William Kraft: Concertos









Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra


Thomas Akins, timpani




Concerto for Piano and Orchestra


Mona Golabek, piano




Evening Voluntaries




Veils and Variations for Horn and Orchestra


Jeff von der Schmidt, French horn




Berkeley Symphony Orchestra · Kent Nagano, conductor


Alabama Symphony Orchestra · Paul Polivnick, conductor










William Kraft




William Kraft was appointed to the Dorothy and Sherrill C. Corwin Chair in Music Composition at the University of California at Santa Barbara in September, 1991, in recognition of his long and distinguished career as a composer, conductor and teacher. He served as percussionist (1955-1962) and timpanist (1962-1981) with the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1955 to 1981 and was the orchestra's first composer-in-residence (1981-1985) during which time he founded and directed the Philharmonic New Music Group. He also served as regular guest conductor and was assistant conductor for three seasons.




A musician of international acclaim, Professor Kraft has received dozens of awards, commissions, and nominations including two Guggenheim Fellowships, two Ford Foundation commissions, grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation, two Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards, the Norlin/MacDowell Fellowship, and the American Academy and Institute of Arts & Letters Award. His works have been commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Library of Congress, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Boston Philharmonic, Kronos Quartet, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players/Contemporary Music Forum (Washington, DC)/Speculum Musicae (New York), San Francisco Symphony, and many others. In 1991 Professor Kraft's composition, Settings from Pierrot Lunaire, a piece for soprano and chamber ensemble, was premiered in its entirety in Boston. In addition to composing several film and television scores, he conducted the orchestra for the recent films Dead Again, Carlito's Way, and Indo-Chine. Professor Kraft has served on the Board of the Monday Evening Concerts, the Music Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts, as musical director and chief advisor for the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra of Los Angeles, the board of the American Music Center, and was Chairman of the ASCAP Board of Review.




Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra (1983)




The Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra was commissioned by Percussion Projects for Thomas Akins and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. The premiere took place March 9, 1984, with John Nelson conducting and subsequently won second prize in the Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards.




The work is scored for 2 flutes (both doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (second doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 3 percussion, harp, piano/celeste, and strings. There are three movements.




When Mr. Akins first called to tell me about the commission, I told him I doubted that the timpani could sustain sufficient musical interest for a full-blown concerto, and suggested a five-movement suite containing movements of contrasting character. However, when I began actual composition, I realized I had found the concept, the material, and the structure that would make a large three-movement concerto.




Before commencing any actual writing, I met with Mr. Akins in Indianapolis to get acquainted with him and his whole approach to playing the timpani, and to discuss various ideas. One fruitful idea that came from that discussion was the use of gloves with differing materials clothing the fingers. Knowing that two beautiful works of Delius were to precede the Concerto, I wanted the Concerto to grow out of the serenity of the Delius as it established its own identity. Therefore we looked for the softest method of playing. From sticks we went to hands, and from hands to fingers, and from fingers to gloves with different coverings. The reverse order of this exhibits a vital part of the construction of the first movement, i.e. starting with felt-covered fingers, the timpanist moves to leather, then to the whole gloved hand, and then to sticks of increasingly hard coverings, until we have reached uncovered wood.




Likewise, the musical material grows. Beginning with a timpani cadenza that itself unfolds from a solitary note, other instruments are gradually added in an interplay with the soloist until the entire orchestra is involved. The first movement was completed on my birthday, September 6, 1983, at MacDowell Colony where, indeed, except for the first half of the first movement, the entire Concerto was written.




The second movement is dedicated to my mother, who died September 12, 1983, during its composition. It is titled "Poem for Timpani, Two String Orchestras, Celeste and Percussion." Ideally, the strings are divided into two separate sections: "A" on stage right, "B" on stage left; or "A" front stands, "B" rear stands. Considering one of the idiomatic techniques of the timpani, the movement is based on glissandi.




The third movement is built on a four-note motive, the complete theme being first written for the timpani to establish its idiomatic character, and then set in various ways for the orchestra. However, in its final realization it is first expressed by the orchestra particularly in the brass. Without a priori intention, the movement emerged into rondo form climaxing in a brief timpani cadenza just before the very end.




I would like to thank Thomas Akins, Percussion Projects, John Nelson, and the Indianapolis Symphony, as well as the MacDowell Colony, for their various roles in bringing the Concerto not only to actuality, but also to a most successful and, to me, meaningful premiere.




-William Kraft




Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1972-73, Revised 1989)




In 1971, the Ford Foundation announced its second round of grants to soloists who, in turn, were to select composers of their choice. One of the recipients was the young and very dramatic pianist Mona Golabek. After nearly a year of searching, listening and interviewing, Ms. Golabek called me to discuss the project, and eventually offered me the commission.




Fortunately, the day in February, 1972, that I received the formal notification from the Ford Foundation, I also received a letter from the Guggenheim Foundation, informing me that I had been awarded my second Guggenheim Fellowship. That allowed me to request and receive a leave of absence from my position as timpanist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. I decided to spend that time in London where, while working on the Concerto, I could catch up on contemporary trends in Europe. It was remarkable coincidence that the home I rented in Holland Park, London was owned by a retired architect, D. Dex Harrison, whose hobbies were restoring old paintings and rebuilding old pianos. Thus, the bulk of the Concerto was written using an 1830 Grand Erard (the make of piano used by Chopin) and an 1890 Broadwood.




