Millennium Concerto for Cello and Orchestra

By Harold Faberman

Written for the concert The Anxiety of Influence: Music as Historical Legacy, performed on Nov 19, 2000 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.


1. Percussion. My experience as a player has been invaluable. Early on, playing drum-set with bands and working with jazz musicians established an immediate and lasting influence. Just after graduating from Juilliard, I joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra percussion section, and my life changed. The twelve-year tenure as a member of one of the world’s greatest orchestras taught me the value of individual contributions to the totality of sound. In simple terms, I feel that a composer’s job is to create and move sound structures. There is no better way of understanding the mechanics of creating sound than first learning how best to recreate it.

2. The Boston Symphony Orchestra: Is there a better training ground for a curious musician? I think not. For forty-six weeks each year I listened to and watched extraordinary musicians perform a huge variety of music, including many world premiere. I learned first hand about every section of a symphony orchestra; what “sounds,” what doesn’t. In pre-concert backstage warm-ups I listened to countless virtuosi test their technical skills on their superb instruments. I heard what was actually possible. It was the ultimate learning laboratory for a fledgling composer. But it was the new works that were a holiday for me. I was a fascinated spectator when well known, respected composers experienced their musical children for the very first time, a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. I was on hand for the triumphs, but I also experienced numerous re-writes, an often fruitless last minute search for coherence after initial compositional miscalculations. Instead of sailing smoothly–no matter the style–the musical ship floated upside down. I learned to identify some of the qualities of miscalculation, but not all. I have created a few upside-down ships myself.

3. Beethoven: Of all the aspects that make Beethoven an astonishing composer, the one element in his compositional arsenal that has never failed to hold my attention is his use of rhythm as structure. His impact on my own thoughts about the use of rhythm (the meat and potatoes of a percussionist’s/composer’s diet) as a compositional tool was immediate and has been lasting. Beethoven’s rock-like sense of pulse not only permeates entire structures, but actually creates the structure it inhabits. His basic rhythmic unit functions as both prime and subsidiary materials, while at the same time re-inventing itself into new but related musical shapes. Imagining the idea of pulse as the entire music and actually articulating the concept inventively is a Beethoven specialty akin to watching a fireworks display.

4. Charles Ives: In a very different way, Ives has been as much of an influence as has Beethoven. For example, where Beethoven is fastidious about his rhythmic structures, Ives is almost careless, even sloppy. Often the number of beats over a series of measures does not add up correctly. It doesn’t matter. The idea of the music is paramount, and Ives dreamed up music unlike any other. He took enormous risks, and he believed. How can you not respond to a composer who adds a margin note for the performer that reads, “play as fast as possible without disabling yourself?”

When I first encountered Ives’s music and began recording his works almost forty years ago, he was a curiosity, an Americana footnote. There were books, almost no recordings, and if the truth be told, little interest in the music. The Philharmonia in London had never heard of Ives nor read a note of his music when we recorded his four symphonies. At the conclusion of the sessions the orchestra chairman came to me and indicated that the orchestra would like to know more of the music of Ives: “he’s a bloke with something to say.” Indeed he was/is/ The music–first, last, always, any and all ways. What a spirit! How can a kindred spirit not be influenced?

The Millennium Concerto for Cello

Movement One: Hurryin’/Scurryin’-before 2000-fast, slow, fast

The basically hectic, sometimes humorous, always rhythmically motivated quality of the music, including the slower middle section, is meant to depict the state of our times as we rushed toward the year 2000. The solo voice is energetic, athletic, yearning, and finally frantic. As the movement ends, the soloist continues to mime the frenzy of the concluding music. The mime movements become less agitates and finally cease as the second movement begins with off-stage sounds.

Movement Two: Dreamin’-slowly, fast, slowly

A slow lyrical movement with a single rapid interruption, the music represents the soloist’s hope-for state of the world in the twenty-first century. The movement ends quietly and peacefully. The spotlight fades and the lights on the stage return to full power. The third movement begins.

Movement Three: Rememberin’ The Past-2000!-various tempi

The final movement is a look backward before the arrival of the millennium, using the voice of the cello as a measuring rod of our march through time. Snippets and pieces of the cello music of the composers that have been chosen are reworked and combined in various ways. Vivaldi, C.P.E. Bach and Haydn are treated separately, Haydn in a quasi-jazz manner. Schumann and Tchaikovsky are quoted at length, simultaneously. Dvor ák and Bloch are linked momentarily followed by a cadenza-like section based on Schumann and Dvorák. A few notes of Barber and Shostakovich are joined together and speak to us of recent cello history. In a happy accident the notes in the Barer-Shostakovich combination have precisely the same interval cell as the opening of Movement One. Serendipity. The flow to the conclusion of the movement seemed pre-ordained as the Millennium concerto ends with the arrival of the year 2000–not with the dream of Movement Two, but with a return to the music of Movement One. End of the century, beginning of a new century, nothing has changed. Reality prevails.