An Unapologetically Melodic Concerto

howard blake

Howard Blake is best known for his work in film and television including the music for the holiday classic “The Snowman” which included the song “Walking in the Air.” In 1992, Howard Blake jumped at the opportunity to compose a violin concerto, which he titled “Leeds.”

The concerto was commissioned by the City of Leeds to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the granting of its charter as a city. It was first performed by soloist Christiane Edinger with the Northern Philharmonia conducted by Paul Daniel at Leeds Town Hall 6th February 1993. The ensemble also performed on the premiere recording.

The piece is unapologetically melodic, with lush solo lines for the violinist and sweeping orchestration that creates a vivid atmosphere. The opening movement is as long as the first movement to Tchaikovsky’s lone violin concerto (around 19 minutes). The orchestra starts out in low and ominous tones as the soloist enters with a mesmerizing gypsy-like tune. The orchestra then undulates behind the dance-like solo before breaking into a dramatic display by the lower strings. The brass eventually break forth with a call that seems to echo from across a valley. The movement evokes many different tones and emotions in very quick succession, the violin soaring over the other instruments like a seagull above the cliffs.

The concerto was dedicated to the composer’s late mother, who was a violinist. The second movement, entitled “Calma,” seems to ache with the beauty that accompanies the reminiscence of a dearly departed loved one. The low strings begin the main theme which is then carried on by the violins which is then broken down throughout the orchestra. The movement is one slow crescendo into a song that suggests the lush soundtrack of an epic movie. Dissonance is introduced but resolved quickly before the violin again takes the lead with slow steady lines.

The final movement begins with the capricious play between soloist and woodwinds. The strings enter as the violin introduces a hoe-down like fiddle tune. The movement is fast and the melody is fleeting. The soloist gets to display the many sides of the violin with many measures of pizzicato playing. The finale is quick and unassuming.

Currently there is only one performance of the Leeds Concerto available. There is no performance of the work scheduled in the near future.

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