When I was approached to write a new violin concerto for Bella Hristova, I was thrilled at the idea of collaborating with this incredible artist whom I know rather well. But what can I say about her that hasn’t been said by people everywhere? The New York Times talks about Bella’s “lovely…soaring tone,” and calls her (just straight up) “the excellent Bella Hristova.” The Strad says it was “particularly struck by her commanding stage presence.” The Washington Post says she is a “player of impressive power and control.” I personally think she’s not only one of the great young violinists in the world, but one of the great violinists in the world of any age. I know that being engaged to someone might suggest that I’m biased (thus the strategy of leading off with whatother people have had to say), but I hold my opinion as self-evident. Go have a listen.
Alan Jordan, the executive director of the Vermont Symphony, proposed the idea to me to write a concerto for Bella in honor of us getting married, and as a natural artistic partnership between two individuals who had worked separately many times with the VSO before. I had a wonderful residency with the VSO from 2004-2008 funded by what was then “Meet the Composer,” and this felt like a great new link to a Vermont audience community that I feel so close to already. Bella has been a soloist with the VSO many times, and we both owe so much to music director Jaime Laredo who has been an impossibly kind mentor and friend. We’ve come to realize that in music (and probably everything else!) strong relationships make strong results, and we have had an amazing relationship with the Vermont community.
But Alan being a bigger thinker wanted to expand that community for this project, so he approached colleagues in other orchestras where there were appropriate connections. He reached out to Kansas City, Louisville, Quad City, Reno, and Westchester symphonies to see if they had interest, and we got positive responses from everyone. The plan was to build a consortium of orchestras to commission and present the piece. They then applied to New Music USA for further support.
To my great surprise and delight (and general “yeehaw!”) we got funding from New Music USA. There were nearly twelve hundred applicants, and only 2% of them received support. That number is humbling, to say the least, and if anything it’s a great motivation to make this project the very, very best it can be.
The project is a new violin concerto to be written by me for Bella, celebrating these relationships–and ourrelationship–and to use the piece to build bridges between these many audience communities, connecting to them through meaningful personal engagement, and sharing all of our collective stories with each other closely and remotely. Bella and I have already focused a lot on engaging audiences and will always work to cultivate new ones in the project-based careers we are so fortunate share. We are looking forward to all of it–getting to know people from the orchestras, audience, and communities who are a part of this consortium, and introducing them to this new and living music.
It’s funny how, as a composer, you carry these ideas around in your head as if they’re stored like little folders in a file cabinet. Four years ago, soon after Bella and I began as a couple, I started imagining what a concerto for her might sound like. I thought about her explosive playing, how it could launch out of an explosive sonority in the orchestra to start the piece. I thought about the ending (will it be three movements? will it havemovements?) and how that can highlight her extraordinary technique with flashing bow strokes and the electrical energy of her concerto playing. There are definitely new ideas and sounds swimming around in my inner ear…thinking about a new pieces is one of the sweetest times, but then you have to get down to the long and (wonderfully) challenging process of writing.
So I guess it’s time to open those folders…