piano and large orchestra
composed in 2001-3
dedication: to Christopher Yates
commissioned by the BBC
first performed by Nicolas Hodges, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Porcelijn, at a BBC Maida Vale studio concert on 24 October 2003
This work, dedicated to Christopher Yates, was commissioned by the BBC for Nicolas Hodges, whose playing has been its direct inspiration. Its form and character derive from the ancient idea of the labyrinth, examples of which have existed since prehistoric times. It is thought that they may have been intended as a framework for ritual acts involving processions or dances: or they may have had some quite other psychological significance of which we can know little or nothing. For example, in the best-known of labyrinth legends, that of Theseus and the Minotaur, it is by no means clear what their contest really symbolises, except that in some strange way each seems to imply the necessary existence of the other, while it remains an altogether open question as to who is really the hero, and who the villain.
Such an ambiguous symbiosis provides an appropriate image for any solo concerto with orchestra, but perhaps especially one for piano, where unity can be created from the interaction of two fundamentally different timbral and articulative entities. The piece divides into three large sections, corresponding to the classic concerto form. Within that division are fourteen processes, related to one another by the technique of developing variation, and reflecting the commonly found labyrinthine structure of seven concentric tracks, each traversed twice in the course of the ritual, from the entrance to the centre and back again. In all such initiatory acts, the candidate is traditionally accompanied by an unseen mentor, who supports him in his quest; this aspect is symbolised by the important horn obbligato which comes to dominate the central part of the work. From time to time, especially during the first movement, incorporating sections I-VI, recitative-like passages occur, in which the horn and his offstage surrogate can be heard calling on the soloist to penetrate further into the labyrinth. The solo piano eventually reaches a point where his music and that of the horn come together in a moment of mutual recognition and enlightenment. The finale, with its constant increase of pace and power, has something of an implication of a triumphant return to the outside world, fortified by new understanding.
Conway, Paul, "London, BBC Maida Vale Studios: Justin Connolly's Piano Concerto" Tempo, Vol. 58, No. 228 (Apr., 2004), pp. 66–67
extensive discussion in:
Gilbert, Anthony, "Kaleidoscopes and a labyrinth – the musical vision of Justin Connolly", Tempo, Volume 66, Issue 260 (April 2012), pp. 15–22