I’ve been thinking about how architects often have to work among the half-surviving remnants of much older buildings; they leave them visible, but what they fit into the spaces left in between is completely new and usually totally different in every way, even if it ‘harmonises’ with the old remnants. Many wonderful new buildings have come about in this way, including the place in the photo below – Château Barrière.
I wondered about building a new piece like this. I think I was prompted by the experience of taking part in a rehearsal for a Beethoven piano concerto back in February: the first orchestral rehearsal, before the pianist arrived. It was fascinating in the solo sections to hear all these empty spaces, clearly defined and laid out by little orchestral prompts, but essentially empty, waiting for music to fill them – and also fascinating how every now and then a tutti section would arrive and the music would spring to life fully formed for maybe 20 seconds, and then become an empty shell again.
From there I got the idea to take a Mozart piano concerto, strip out the piano part completely, but leave in the strings, whose parts are enough to define both the tutti sections and the bare framework that shapes the solo sections. I quickly decided not to mess with the great, famous concertos, and go back to one of the early ones where it’s much easier to play around, try new things – and settled on no. 1. Written when he was 11, it was perfect for what I needed – a distillation of typical classical manouevres and clichés, with odd glimpses of later genius but plenty of room for other ideas too. In my new piece the strings play 100% original boy-Mozart (some of this material, in fact, he borrowed from other composers of the time). I’ve written a completely new, not-at-all-classical, solo piano part and new non-classical wind parts, using a typical 18C orchestra. The result is a three-movement concerto lasting about 16 minutes, built around and on top of the Mozart, which is always there in the background and occasionally bursts into the centre stage.