bassoon is the joker of the orchestra, because too many composers
have given it an excess of parts that (lets be frank
about this) make it sound like a duck with a cold.
Larry A. Lipkis, Bertha-Mae Starner 27
and Jay F. Starner Professor of Music and composer in residence,
has a different idea. For the Houston Symphonys principal
bassoon, Benjamin Kamins, he has written a concerto in which
the long-bodied instrument with the hookah-pipe mouthpiece
impersonates Pierrot, the perennial sad clown of the commedia
The concerto is the third of a trilogy of
commedia-based showcases for a solo instrument with orchestra.
Scaramouche, for cello (1989), has been recorded
by Carter Brey and the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra on
the Koch International label; and Harlequin, for
bass trombone (1997), was premiered by Jeffrey Reynolds and
the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Esa-Pekka Salonen. Pierrot
will be premiered January 18-20 by the Houston Symphony.
Lipkis said he was inspired by a gallery of
commedia characters on the walls of a 17th-century Bohemian
castle for the first movement, Henri Rousseaus Carnival
Night for the slow movement. The finale, The Flight
to Seventh Heaven, comes from the writings (not the
artwork) of the French painter Georges Rouault.
The composer wrote the first draft of the
concerto during a sabbatical last fall, consulting with Kamins,
a friend from childhood, as he revised and polished. Ben
and I go back literally to birth, he said. His
father and my father were best friends in high school, and
both became physicians in Los Angeles. Even before that, their
mothers were friends and played bridge together.
What we liked about Larrys style,
said Aurelie Desmarais, the orchestras senior director
for artistic planning, was that it had both asense of
humor and a sense of drama, and it seemed to suit Bens
personality very much.
His next project, conveniently enough, is
not only already written but has been performed. Its
a piece for brass quintet and organ, which premiered October
28 at First Presbyterian Church, Bethlehem, and will be played
there again at a Thanksgiving Day service.