The revisions made (1989) to bring the Concerto to its present form had principally to do with discarding elements characteristic of compositional practices in the 60's and early 70's, particularly where the orchestral players were given too much freedom to interpret. I felt this disturbed the organic quality of the work by diminishing the control and personality of the composer. Other portions were removed in order to clarify the structure and the flow of the music.




Primary in the conception was the personality of Ms. Golabek: she was a wonderfully vital and dynamic person and a real virtuoso. Therefore, the soloist in the Concerto is truly the protagonist; it is she who unfolds the character and intent of the piece. The first section is constructed in the manner of a recitative completely unmeasured with letters and numbers by which the conductor signals the orchestra for its participation. This allows the soloist the freedom to interpret the patterns and control the flow and development of the music. The Concerto is actually in one continuous movement but with three large divisions of sufficiently contrasting character to be called movements in themselves.




The first "movement" is based on a few timbral elements: (1) a cluster of very low pitches which at the beginning are inaudibly depressed, and sustained by the sostenuto pedal, which causes sympathetic vibrating pitches to ring when strong notes are struck; (2) a single powerful note indicated by a black note-head with a line through it indicating the strongest possible sforzando; (3) short figures of various colors sometimes ominous, sometimes as splashes of light or as elements of transition; (4) trills and tremolos which are the actual controlling organic thread starting as single axial tremolos and gradually expanding to trills of increasingly larger and more powerful scope. The "movement" begins in quiescent repose but unceasingly grows in energy and tension as the stretching of a string or a rubberband. When it can no longer be restrained, it bursts into the next section.




This second "movement" propelled by the released tension is a brilliant virtuosic display, which begins with a long solo of wispy percussion, later joined in duet for the piano. The orchestra takes over shooting the material throughout all its sections like a small agile bird deftly maneuvering through air, while the piano counterpoises moments of lyricism. The orchestra reaches a climax, thrusting us into the third "movement" which begins with a cadenza-like section for the piano. This moves gently into an expressive section in which duets are formed with various instruments. There are fleeting glimpses of previous


material, as a fragmented recapitulation. One glimpse is hazily expressed by strings and percussion in a moment of simultaneous contrasting levels of activity, a technique of which I have utilized in various fixed-free relationships, particularly in my Concerto for Four Percussion Soloists and Orchestra, Contextures, and Games: Collage No. 1. The second half of the third "movement" is a large coda which brings about another display of virtuosity, this time gutsy and driving, raising the Concerto to a final climax, the soloist completing the fragmented recapitulation concept. The work ends with the single-note sforzando and low cluster from the very opening of the first movement.




William Kraft




Evening Voluntaries (1980)




Wordsworth is a favorite poet of both John Cerminaro and myself, so when Mr. Cerminaro wished to record an album entitled "Evening Voluntaries" and to have me compose a piece by that name, there was no difficulty in agreeing.




The atmosphere of the poem was the impetus for the piece, which I hope will become apparent to one hearing the music and having an acquaintance with the poem. The work is structured as theme, three variations, and finale, and has two essential characteristics lyrical and virtuosic, making extreme demands on the performer both technically and musically.




Although Mr. Cerminaro felt that "Evening volunatires" could not be performed for five years because of its difficulty, the first live performance (i.e., the world premiere) was given by Jeff von der Schmidt on May 16, 1983, at the Monday Evening Concerts in Los Angeles, California.




William Kraft




Evening Voluntaries (composed 1832, published 1935)


William Wordsworth




Calm is the fragrant air, and loth to lose


Day's grateful warmth, tho' moist with falling dews.


Look for the stars, you'll say that there are none;


Look up a second time, and one by one,


You mark them twinkling out with silvery light,


And wonder how they could elude the sight.


The birds, of late so noisy in their bowers,


Warbled a while with faint and fainter powers,


But now are silent as the dim-seen flowers.


Nor does the village Church-clock's iron tone


The time's and season's influence disown;


Nine beats distinctly to each other bound


In drowsy sequence how unlike the sound


That, in rough winter, oft inflicts a fear


On fireside listeners, doubting what they hear!


The shepherd, bent on rising wtih the sun,


Had closed his door before the day was done,


And now with thankful heart to bed doth creep,


And joins his little children in their sleep.


The bat, lured forth where trees the lane o'ershade,


Flits and reflits along the close arcade;


The busy dor-hawk chases the white moth


With burring note, which Industry and Sloth


Might both be pleased with, for it suits them both.


A stream is heard I see it not, but know


By its soft music whence the waters flow.


Wheels and the tread of hoofs are heard no more;


One boat there was, but it will touch the shore


With the next dipping of its slackened oar;


Faint sound, that, for the gayest of the gay,


Might give to serious thought a moment's sway,


As a last token of man's toilsome day!






