On May 6, 2020, pianist-composer Michael Brown will perform the world premiere of his Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Strings with the Gilmore Festival Chamber Orchestra in Kalamazoo, Michigan. A highlight of this year’s Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival, the May 6 concert is the first of two performances of the new work this spring: on June 6 Brown takes it to Wroclaw, Poland, where the NFM Leopoldinum Orchestra will present the European premiere under the baton of Joseph Swensen. A joint commission from the two organizations, the concerto was written to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven.
Commenting on what inspired him in writing the piece, Brown writes:
I have spent innumerable hours studying, performing, and obsessing over Beethoven’s ingenious creations; he has played a pivotal role in shaping my dual musical existence as a pianist and composer. The new concerto seeks to integrate my own musical language with that of Beethoven, by weaving musical fragments of his various works into my own harmonic landscape.
Structurally my work adheres to a form similar to that of Beethoven’s concerti, with the first movement in sonata-form followed by a slow movement and a rondo finale. Specific Beethoven references include long, open pedal markings blurring harmonies and building incredible sonorities in the Largo of the Third Piano Concerto; extended use of trills; and the interweaving of small motivic fragments throughout the work. While his own motives are at times easily recognizable in my concerto, they appear at other times more subtly embedded into the texture. The drama between the piano and strings, the virtuosic cadenzas and rhythmic pulsations are also inspired by Beethoven’s monumental piano concerti.
I have often dreamed of being a fly on the wall observing him playing his own creations, and I hope this work may pay homage to him from the perspective of my being both a composer and a pianist.