz gradually gives way to a frantic climax in which the waltz is shattered, leaving in its wake a ghostly trace of the opening material.

III. Elegy

The final movement is an expression of deeply personal feelings I was trying to come to terms with at the time I wrote it. The movement contains a number of quotations from my older music (hence its extremely ‘traditional’ harmonic language), as well as an unveiling of the main theme in its full form, its spirit calm and reflective. At the height of the movement, feelings of joyful remembrance are swept away by a tide of despair, heralded by the return of the “Awakening” motif from the first movement. The remainder of the movement depicts an impassioned attempt to transcend one’s own nature: this becomes the final and most challenging conflict of the work. The attempt fails, and the movement collapses into D minor, descending into the depths of the orchestra where the piece began. Only at the end do we hear a glimpse of D major, but the sound hovers in the distance somewhere, out of reach.

The Violin Concerto was written for my master’s thesis in 2007. It is dedicated to violinist Alexa Wilks, who performed my very first concert piece nearly six years ago.


  • November 17, 2007 - Sneak Peek Orchestra, featuring Alexa Wilks (violin), conducted by Victor Cheng. Calvin Presbyterian Church, Toronto

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