Concerto Grosso (1998)


  • 18
  • Three Percussionists, String Quartet, String Orchestra

Program Notes

The idea of writing a concerto grosso is one which I have carried around in my head for some time. The idea of contrasting physically separated groups of voices or instruments has manifested itself in many ways throughout music history. From antiphonal chant, Gabrielli’s music for St. Mark’s cathedral in Venice, the Baroque concerto grosso, the multiple choirs of Berlioz and Mahler, works of Charles Ives, up through the fascinating music of Iannis Xenakis, Henry Brant and Alfred Schnittke, composers have been drawn to write for opposing/contrasting forces.

In the Baroque concerto grosso, a larger group of instruments (the tutti) is set in opposition to a smaller group of soloists (the ripieno). In my case I have chosen a tutti of strings and a ripieno of string quartet and percussion trio. This provided me not only with the contrast of large vs. small, ensemble sound vs. solo sound, but also a contrast within the ripieno group itself, between the beautiful and highly distinct timbres of percussion and string quartet.

Concerto Grosso was composed in Winnipeg during the late summer and fall of 1997. It was commissioned by Simon Streatfeild and the Mantoba Chamber Orchestra, with the assistance from the Manitoba Arts Council. The world premiere was given by Simon Streatfeild and the MCO at Westminister Church in Winnipeg on May 19, 1998.


Unlikely paring a thumping success

“. . . the premiere of Matthews’ impressively structured Concerto Grosso. Matthews stays in bounds of the Baroque format, using the odd pairing of string quartet and a trio of percussionists as soloists. Throughout the four-movement work Matthews creates an absorbing mix of sounds, colours and motion, logically presented in an accessible idiom and coherently organized. It’s a piece that deserves to win more than a few friends.”