Triple concerto for violin, violoncello and piano, and orchestra

Instrumentation solo violin, solo violoncello, solo piano; 2(2 dbl. picc)/2(2 dbl. E hn)/2/2; 2/2/0/0; timp + 2 perc; orchestral strings (min. 10/10/8/6/4)
Percussion requirements (1) glock, snare dr, bass dr, hi-hat cymbal, watergong, triangle, 4 temple bowls, sandpaper block, vibraslap; (2) chimes, low bongo, 3 tomtoms (h/m/l), susp. exhaust pipe, coil spring, tambourine, 2 tamtams (sm. and lg.), whip, 2 woodblocks (h/l)

Timing 24′ in three movements

Composed 2007

Commissioned by the Vancouver and Toronto Symphony Orchestras with assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts, in celebration of the Gryphon Trio’s fifteenth anniversary season

World Premiere February 2, 2008, Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, British Columbia. Gryphon Trio; Vancouver Symphony Orchestra; Bramwell Tovey, conductor

Performances by Vancouver Symphony, Toronto Symphony, Hamilton Philharmonic, Kingston Symphony

Recorded by the Gryphon Trio and the Vancouver Symphony, conducted by Bramwell Tovey, on Fugitive Colours: Music of Jeffrey Ryan

Recognition Juno nomination, Classical Composition of the Year 2012

Programme Notes

Points of Contact

The title Equilateral suggests an equilateral triangle–the three equal partners of the solo trio. But the word “equilateral” more generally means “equal-sided” and so, in this concerto, the orchestra is not mere accompaniment but plays an equally important role.

The first movement is subtitled Breathless, and takes as its inspiration the fact that violinists, cellists and pianists don’t have to stop playing to breathe. In these six minutes of high energy and racing pulse, the three soloists are treated as one unit, sometimes set against the orchestra, sometimes becoming part of it. In contrast, the contemplative Points of Contact explores ways by which we seek connection, both with others and within our selves. Two texts provide the underlying inspiration. First, a letter written by poet Arthur Rimbaud, in which he seeks publication of his first works and calls out to his creative Muse, is given an Anglican-chant-like rhythmic setting by various sections of the orchestra, while each soloist in turn extemporises above. After a transitional passage, the Hebrew words of the Mourners’ Kaddish are set instrumentally for the orchestra, creating the effect of congregational “davening” under a halo of chimes, temple bowls and pedal points. The prayer’s final “amen,” begun by the orchestra and completed by the piano, leads to the concerto’s solo cadenza, a lament on death and loss. This connects directly into the final movement, Serpentine, whose sinuous lines and earthy, primal rhythms close the work with a vibrant affirmation of the dance of life.


[Equilateral] proved a brilliant pairing with Strauss as well as with the Holst to follow. [Its] twenty-five minutes and three movements…inventively engage with a thoroughly contemporary sound palette, combining both a rigourously intellectual concept with a deeply emotional one. The first movement’s rushy rhythms, sophisticated and urbane conjure up Gershwin on steroids, as it were, with bold anti-melodic galloping and a strong percussive basis morphing, in the second movement, into considerably more emotional and introspective territory. Tension and even darkness hover, as a letter from Rimbaud and words from the Kaddish (sung by the orchestra) offer glimpses backward as well as straightforward melody, recalling nineteenth-century forms. The brief finale, jazzy and chirpy, seems driven by (im)pulse. This was a triumphant performance of Ryan’s exciting and accessible work…It would be a pleasure to hear it again… (J H Stape/reviewVancouver)

Ryan’s Equilateral…contains far more substance than Ryan owns up to in his modest program notes. I heard a near-quotation of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time in Equilateral‘s opening measures; the finale also owed much to Stravinsky and Ravel. Yet the piece has a strong personal voice. The densely scored, whirlwind first movement, called “Breathless,” was full of menace and instability, created in part by a feeling of uncontrolled repetition, and articulated by imaginative use of percussion. Its abrupt ending was more like the slamming of a door, or switching off of a television set, than a resolution. The second movement, called “Points of Contact,” rose out of that unresolved dark energy, and was the heart of the piece. The instrumentalists “speak” the rhythm of two texts: a poem by Rimbaud and the Jewish mourners’ Kaddish. The effect was moving, and again inflected percussion effects that were both disturbing and alluring…The most powerful effect came when the orchestra members sang wordlessly. (Tamara Bernstein/Globe & Mail)

PDF perusal score

Equilateral score perusal

Equilateral piano solo perusal


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Full-size Score $120 print, $72 PDF
Study score $75 print
Solo part set $60 print, $36 PDF
Conductor score + parts available on rental
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