The Kennedy Center

Clarinet Concerto

About the Work

Kalevi Aho Composer: Kalevi Aho
© Peter Laki

To date, pre-eminent Finnish composer Kalevi Aho has written no fewer than 15 symphonies, a concerto for almost every instrument in the orchestra, in addition to several operas and a great deal of chamber and vocal music. Also known as a passionate writer about current social and cultural issues, he is a prominent presence in his country's musical life. Almost all his works have been recorded on the BIS label, distributed worldwide so that his music is available to music lovers everywhere. From his extremely large and varied catalogue, one should note in particular the Insect Symphony (No. 7, 1988), derived from the opera Insect Life (1985-87), and Chinese Songs for soprano and orchestra (1997).

Martin Fröst, the dedicatee of the Clarinet Concerto, is an extremely versatile and adventurous musician; accordingly, the piece is vibrant and dazzling, with many exquisite lyrical moments in between. The composer has offered the following brief description of his work:

The Concerto has five movements, which are played without pause. The beginning (Tempestoso) is very dramatic and powerful, but the first movement also contains a beautiful, slow middle section. The second movement consists of a virtuoso solo cadenza, which is dominated by the mysterious tremolos of the clarinet.

The cadenza leads to the center and culmination of the Concerto, Vivace, con brio, which is the most virtuosic movement for both the orchestra and for the soloist. Here the time signature changes almost every bar, and therefore this rhythmically capricious movement is also quite difficult for the conductor. After a big culmination comes the slow, melancholy, and songful fourth movement, Adagio, mesto. The Epilogue of the Concerto is slow, too; the atmosphere of the last movement is unreal and mysterious. The solo part at the end consists largely of the broken, multiphonic sounds of the clarinet. The Concerto fades away into silence.