Double Concerto for Violin and Percussion

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            Farberman was a well-known composer, conductor, and percussionist.  Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, he was the son of a popular klezmer drummer.  He attended both the Juillard School and the New England Conservatory.   Later, he was invited to study composition with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood.  In 1951 he joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra as a percussionist—the youngest member to that date.  He has conducted all over the world, and has recorded more of the music of Charles Ives than has any other conductor.

            The Double Concerto for Violin and Percussion was composed in 2006 and was given its 2007 world première in New York City by the American Symphony Orchestra in Lincoln Center.  The concerto was written for Farberman’s friend, Guillermo Figueroa, a respected violinist and conductor.  Each of the three movements is associated with members of the Figueroa family:  Mr. Figueroa, his children (Giovanna, Sofia, and Valerie), and Mr. Figueroa and his wife, Valerie, respectively.

            The combination of percussion and violin is an unusual one, to say the least, and the imaginative Farberman has created a work that is convincing and exciting, to boot.  The composer’s close association with the Figueroa family is clearly evident from his descriptive notes:  the first movement depicts his vision of Guillermo’s personality during youth and growing maturity.  The scherzo middle movement is all about the children at play—games at tag, “loud, spirited.”—even “spiteful.”  The third movement evokes Farberman’s reflections of the couple—both love and anger.

             One will listen largely in vain for lyrical melodies, but there is a wealth of development of short melodic motives.   Farberman generates these motives using an old technique that stretches back to the Renaissance, and used through the centuries right up to today:  taking the letters of a name or phrase, and linking them to pitch letters. Farberman speaks of using the various names of the family to generate the little motive or themes associated with them in the various movements.

            On the whole, though, the most attractive aspects to appreciate are the marvelous textures, colors, and rhythms.   The percussion part is a demanding one, so prepare to sit back and enjoy a veritable “encyclopædia” of percussion sounds.  You may also find the “choreographic” demands on the percussionist entertaining, as well.        

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan