Classical Album of the Week: Marsalis Violin Concerto and Fiddle Dance Suite

Sep 17, 2019

September 16, 2019. Jazz trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis writes about reconnecting with the Anglo-Celtic roots of Afro-American music in his Violin Concerto in D, written for Scottish violin virtuoso Nicola Benedetti, and recorded with The Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Cristian Măcelaru. The celebration of community and joining of different musical traditions also enriches his Fiddle Dance Suite for solo violin. 

Nicola Benedetti had known Wynton Marsalis for years when she asked him to write this violin concerto for her, and describes Marsalis as "one of [her] greatest inspirations." 

"Wynton is one of those figures that I've just admired so deeply, and have been]so fascinated by his philosophies, and his views and his output of music." Marsalis, in turn, says the concerto "takes inspiration from [Benedetti's] life" as a virtuosic traveling performer and educator, and created a piece "that would allow her to inhabit an expansive range of human emotions."

Six orchestras in four countries agreed to co-commission the work: The London Symphony, Ravinia, the LA Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic.

Marsalis, a self -described " jazz musician and New Orleans bluesman" wrote a work for symphony orchestra that tells the story of Nicola's dream of moving people with her music as she travels from place to place.

Each movement of the work involves evocative descriptions of place and its people -- using at times, whistles, foot stomps and hand claps -- as the music moves from Rhapsody to Rhondo Burlesque, Blues, and a Hootenanny.

And what does Benedetti think while playing the story of this dream?

"I think the thing I consider most when I am playing the piece is [Marsalis] and his life because he had such an unusual combination of interests and circumstances and experiences.... So perhaps when he was writing the piece with me in mind, I'm kind of playing the piece with him in mind."

Conductor Cristian Macelaru, who leads the Philadelphia Orchestra on the recording, has been involved in the piece from early on. "I spent countless hours with Wynton, ... singing the score, or talking about the music. ...His music always refers back to what he calls 'the human element,' to the fact that his music and art in general has to be a conversation we're having that reflects our humanity and our own development as a species."

Macelaru says while the work has evolved, the meaning has never changed. "I think a recording of the piece is so wonderful - it gives one the possibility to go in depth to the gestures that Wynton is creating and the language and the world he is creating with them."