Concerto for violin and orchestra

Instrumentation solo violin; 2(2nd dbl. picc.)/2/2/2; 4/2/3/0; timp + 2 perc; orchestral strings
Percussion requirements (1) vib, rototoms, chimes (share with 2), snare dr, med. tomtom; (2) chimes (share with 1), crotales (C#5 only), bass dr, low tomtom, maraca, 2 tamtams (sm. and lg.), susp. cymbal

Timing 20′

Composed 2002

Commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with assistance from the Ontario Arts Council

World Premiere April 17, 2002, Massey Hall, Toronto, Ontario. Jacques Israelievitch, violin; Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Samuel Wong, conductor

Performances by Toronto Symphony, Vancouver Symphony

Programme Notes

chalice of becomingThe Chalice of Becoming is the title of a painting by Odilon Redon. I have always been fascinated by the art of the French Symbolists, and in particular Redon’s work, which I find evocative and powerfully suggestive. In this particular image, a young child looks down into a large cup, while the face of the man he will become looks back up at him. I was reminded of the idea that if we look into a child’s face, we can see something of the adult to come; and if we look into an adult’s face, we can see something of the child that once was — as though child and adult are merely two points on a continuum of time.

Musically, this suggested a kind of simultaneous reversing linear time for the two “players” in this concerto (violin and orchestra) in which the soloist ends where the orchestra began, while the orchestra ends where the soloist began. Each explores generally the same musical material, but the soloist proceeds “forward” through time from childhood to old age, while the orchestra (in essence) starts at the “end” and proceeds “backwards” through time, from old age to childhood.

The work is in two movements. A short pizzicato from the solo violin initiates the first section, for orchestra alone, followed by a long cadenza for the soloist. After this, there is an energetic and dramatic dialogue between the two. Near the end of the first movement, at the midpoint of the whole work, the soloist’s second cadenza marks the point where the two opposite musical streams meet, and the movement ends on a contemplative note. This feeling is carried through into the second movement, which opens with a more intimate dialogue between violin and percussion, interrupted by short orchestral passages. Soon, though, the music turns energetic and propulsive, a whirling dance which leads to an extended episode for drums and violin with overtones of jazz improvisation. In the final section of the piece, the music comes full circle as the solo violin intones the music of the orchestral introduction, heard almost a lifetime ago.


This was the firmest, most accomplished work I’ve heard by Ryan, a piece with urgency and cohesion. Its premise, that the child is father to the man, while the man holds within him the child he once was, allows the violin soloist, as the child, and the orchestra, as the adult, to follow opposite trajectories even as some of their material intersects. Soloist Jacques Israelievitch gave a compelling vulnerability to the high, spare simplicity of the opening violin material and the naive, modal melody that follows. There were wonderful orchestral effects throughout: muted brass against pizzicato bass and cellos, an orchestra that talked to itself in little two-note phrases as the solo violin trilled in its subconscious, a descending scale in the clarinet (later picked up by the bassoon) interrupted by a grumble of orchestral brass, and superb percussion. The violin turns were virtuosic in parts, haunting in others. One standout moment was an angular, sophisticated melody that progressed with incredible reluctance, each note stalled by a tremolo, as lonely as a melody can be. Far, far away from an ode to joy, yet still uplifting. (Elissa Poole/Globe and Mail)

…the audience heard an exhilarating exploration of orchestral color, consisting of fragments of (often deafening) sound. A brass choir peals forth over shrieking strings; a clarinet, snare drum and solo violin engage in a lively conversation; and haunting upward string glissandos punctuate the work, dying away mysteriously as they seem to dissolve in the ether. [Conductor Samuel] Wong, the orchestra, and soloist Jacques Israelievitch worked their way deftly through a difficult score, delivering a virtuoso performance. (Paul Mitchinson/

PDF perusal score

Chalice of Becoming perusal

Chalice solo perusal

Audio excerpt

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