“Francesco Tristano’s “free” improvised Piano Concerto was a brilliantly received example of how classical music is able to excite audiences today. Standing ovations.”
Francesco Tristano’s first composition for orchestra and piano was premiered in 2016 at the Gewandhaus Leipzig with the MDR Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Kristjan Järvi. Drawing inspiration from a recent trip to an unnamed island nation, this “free piano concerto“ is free in asmuch as the piano part is written down in part and leaves considerable space open for improvisation. The piano takes on the identity of a free island nation surrounded by the ocean – the orchestra – which in turn provides the laws, harmonic and rhythmic, that rule the structure and evolution of the three movements. This is Francesco Tristano’s first composition for large orchestra since 1997 and makes several references to electronic dance music while being written in the symphonic idiom.
The first movement, Bel Ombre, sets the mood of the piece: it is about the rhythm. Through-composed, the movement morphs into different sections as the harmonies develop. The second movement, The Islanders, makes use of the sound of the metronome as the primary source of groove whereas the piano plays an ostinato throughout, before going into a cadenza. The third movement, Opa! (transliteration from the Greek Ώπα, a verbal emotional expression tied to celebration, or dance) is a long progression based on a four-bar phrase. The percussion section is the primary engine here, whereas the strings explore countless permutations of the same melodic cell and the brass section explodes in big band fashion for a wonderful and high impact finale.
Francesco Tristano’s intention here is to write a piece of emotional body music for orchestra. This very concept is linked inextricably to electronic dance music. The concerto can sit well in the second half of a concert where Francesco performs a classical concerto in the first half, such as Bach or Ravel.