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Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in A minor
by Ethan Winer
This page contains information about my cello concerto. Here you will read how the concerto came to be written and recorded, as first printed in the May, 1999 issue of Strings magazine. You can also view photos of the recording sessions, listen to an MP3 file of the complete concerto, and view or print the solo cello music. The concerto lasts about 17 minutes, including the cadenza. I hope you enjoy it! All comments are welcome. A play-along version of the concerto is available on CD from Music Minus One. Information about this CD and a link to Music Minus One's web site appear near the bottom of this page. And be sure to also follow the link below to my main cello web page.
What People are Saying...
Below are a few comments I have received by email about my concerto:
"I spent a most enjoyable 20 minutes immersed in the video of your cello concerto. As a music graduate in my past I would have been more than happy to sit and analyze your contemporary composition instead of all the electro-acoustic modern meanderings of John Cage thru Stravinsky which we were reliably taught were the future of classical music. What a pleasant surprise to come across a true neo-romantic composition of such class in the middle of the World Wide Web. Kudos to you for committing your passion for 'real' music - soulful, intelligent, harmonic music - to paper, and thank you for sharing it with the world." --Tim Waddell
"I had to keep reminding myself I wasn't listening to Schumann...I thought it was one of the best cello concerti I've ever heard." --YAS
"Thank you for this highly enjoyable piece of music." --MB
"...Dvorak or St. Saens would have probably considered it a pretty good work." --SC
"I really like your concerto, it reminds me of the Elgar." --PL
"It was remarkable! Very fine job composing. A real Romantic masterpiece." --DY
"Each time I've listened to your Concerto I get more impressed with its construction!" --KI
The review below is from the Danbury (Connecticut) News-Times the day after my May 2, 1999 debut performance:
...Then came music that has just been composed. It was the world premiere of a cello concerto by Ethan Winer, the orchestra's principal cellist, who took the solo part. Bold, eclectic, accomplished, the piece turned out to be a rewarding experience for all concerned. Winer has written dance rhythms, attractive themes of a Russian cast, and elsewhere some measures that bring to mind composers such as Bach and Bernstein. He sounded in good form as a performer, too, and his cohorts served him well. This is a work that should have a future. --Frank Merkling, News-Times Arts Critic
There is also a very nice review at the Cello Heaven web site.
Writing a Romantic Cello Concerto in 1998
My musician friends expressed concern when I told them I was writing a cello concerto in the romantic style. For reasons I can't understand, many players and composers these days have abandoned traditional musical values in favor of pieces that change meter every third measure, or contain excessive dissonance that never resolves. Perhaps I'm just stuck in the 19th century, but I greatly prefer music that has a melody and harmony, and strives for beauty rather than shock or sound effects.
The occasion for this concerto, which is written as one long movement, was my debut as a soloist. In seven years of playing the cello I have performed many short works at recitals but never a real concerto with full orchestra. I had written two other pieces - one has been performed by four different area orchestras - and I decided that, if nothing else, it would be a lot more rewarding to play my own concerto than a piece from the standard literature. The biggest problem was to write something with sufficient musical value, yet not so difficult that I couldn't play it myself! What began as a fun project turned into nine long months of composing, plus considerable effort to typeset the score and 26 parts.
Like many composers today, I use an electronic keyboard and MIDI sequencer program to record each part. Once the notes are in the computer, it is simple to change the melody or harmony, or try a passage an octave higher or lower, or maybe move a line from the flutes to the oboes to see which sounds better. It is indeed wonderful to be able to hear a perfect performance of a work in progress without the expense of hiring an orchestra. Synthesizers are always in tune, and they never miss an entrance. Further, all modern sequencers can export the notes into a music typesetting program (though you still have to add the slurs, bowings, and dynamic markings, and plan the page turns). This ensures that the notes you wrote make it to the score and parts without any errors. The inevitable downside, however, is that a performance by an orchestra of synthesizers sounds decidedly phony. When I played my finished concerto for a violinist friend, his first comment was, "Nice job. Was that supposed to be a French horn?" At that moment it became painfully obvious that I would need a real recording with live musicians if I ever hoped to convince a record company or well-known cellist that my concerto has merit.
My first thought was to hire a professional orchestra. Let's see, a conductor and a soloist, plus 60 musicians at maybe $120 each comes to...oops! Then I considered recording one of the local groups I play with. But it seemed unlikely that a bunch of mostly amateur players and students could get through this fairly complex piece without any major gaffs. My solution was to get the few best amateur players I know - plus some pros who owed me a favor - and record them one by one (woodwinds and brass) and in groups (strings), and mix the performances on my computer-based audio recording system. By recording the players separately, I could focus on each part and redo passages on the spot as needed. A lot of nonclassical music is recorded using overdubs, and I'm happy to report that this method was equally successful for recording my concerto. Nobody is likely to confuse my "virtual orchestra" with the New York Philharmonic, nor my amateur playing with that of an accomplished cellist, but the performances are real and the musical intent shines through clearly. Equally important, using friends and accomplished amateurs let me record the entire project for only a few hundred dollars.
