Suggested Listening: “Concerto for Cello & Wind Orchestra” by Friedrich Gulda

Happy Saturday!  It’s time for another installment of… SUGGESTED LISTENING for the CLASSICAL MUSIC SKEPTIC!  Check out Friedrich Gulda’s super-mega awesome Konzert für Violoncello und Blasorchester, performed below by Andreas Brantelid, cello, and the Danish National Orchestra, Ivan Meylemans conducting.  Note: the embedded video is actually a playlist!  The whole piece is in five movements and lasts about 30 minutes, which seems daunting but is definitely worthwhile.  If you’re short on time, at least listen to the beginning of each movement — you can skip to different movements by clicking on the “playlist” icon (the left-most of the bottom-right icons, if that makes sense).  Enjoy!

About the Composer:

Gulda in concert -- what is he wearing?
Gulda in concert — what is he wearing?

Austrian composer Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000) began learning piano at age 7, and by age 12 he was studying piano and music theory at the University of Music & Performing Arts in Vienna.  He was a piano prodigy, winning international competitions and touring for some time as a concert soloist.  He got his start as a purely classical guy — Mozart and Beethoven all the way — but in the 1950’s he developed an interest in jazz music that would last for the rest of his life.  From that point on, his compositional career was dedicated to blending the classical and jazz/popular canons.  He wrote variations on music by The Doors, and even collaborated with Chick Corea.  Known for his eccentric taste in concert attire and his spontaneity in performance, Gulda was an eclectic yet important contributor to contemporary classical music.

About the Piece:

With as boring a title as Concerto for Cellothis piece is not quite what you’d expect.  The Gulda cello concerto really should be subtitled, “A Brief History of Western Music.”  In a mere half-hour of nonstop musical energy, the piece covers classical minuets and rock anthems, European folk tunes and pseudo-atonality.  Composed in 1980, this is a far cry from your average cello concerto.  First off, it makes use of wind ensemble rather than orchestral accompaniment — highly unusual for concertos in general, let alone a concerto for a stringed instrument.  But with the wind ensemble, you really isolate the brass and percussion power — all the makings of a jammin’ jazz band.  Then there are the more tame instruments — oboes, clarinets, flutes — providing sweet, classical-style interludes that seem almost sarcastic when contrasted with the epic rock ‘n’ roll tunes you probably never thought you’d hear coming out of a cello.  The third movement is a cadenza — in the Classical period, this was when the soloist would improvise their own melody — and Gulda’s cadenza indeed requires improv from the cellist, as well as a sense of humor.  The whole piece is a wild ride, equal parts gorgeous, heroic, and hilarious.  I guarantee you’ve never heard anything quite like it.

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