Concerto for string quartet and orchestra

Derek Charke
Derek Charke
Composition Date: 2011
Duration: 00:23:00
Genre: Orchestra / Large Ensembles, Orchestra with Multiple Soloists, Mixed Strings Without Keyboard


Instrumentation Set Number 1:
  • 3 x Flute
  • 3 x Oboe
  • 3 x Clarinet
  • 3 x Bassoon
  • 4 x Horn
  • 3 x Trumpet
  • 3 x Trombone
  • 1 x Tuba
  • 4 x Percussion
  • 1 x Harp
  • 1 x Piano
  • 2 x Violin ( Solo )
  • 1 x Viola ( Solo )
  • 1 x Violoncello ( Solo )
  • 1 x Unspecified bowed strings
Instrumentation Set Number 2:
  • 1 x Full orchestra
Programme Note:
Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra is essentially derived from one gesture: an open voiced, broken triad. This may be an overstatement, but it’s (mostly) true. In the opening, a fantasia of swirling, chromatic, and highly active material tosses our little triad about in ascending and descending chromatic flourishes. Several ideas are foreshadowed; of particular importance the very first glissando (on harp and piano) will reoccur at the end. Rather than opening as a concerto for string quartet, the work begins for string quintet. During the first five minutes, the conductor, or concertmaster, is asked to participate equally with the solo quartet. As the opening fantasia unfolds, several high soaring violin solos are heard, followed by a longer sequence where the solo violins continue unabashedly riffing on broken triads while a lyric, but highly disjunct melody, is performed by the other three soloists. The material coalesces into an oscillation of limited chord successions. Growing increasingly frantic, there is a sudden silence; followed by an abrupt orchestra tutti.

The first theme (part one) emerges from this tumultuous opening: a melody, built from the reminiscence of earlier broken triads is accompanied by a clear harmonic motion ascending in thirds. This is the longest section of the concerto, and develops through repetition and variation. Ideas are recast several times but nothing ever repeats exactly the same. Circle bowing is heard again, briefly, as the melody ebbs and flows, leading steadily towards a gradual frenzy. Percussive, toe-tapping rhythmic patterns are encountered as the bass drum becomes a driving force, carrying the beat, much like the unremitting pulse of so much pop and rock music––the use of popular idioms are never emphatically implied, but they are hinted at. A hemiola figure, a three against four pattern, subversively divides the main pulse. At around twelve minutes, a short tutti transition leads us to part two.

In part two, a second theme is introduced. Modal melodies are derived from rhythmic patterns obtained from random text. The melodies are set as rounds, a contrapuntal technique akin to singing Frère Jacques. The orchestration increasingly becomes sprightly, and after several culminating moments the hemiola returns, now highlighted in the solo quartet. Right ‘wrong’ notes incessantly interrupt from deep below. After a brief silence, material builds emphatically to a swirling, tango-like climax. The music is quite literally torn apart, and while the solo quartet flails stoically on large open triads, the orchestra comes crashing down––chromatic descending figurations hurl us to the coda. A lilting, lachrymose conclusion in 13/16 begins, echoing fragments from the fallen material. A prerecorded soundscape enters: narwhals and ring seals are heard; their piercing sonority of descending cries echo the descending fragmentations of the recent climax. It is fascinating that these sounds have not been synthesized––they are exactly as I recorded them in the high arctic, under the ice in Baffin Bay (near Pond Inlet, Nunavut). This surreal, underwater language accompanies us to the end.

Previous commissions for the Kronos Quartet focussed exclusively on northern soundscapes and Inuit throat singing. In many ways I wanted this to be a very different work, and I believe it is. However, echos––resonances––from these earlier pieces can be found; the most obvious being the soundscape of underwater arctic sounds I’ve included at the end. But other commonalities exist too, including circle bowing, similar chord progressions, and a relentless drama, intrinsic to many of my works.

I wish to thank the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Peter Oundjian, Music director, and the Kronos Quartet, for providing me this wonderful opportunity.

Commissioned by: Commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Peter Oundjian, Music Director March 2012

Premiere Information:
Roy Thomson Hall
Toronto Symphony Orchestra with the Kronos Quartet
Conductor: Peter Oundjian


  • Call Number:
  • MI 1417 C473co
  • Genre:
  • Orchestra / Large Ensembles, Orchestra with Multiple Soloists, Mixed Strings Without Keyboard
  • Date of Acquisition:
  • April 11, 2012
  • Type:
  • Print-music, Published by CMC
  • Physical Description:
  • 1 score (99 p.) ;
    99 Pages
    Height: 43 cm
    Width: 28 cm
    Parts page count: 388
    This piece includes a tape part
    36 parts available for rent ([388] p.) ;
    Height: 39 cm
    Width: 28 cm
    This piece includes a tape part
  • Additional Information:
  • 3333/4331/timp+3/hp,pf/str-qt/str

    1 Piccolo
    2 Flutes
    2 Oboes
    1 English Horn
    2 Clarinets in Bb
    1 Bass Clarinet
    2 Bassoons
    1 Contrabassoon

    4 Horns in F
    3 Trumpets in C
    2 Tenor Trombones
    1 Bass Trombone
    1 Tuba

    3 Percussion

    Amplified String Quartet

    Orchestra Strings
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