Each part was recorded in a separate session in my acoustically designed home studio. For maximum quality and realism, I recorded the players in stereo using professional-quality microphones. The musicians all wore earphones and played along with the original synthesizer version of the piece. There were a few passages that rushed or dragged a little, made worse by their having to follow the existing music aurally as opposed to watching a conductor. Fortunately, the players rushed and dragged as a group, and during editing I was able to slide phrases and even individual notes forward or back in time a few milliseconds here or there as necessary. I use the SAW Plus computer-based multitrack recording software, which makes detailed sound manipulation like this very easy. It was also simple to raise and lower the volume in places to enhance crescendos, and tone down a few passages that were played with a bit too much enthusiasm. For the occasional out-of-tune notes, I used the pitch correction feature of Sound Forge 4.5, another excellent audio editor program. With Sound Forge you can adjust the pitch of a single note or an entire passage in a computer audio file, to make the intonation exactly correct but without affecting the musical timing.
I have tried to make my intent for fingerings and phrasing as clear as possible in the printed music, including alternate fingerings where appropriate. Several of my teachers and friends contributed to the fingerings and bowings, including Steven Thomas, Kate Dillingham, Andy Salvo, and Andy Woodruff. A few additional points are worth noting.
1) In several places there are notes with legato lines that should not only be played longer than normal, but should also begin slightly early to give an added emphasis. The pickup note into section "C" is one such example, as are the pickups to "I" and "P" and the entrance at "D."
2) The 8va option in section "G" sounds much higher than the clarinet line that precedes it, but if you can pull it off it should sound terrific in that register.
3) The Animato section starting at "T" should be played as fast you can reasonably handle, in much the same spirit as the third movement of the Haydn C Major concerto. The orchestra is pretty much coasting there, though bear in mind that the solo oboe doubles the cello in "U" and must be able to keep up.
4) There are two places in the cadenza that a slight pause will give a nice added emphasis just before the changes in tonality. One place is the G# in measure 30, which should be held a bit longer than normal. The other is the middle of measure 43, where you could hold the G slightly before playing the Ab that follows.
Finally, you may be amused to know that I hid a little love message to my wife as Morse code, which is embedded in the rhythm played by the brass and strings in the last measure of "U." After all, this is a Romantic piece!
Ethan Winer is a reformed rock n roll guitarist who started playing the cello in 1992 at the tender age of 43. He produced the "Cello Master Class" videos featuring Bernard Greenhouse and also four cello CDs for Music Minus One. Ethan has, at various times, earned a living as a studio musician, computer programmer, audio engineer, composer/arranger, and technical writer. He lives in New Milford, Connecticut, and plays the cello in the Danbury Symphony Orchestra.
A version of this article appears in the May 1999 issue of Strings Magazine, a most worthwhile publication for all string players. For information or to subscribe visit their web site at www.allthingsstrings.com.
Concerto Performer Credits
"Ethan Winer and his Virtual Orchestra"
Cello solo: Steven Thomas
Concertmaster solo: Richard Brooks
Flutes and Piccolo: Liz Heetman
Oboes: Arnie Gross and Jim Thoensen
Clarinets: Bob Harris
Trombones: Beth Nintzel
Trumpets: Kevin Sandler
Drum and percussion samples: Doug Ferrara
Violins: Alison Breisler, Richard Brooks, Larry Deming, Paul Heetman,
James Herstatt, Naomi Hyun, Marnen Laibow-Koser, Allison Roush
Violas: Richard Brooks, Larry Deming, Elliot Isaacson, Joey Walko
Cellos: Kate Dillingham, Hannah Hyun, Beth Pearce, Robert Rogers,
Andy Salvo, Alan Willis
Play or Download the Cello Concerto
IMPORTANT UPDATE: On April 10, 1999 I recorded world-renowned cellist Steven Thomas, replacing my own amateur performance mentioned in the article above. Steven's playing is also featured on the CD which is offered for sale by Music Minus One (see below). Download an MP3 file (23 MB) of Steven Thomas playing the concerto in my studio.
Display and Print the Cello Solo Music
The links below display each of the six pages of music, and once a page is on your screen you can print it from your web browser. I had to strike a balance between keeping the music graphics files small enough to download and display in a reasonable amount of time, but without degrading too much the high quality of the original images. Note that you may need to reduce the printer margins to zero if the right edge is cut off when you print the pages, or if printing extends beyond one page at the bottom. You can do this in your browser's Page Setup dialog (in the File menu for most web browsers). You can optionally right-click on the links and select "Save Target As" to save the images to your hard drive and print them from your favorite graphics program.
View the recording session photos!
Click on any of the photos below to see a larger image. The charcoal drawing of Steven Thomas was made by his wife Glaucia Prado-Thomas as he recorded the cello solo at my studio.
Buy a CD of the Concerto
Music Minus One offers a CD recording of this concerto, along with Schubert's Ave Maria and a fun "pop music" version of St. Saens' Allegro Appassionato. The CD includes the complete performances of all three pieces with Steven Thomas as the soloist, and also play-along versions. The CD order number is 3716 available at Music Minus One.
Hear Ethan's Interview on the Radio
On April 11, 1999 I was interviewed by Joanne Moryl on WMNR-FM to discuss the May 2 performance of my cello concerto. The interview went well and we talked about many other interesting topics, so I've made it available here as an MP3 file (43 MB).
Be sure to also see my cello page for play-along MIDI files you can download for free, some articles of interest to cellists, and also information about the Bernard Greenhouse Cello Master Class videos I produced.
Entire contents of this web site Copyright © 1997- by Ethan Winer. All rights reserved.