The concerto was commissioned by Berkshire Young Musicians Trust in 1995. The sub-title of the concerto – Homages – is a tribute to the various twentieth century composers whose piano concertos I so admired when I was young (and still do!), particularly Stravinsky, Bartok, Rachmaninov and Poulenc. My intention was to write a concerto which would be taxing but accessible. The instrumentation of the concerto is identical to the Stravinsky Piano Concerto of 1924, with the addition of a soprano saxophone.
The work is in three movements: fast – slow – fast. The first, Toccata, contrasts two main ideas: an impetuous opening theme on the piano (heard after a brief introduction) which is rhythmic in a neo-classical manner, followed by a second theme, more lyrically-tinged, heard initially on flute with the piano taking a subsidiary, accompanying role (later in the movement the roles are reversed). The development section takes on the mood of the rhythmic music, with the piano taking off into an extended cadenza at the climax. The orchestra returns with the first theme with the piano wistfully repeating the second. A brief coda ends the movement abruptly.
The Passacaglia is built on a rising three-note figure, always present in the texture of the music. A simple melodic phrase unfolds, first on oboe, later on piano and soprano saxophone. The movement builds to its climax (with the saxophone prominent) and subsides again to where it began. The last movement, Rondo-Burlesque, has a swirling, dance-like main theme built around Bartokian-style time changes. Through its two episodes there gradually emerges a new theme, St Nicholas, Godes Druth (an example of twelfth century English monody) which, after a brief reference to the opening theme of the concerto and the final statement of the rondo tune, flowers into a triumphant statement and brings the concerto to a rousing conclusion.
The original version of the concerto was premiered by the composer (piano) with the Berkshire Youth Wind Orchestra, conducted by Robert Roscoe. However, I revised the work substantially in 1997, and that final version is dedicated to John McCabe, who gave the first performance in November 1997 at Lancaster University, with the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra conducted by Clark Rundell.
… the masterly Concerto for Piano and Wind uses Stravinsky as a model without losing originality. Its touchingly beautiful central Passacaglia, is unforgettable, and it is capped by the irresistible rhythmic impetus of the Rondo-Burlesque finale, which then by sleight of musical hand transforms itself into an anonymous 12th-century carol.
Ivan March, Gramophone (September 2008)
The Passacaglia middle movement really shows his individual voice … while the outer movements sustain a pulsating rhythmic drive that calls to mind Malcolm Arnold tinged with John Ireland – an astoundingly well-assembled work.
Mark Tanner, Independent Record Review (September 2008)
It is a fine work … and is written in a fairly accessible mainstream style which denotes a naturally gifted composer who knows exactly what he is doing.… what is so admirable about this work is the sense of genuine momentum – it really feels that it is going somewhere …
Alexander Leonard, Musical Opinion
The most exhilarating moments came in the Scottish premiere of a race recent concerto for piano and wind instruments by Edward Gregson, with Murray McLachlan a scintillating soloist. Indebted, as the composer admitted, to Stravinsky, Bartók, Rachmaninov and Poulenc – mi might also have mentioned Ravel, Gershwin, Bernstein and Sibelius – the music carried its influences with gusto, blending them effectively into a dapper, eventful three-movement work.
Conrad Wilson, The Herald (July 2001)
solo pno+3(2picc)2+ca sop sax 3(bcl)2+cbsn/4431/timps (tubells)2db
Publisher: Maecenas Music
First Performance: 1995
Concert Hall, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, UK
Edward Gregson (piano), Berkshire Youth Wind Orchestra, Robert Roscoe (conductor), First Performance of 1997 revised version:, John McCabe (piano), RNCM Wind Orchestra, Clark Rundell (conductor)