Clarinet Concerto

Programme Note

My Clarinet Concerto was commissioned by the BBC and was completed in 1994. It was first performed by Michael Collins (for whom the work was specially written) with the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Adrian Leaper, at the BBC Concert Hall, Manchester.

The work is in two parts and lasts for about 30 minutes. It is scored for large symphony orchestra, without clarinets except for a bass clarinet, which plays an important role in ‘shadowing’ the soloist. Part One opens with the solo clarinet in a cadenza-like introduction, gradually joined by the orchestra, in which most of the main material of the concerto is announced in embryonic form. The main allegro section follows, which has a sonata-form outline with two main thematic ideas announced, developed, and recapitulated. However, there is a constant process of thematic metamorphosis, so that when the second theme is heard again near the end it has been transformed into something quite different. The final bars, with their punctuated dissonant rhythms, leave the music hanging in the air, unresolved.

Part Two attempts to resolve the musical argument and transforms material from Part One into more tonal and melodically-based music. It opens with a long slow movement (strings only at the outset) which presents a chorale-like motive against a backdrop of a falling semitone ostinato (the same interval with which the concerto began and one which dominates throughout) heard on high violins. After a central climax the soloist unfolds a long, but quite simple melody, a gesture towards which the music has been striving. This leads into the final section, a boisterous dance, which incorporates ‘popular’ elements as well as reviewing material from Part One. The music inevitably moves towards its climax, heading towards B flat major and the melody the whole concerto has been waiting for. Its final bars resolve everything.

Download Programme Note

Audio Samples:


… The second half begins pianissimo on high strings, creating magical textures and an atmosphere of serene tranquility, which sends shivers down the spine.

Ivan March, Gramophone

Over two massive sections …. the argument is based on two contrasted motifs that, with satisfying logic, resolve at the end in a warmly diatonic melody.

Paul Driver, Sunday Times

Part Two… begins with deeply beautiful, rapt euphony … and leads, via a jazz-tinged Leonard Bernstein-like episode of cool swing, to a resounding culmination …. – a big-screen conclusion!

Colin Anderson, International Record Review, November 2003

Work Details

  • Date of Composition: 1994
  • Publisher: Novello
  • Genre:
  • Duration: 32'
  • Instrumentation: solo cl+3(pic)3(ca)0+bcl 3(cbn)/4331/timp 3perc/hp/str
  • Commission Information:
    BBC Radio 3

First Performance

  • Date: 1994
  • Venue: BBC Studio 7, Manchester
  • Performers:
    Michael Collins (clarinet) BBC Philharmonic Adrian Leaper (conductor)