Violin Concerto

  • September 9, 1981
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Commissioned: American Composers Concerts, Inc., for the American Composers Orchestra with funding from The Jerome Foundation of St. Paul, Minnesota; Joseph Love Foundation and John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fund Dedicated to Stanley J. Love

Premiere: February 1, 1982; American Composers Orchestra; Paul Dunkel, conductor; Rolf Schulte, violin


Instrumentation: 2.2(2.ca).3(3.bcl).2-

Duration: 22’


Publisher: Schott Helicon Music Corporation (BMI)




The work is in three movements with an Interlude connecting the second and third. All three stem from a diminished seventh chord (bared only in the Interlude) whose successive transposition by major thirds forms a twelve-tone row. Because each movement is descended from one of these seventh chords, many internal and external references are shared. At the same time, each movement has its own special character. The first: introductory, expository, declamatory. The second: rhapsodic, fantasia-like. The third: more rhythmical, extroverted, impulsive (a string quartet emerges briefly toward the end). The Interlude, while serving a function structurally analogous to the traditional cadenza, is actually a moment of great restriction for the soloist (who plays a nine-bar ostinato of diminished seventh chords six times). The overall direction of the piece converges on this moment, for here the music returns to its essence.

The New York TimesDonal Henahan

"Tobias Picker...has written a Violin Concerto that sounds peculiarly undecided about whether to make obeisances to the 12-tone aesthetic still approved in academic circles or to older, less constricting traditions. His struggles with himself over this problem of loyalty and faith, however, contridubted heavily to keeping one involved with his piece..."


"What was most striking was the score's success in sustaining the rhapsodic mood and line of the 19th-century concerto while organizing itself in technical ways that would seem to be antithetical to that lost language. Particularly in the final movement there were rhythms and ostinato patterns that reminded one of Stravinsky, but the concerto's heart really belonged to daddy Brahms."


The New YorkerNicholas Kenyon

"Mr. Picker has here assembled the full apparatus of a virtuoso display piece. He gives his soloist brilliant figurations, arpeggios that wing their way up the instrument, and bold, strongly articulated melodies that hold the attention. He makes his orchestra sweep to grand, lyrical climaxes. He has provided an intelligible structure for the work — one that reinvents traditional form with considerable ingenuity. It finds its heart in a tense, titanic cadenza for the soloist between the second and third movements, which recalls the one in Mr. Picker's Sextet No. 3..."


"...the violin writing (which has grown out of that in the chamber duos Rhapsody and Romance) is idiomatic, and the melodies that Mr. Picker derives from this note row have a Bergian warmth and shapliness..."


"The concerto remains a compelling, fresh, individual creation — it demands to be heard again."




"Tobias Picker is a young American composer whose music differs from the standard stuff churned out by many of his contemporaries. His 1981 Violin Concerto is a large, expressive piece with such a big sound that it is hard to believe the orchestra uses only pairs of winds and brass (except for four horns). With its combination of lyrical 12-tone writing and Romantic rhetoric, it is reminiscent of two fine violin concertos of recent vintage, those by Penderecki and Rochberg, although it is not nearly as dark as the former nor as blatantly romantic as the latter. The prime influences seem to be Berg (melodically), Stravinsky (rhythmically), and Brahms (coloristically). The solo part of this three-movement (plus interlude) composition is extensive and virtuosic..."



FanfareJames H. North

"Picker has become one of the most-admired and most-performed composers of his generation, and this disc shows why. Studies with Wuorinen, Babbitt, and Carter may show in his technique, but they have not dimmed the Romantic enthusiasm that pervades his music. The 1981 Violin Concerto blazes away in the grand tradition: it has broad gestures, soaring themes, and thrilling virtuosity, all the while conveying its own sense of newness and individuality. There are three fast-slow-fast movements, the last preceded by a brief Interlude,which is a sparsely accompanied cadenza. This ia a remarkably powerful and confident work from such a young composer; if it were performed by Itzhak Perlman and the Boston Symphony, it would be an instant smash hit. I mean to imply only that the public's obsession with superstar performers is the main reason for the comparative obscurity of such fine new music as this concerto..."



The Village VoiceLeighton Kerner

"With Picker's Violin Concerto, [violinist Rolf] Schulte, one of New York's new music champions, takes full virtuosic advantage of the intensely romantic rhetoric and the composer's unabashed habit of squeezing all the juice possible out of the extreme ends of the instrument's range. Liner notes tell us that the concerto is based harmonically and melodically on a diminished-seventh chord transplanted twice along a major triad to form a 12-tone row. What one hears for much of the time is a chromatic, allusively tonal rhapsody sometimes as mild as latter-day Rochberg but far fresher."



The Kansas City StarHarry Haskell

"Mr. Picker's Violin Concerto, which is played with facility and eloquence by Rolf Schulte, is a virtuosic vehicle in the romantic tradition, by turns lyrical and vigorously dramatic. Such fiercely expressive music should win many friends."



The New RecordsJay M. Donner

"Tobias Picker should be a character in a Dickens novel. He is a promising composer. The Violin Concerto...constituted the zenith of my TNR month. Picker has created from his own twelve-tone system one of the finest concerti heard in some time, approximately the qualitative par of Rochberg and Penderecki's violin compositions. From the opening bars I was aware of something important, which continued at the same high level throughout. The three movements all seem interrelated and beautifully communicative."


Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia)Raymond Jones

"Keep the name Tobias Picker in mind. If his Violin Concerto is any indication of the rest of his output, this youthful composer...may develop into one of the major composers of our time."


"...Cast in what strikes me as a neo-Brahmsian mold with great shafts of lyricism, this concerto should be a major find for violinsts looking to expand their musical horizons."


The Chattanooga TimesNikki C. Hasden

"Lovers of modern works may enjoy this striking violin concerto by a young and gifted composer. Its three bold movements stem from a diminished-seventh chord, while it is placed in the grand tradition by means of its virtuoso writing and melodic line."


Copley News Service-Strictly Classical - King Durkee

"Picker is not just another faceless creator in the great amorphous mass we are inclined to call "the contemporary composer." He has written some superior things, and he has been rightfully praised for them. He has won recognition in his largely unappreciated calling by having won an impressive array of prestigious prizes. We have every reason to expect to hear good things from this extremely talented young composer in the future."


"His Violin Concerto, splendidly played by Rolf Schulte, is a handsome piece of work. Its invention bespeaks the excellent teaching Picker had (Elliot Carter, Milton Babbitt, Charles Wuorinen). It is a work constructed with reason and in a very nice style. It is immediately accessible."


"If you want to get an idea of what a young composer of today can do in such a large form, here is a fine opportunity."



The Oakland TribuneCharles Shere

"Here's a fine opportunity to hear two approaches to the current problem facing young composers: how to express emotional content without turning to the false nostalgia of postmodern tonal music. Picker takes the more conventional approach, casting a 12-tone concerto (whose tone row is tonally based) in the traditional fast-slow-fast movements and propelling his material through dramatically curving melodic forms, punctuating them carefully with well chosen harmonic support."


For violin and orchestra