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The Red Violin sings again

  • Story Highlights
  • "Red Violin" film team, composer John Corigliano/violinist Joshua Bell,reunited
  • Concerto is an entirely independent concert-stage work for violin and orchestra
  • Premiere recording features Baltimore Symphony and conductor Marin Alsop
  • Corigliano's next work: a percussion concerto for Scotland's Evelyn Glennie
  • Next Article in Entertainment »
By Porter Anderson
CNN
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(CNN) -- Like the unnerving and richly voiced instrument in the movie "The Red Violin," Tuesday's release of the premiere recording of John Corigliano's "Red Violin Concerto" has a winding tale behind it. And it convenes its own formidable cast of characters.

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Joshua Bell leads Sony's premiere recording of the John Corigliano Red Violin Concerto.

"The reason it happened was rather circuitous and strange," says Corigliano, the composer reunited with the film's famed soloist, Joshua Bell, for this event long awaited by fans of both.

Corigliano is, at 69, the Pulitzer- and Oscar- winning composer of major modern works in American classical music. He was born to the high rank he enjoys, studying as a kid with his violinist-father, John Sr., concertmaster to the New York Philharmonic under both Arturo Toscanini and Leonard Bernstein.

And like the original soundtrack for the 1998 film, "The Red Violin," Sony's recording of the new concerto is led by violinist Joshua Bell, winner this year of the coveted Avery Fisher Prize and designated a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

What's more, the CD features with Bell the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra led by Marin Alsop, who on September 27 will formally take charge of that ensemble as the first woman permanently appointed to lead a major U.S. orchestra. Photo See a gallery of other new and recent classical-music releases of note »

And in mid-month, Montreal-born filmmaker François Girard, who co-wrote and directed "The Red Violin," shows his new film "Silk" at the Toronto Film Festival. The show goes into limited release September 14 in the United States.

But while this impressive crossing of key artists' paths might look carefully choreographed and scheduled, Corigliano says a plan for such a close roll-out was never in the offing.

"In fact, writing 'The Red Violin' was rather unusual," he says, "because there were a lot of shots of fingers playing the violin.

"A lot of the music had to be written before the film was shot. With the other two films I did [1980's 'Altered States' and 1985's 'Revolution'], we did the music at the end of the shooting.

"But in 'Red Violin,' between the recorded music we had to do before the film was shot and the recording of the entire score, [Sony and Metropolitan Opera chief] Peter Gelb had arranged for Josh Bell to play a piece based on 'The Red Violin' with the San Francisco Symphony.

"So what I did was write the Chaconne, the first movement of the concerto, as a truly symphonic work," he continues. "Not a suite from the film. Instead, I took the themes that I'd come up with that Josh recorded" for the film crew to use in shoots on location in the summer of 1997. "And I rethought them as a symphonic piece. So Josh actually played the Chaconne in concert before the film was released.

John Corigliano's key works

  • Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra for New York Philharmonic, 1977
  • "Altered States" soundtrack, 1980
  • "Pied Piper Fantasy" for flutist James Galway, 1982
  • "Revolution" soundtrack, 1985
  • Symphony No. 1 for Chicago Symphony, 1991
  • "The Ghosts of Versailles" for Metropolitan Opera, 1991
  • "The Red Violin" soundtrack (Oscar), 1998
  • Symphony No. 2 (Pulitzer Prize), 2001
  • "The Red Violin Concerto", 2003
  • "Circus Maximus" for University of Texas Wind Ensemble, 2004
  • "While I liked that -- a big 17-minute piece -- I didn't feel it was complete. I thought it needed a few more movements to do some things with material I'd eventually generated for the film."

    As a result, the full concert-stage work was commissioned by the Baltimore, Dallas and Atlanta symphonies and the San Francisco Ballet Association.

    "The Red Violin Concerto," premiered with Bell in Baltimore in 2003, is built in four movements, not the three traditionally associated with concertos:

  • There's that original Chaconne, typically a triple-time work associated with Spanish and French dance. It serves as an eerie, wide-eyed conversation among themes that fans of the soundtrack will know.
  • What follows is dubbed by Corigliano as a Pianissimo Scherzo, a furtive, busy, Bartok-edgy short movement punctuated by castanets and tambourine.
  • Marked Andante flautando, the third movement is a darkening study for Bell's signature flowing arcs against those of the alto flute, hovering over rich clustered textures in the strings.
  • And the concluding Accelerando Finale lives up to its marking, brass and percussion racing Bell and the strings up into spirals of raucous competition. Ultimately, remnants of the beloved signal theme go by in rippling and then stabbing perseverance, an energy -- like that of the story's red violin -- both charismatic and fateful.
  • Corigliano and Bell's collaboration is one of the composer-artist liaisons nurtured by two major agencies, Gorgaine/Schwartz (Corigliano) and IMG Artists (Bell), under the guidance of IMG's Elizabeth Sobol. But neither artist needed his arm twisted.

    In interviews, Bell talks of how much "The Red Violin" has meant to him, doing a lot to raise awareness of his work outside the concert hall. More importantly, as he has noted, it now has spawned a true addition to the classical violin repertoire, and his recording on this CD now stands as the original interpretation.

    Corigliano, for his part, writes in his liner notes of Bell as "the sublime young virtuoso" and hears in the Indiana native's playing something of the work of his father.

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    "He's phenomenally good," Corigliano says. "He's the quickest mind in looking at a piece of music that's new and understanding what needs to be done and making suggestions. He doesn't have to play it first and listen to it played back on a recording. He's got that kind of mind. And we're both perfectionists."

    "The Red Violin Concerto" is packaged on the new CD with Corigliano's Sonata for Violin and Piano, an energetic work for which the composer won the 1964 chamber-music competition at the late Gian Carlo Menotti's Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds in Italy. It's played on this CD by Bell and his longtime collaborator, Jeremy Denk. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

    All About Sony BMG Music EntertainmentClassical MusicJohn CoriglianoJoshua Bell

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