Joseph Phibbs: Clarinet Concerto

Joseph Phibbs: Clarinet Concerto

The Sunday Times
“The concerto will surely be taken up all over the world. The solo writing is lyrical and virtuosic, the music always eventful, and it's accessible without sounding old-fashioned. Phibbs has an ear for beguiling instrumental textures, exploiting the timbres of tuned percussion to ravishing effect.”

Classical Source
"This almost half-hour work makes a considerable impact, not least for the breathtaking musicianship and virtuosity of the soloist, backed to the hilt by his colleagues. What Phibbs is able to conjure throughout the work is enormously impressive"

"Joseph Phibbs’ new clarinet concerto was a joy to work on and perform. The luminous, often chordal surface harmony belies shifting sands of harmonies weaving up and down, and through the texture. The solo part, brilliantly played by Mark van de Wiel, is fiendishly virtuosic and the orchestra joust with the soloist in the same way, but overall one is left with an impression of beauty warmth and dance, and in the slow movement a haunting wistfulness."

Philharmonia Orchestra, Edward Gardner (cond.), Mark van de Wiel (cl)
November 4, 2017: The Anvil, Basingstoke, UK (World Premiere)
November 5, 2017: Royal Festival Hall, London 

Oxford Symphony Orchestra, Robert Max (cond.), Mark van de Wiel (cl)
November 18, 2017: Oxford Town Hall

Malmö Symphony Orchestra, tba (cond.), Mark van de Wiel (cl)
March 28, 2018: Malmö Live Konserthus, Malmö, Sweden (Swedish Premiere)

Joseph Phibbs and Mark van de Wiel on bringing a new concerto to life (Bachtrack)

“This 24 minute work is the result of a long and creative friendship with Mark van de Wiel, whose extraordinary expressive and technical scope – ranging from standard classical repertoire to the most demanding contemporary works – in large part shaped the work’s form and character.
Comprising four movements, the work opens with a slow introduction, the unfolding of the clarinet’s opening theme supported by soft, sustained strings. A type of rondo emerges, signalled by a soft pizzicato ostinato in the lower stings over which the clarinet’s earlier theme is transformed into a solitary, blues-inspired refrain. The mood here is urban, snatches of dance rhythms accompanying the soloist’s ever-expanding melodic gestures, while elsewhere a myriad of orchestral figuration (first in the woodwind, and later the strings) is suggestive of city lights.

A more lyrical theme appears towards the end of the movement, before giving way to a fast coda. A cadenza serves as a bridge to the second movement, a fast and unsettled type of nocturne-fantasy whose principal thematic material is defined by a short recurring scalic figure in the clarinet which expands and transforms as the movement progresses. A number of contrasting episodes allude to various non-classical traditions to which the clarinet is often linked, including Eastern European folk music, before the movement closes abruptly.  

The third movement, a slow and at times mournful vocalise, is reminiscent of the work’s opening by way of its pared-down orchestral scoring, and features a simple repeated harmonic pattern over which the soloist ‘sings’ in an often impassioned and at times strident manner.

Following without a break, the fourth movement harks back to the urban-inspired world of the first, though here with greater abandon. Ever denser, rising chords in the orchestra punctuate florid gestures in the clarinet, before leading to a faster coda. A syncopated passacaglia emerges, inspired by its literal meaning (‘street walk’), the soloist’s at times wild, quasi-improvisatory lines weaving through a constantly shifting orchestral backdrop, underpinned by the repeated bass line which characterises this form. This in turn accelerates towards the end of the movement to form a faster ‘walking bass’, before a final ascending flourish brings the work to a close.

My thanks to Mark, the work’s dedicatee; the Philharmonia, at the suggestion of former Managing Director David Whelton; and Malmö Live Konserthus, at the suggestion of Per Hedberg, Head of Programming, for their generous support.”
© Joseph Phibbs

Clarinet Concerto (2017)
23 Min.
Commissioned by Mark van de Wiel, the Philharmonia Orchestra and Malmö Live Konserthus

Photo: Philharmonia Orchestra, Camilla Greenwell