Piano Concerto - "Old Nassau" (2016)


Dec. 8 & 9, 2016, Richardson Auditorium, Princeton, NJ

Princeton University Orchestra; Michael Pratt, director; Juri Seo, piano 


Live recording of the premiere

Program note

In a traditional concerto, the orchestra accompanies a shining soloist. In my concerto, however, the orchestra shines with the soloist. In the final two movements you will hear “Old Nassau”—a tune that lives in the heart of many in Princeton—contribute to the communal premise. For its rich chromaticism and wacky changes in time signature, the alma mater is even complex and interesting to work with.

The opening movement serves the role of a fanfare. It is bombastic, exciting, and attention-grabbing. Here the piano is treated like a percussion instrument with lots of noises and clusters (many adjacent notes played at once as a dissonant chord).

The second movement is the longest and most substantial. It features a trio of soloists—piano, percussion, and bass—that alternate and combine with the orchestra. The whimsically fast triple meter harks back to the scherzo form that Beethoven employed to hilarious effect (scherzo is Italian for “joke”). For good measure, I tossed in some melodic bits from the Coriolan Overture as a small nod to ol Ludwig. The movement finishes with a brief piano cadenza and an epic coda.

The slow and lyrical third movement introduces fragments from “Old Nassau.” It doesn’t quite find the tune; it meanders, like fading memories or dreams. Many instrumental flavors, especially the strings and woodwinds, come to the fore. Unlike the other three movements that unfold in sections, this one forms an arch. It builds to a climax and then calms to an intimate octet of string soloists.

Having discovered the tune, the finale arrives with a definite and resolute statement of the main theme, “Old Nassau,” heard in the strings as a chorale texture. Variations on the tune follow, culminating in a fughetta (a musical device by which pieces of a melody imitate each other simultaneously).

Piano Concerto lasts about 23 minutes with a short break between the second and third movements. 

The concerto was featured in Princeton University's Year in Review: 2016-2017. The last movement runs from 4:40 to the end.