Veils and Variations for Horn and Orchestra (1988)




Veils and Variations for Horn and Orchestra was composed on commission from Jeff von der Schmidt and completed in May, 1988. The work is in two movements, each of which in different ways draws on musical ideas that the composer has explored in other recent pieces.




"Veils," the title of the first movement, refers to layers of sonorities that combine to form a constantly changing succession of aural textures. This process, which Mr. Kraft has developed in other compositions of the past several years, might be compared to placing a series of colored transparencies beside each other in a layered sequence, the various overlappings producing an array of composite colors. The "meshing" of these sonorities yields dense "clouds" of sound, as Mr. Kraft describes them, though the individual sonorities themselves may be quite transparent.




This veiling procedure is evident from the opening moments of the piece. Alto flute and piano provide the first "veil" of sound, but their combined sonority is soon overlaid with others formed by different combinations of instruments; at length the entire orchestra is brought into play as part of one sonic layer or another. Only then does the solo horn enter the discourse, sometimes blending into the ever-changing orchestral fabric, but more often standing out from it by dint of the virtuosity of its music, which is particularly demanding in its use of the instrument's extreme high and low ranges.




The second movement follows the first without pause, the transition occurring in the course of an unaccompanied passage for the horn. Entitled "Variations," the movement grew out of a work for unaccompanied horn called Evening Voluntaries, which the composer wrote in 1980. The title of this piece is that of a poem, a gentle-evocation of twilight in the countryside, by Wordsworth. Mr. Kraft says he associated the term "voluntaries" with distant horn calls, and the theme, taken from Evening Voluntaries, that opens the "Variations" portion of the present work, has a pastoral, far-off character. There follows a series of variations on this theme. The first is marked by contrasting dynamic levels and registers in the horn part; the second augments these demands with rapid figuration; the third requires rapid, delicate playing, frequently involving triple-tonguing, to realize its wispy textures. A coda in slower tempo offers music more clearly related to the original theme. Unlike the classical theme-and-variations format these several sections are not clearly defined but flow seamlessly from one to the next.




Veils and Variations was first performed on January 27, 1989, by Jeff von der Schmidt with the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Kent Nagano and was awarded first prize in the Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards.




Paul Schiavo






Thomas Akins




Thomas Akins has been active in the music world as timpanist and conductor, and as educator and administrator. During his 26 years as principal timpanist of the Indianapolis Symphony, he served often as soloist, including the 1984 premiere of the William Kraft Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra, which was dedicated to him. Thomas Akins holds a degree from the University of Cincinnati, and he serves as music director of the Indy Pops Orchestra.




Mona Golabek




Acclaimed Grammy nominated pianist Mona Golabek has appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Philharmonia Orchestra (London), the National Symphony and the Tokyo Philharmonic including performances at the Hollywood Bowl, The Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center and London's Festival Hall, with conductors Zubin Mehta, Andre Previn, Michael Tilson Thomas, Leonard Slatkin and David Zinman. The New York Times has written "superior music making" while the Boston Globe and the London Times have called her "enormously talenteda knockout pianist."




Jeff von der Schmidt




Jeff von der Schmidt is Artistic Director of the Southwest chamber Music Society and serves on the Pomona College and Chapman University faculties. He has introduced new works for French horn by composers including Halsey Stevens, Charles Wuorinen and Ernst Krenek, as well as William Kraft. After its premiere, with Mr. Von der Schmidt and Kent Nagano, Veils and Variations received the first prize Kennedy Center Friedheim Award for best new American orchestral work of the season. Jeff von der Schmidt graduated from the University of Southern California and studied with Roland Berger of the Vienna Philharmonic.




Paul Polivnick




Paul Polivnick studied at the Juilliard School (violin with Oscar Shumsky, conducting with Jean Morel), while also working with Jorge Mester at Aspen and Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood. He succeeded Michael Tilson Thomas as conductor of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra in 1969. From 1985 to 1993 Paul Polivnick served as Music Director of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. He is occupied with an ever-increasing schedule of guest conducting assignments and is also conductor of the Oberlin Conservatory Orchestra..




Kent Nagano




Kent Nagano has been Music Director of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra since 1978. His international commitments include the Opéra de Lyon (Music Director since 1989), the London Symphony Orchestra (Associate Principal Guest conductor), and the Hallé Orchestra (Principal Conductor since 1994). Kent Nagano works often with contemporary composers, including John Adams (Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer) and Olivier Messiaen (St. François d'Assise).










William Kraft (b. 1923)




Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra




Allegretto (7:20)




Slowly (6:20)




Fleeting (9:29)




Thomas Akins, timpani




Alabama Symphony Orchestra · Paul Polivnick, conductor




Concerto for Piano and Orchestra




[Senza misura] Presto [Senza misura] (23:34)




Mona Golabek, piano




Alabama Symphony Orchestra ·Paul Polivnick, conductor




Evening Voluntaries (6:56)




Jeff von der Schmidt, French horn




Veils and Variations for Horn and Orchestra




Veils - Large e rubato; Variations - Adagio e poco liberamente (22:33)




Jeff von der Schmidt, French horn




Berkeley Symphony Orchestra · Kent Nagano, conductor




Total time = 76:18