Bonsai Concerto No. 1

Cello and Small Orchestra (2012)

I. Agitato
II. Largo
III. Allegro maestoso

Dedicated to Juan Hermida.

Score Sample

Duration: c. 11 minutes


My Bonsai Concerto No. 1 is for solo cello with an orchestra which includes an unspecified wind instrument, an unspecified plucked string instrument, percussion and strings. The wind instrument can be a flute, a clarinet, an oboe or soprano sax, and the plucked string instrument can be guitar (acoustic or electric), ud, lute, etc. For its relatively short duration I decided to call it a “Bonsai concerto,” like the miniature trees of Japanese origin. Also strong in its influence were the solo concertos of Antonio Vivaldi. A third influence would be the use of Latino dance rhythms.

As part of my quest to create a sense of freshness and spontaneity in my music, I indicate that the two “unspecified” instruments can ornament their lines in a very free manner. The music for plucked stringed instrument is even notated using jazz chordal notation in some sections. Since these two lines often duplicate the lines of other instruments, they help create a heterophonic, glittering texture in the orchestra’s interactions with the solo cello.


Performance notes regarding the “Heterophonic Lines” of the Bonsai Concerto No. 1: Wind and Plucked String parts.

The Bonsai Concerto No. 1, for cello and small orchestra, contains two instrumental parts which are purposely ambiguous: the “Wind” part is for one performer only, but can be played by flute, or oboe, or clarinet, or soprano saxophone. The “Plucked String” part also is for just one performer, can be played by acoustic or electric guitar, oud, lute, pipa or banjo. The choice of instrument perhaps should depend on the size of the string orchestra, as well as the availability of performers.

The Wind and Plucked String parts are to be ornamented as desired throughout. That is, while their lines often duplicate the lines of other instruments, it is expected that the performer will add appropriate ornamentation, which should consist at least of passing and neighbor tones, appogiaturas, trills, tremolos, etc. The rhythms can also be modified with discretion: longer notes can be filled in with smaller values, octaves and thirds added, doubled or substituted, etc. Individual phrases can be transposed up or down an octave at will to better fit the instrument used.

This freedom to embellish is granted only to these two instruments, as the other parts of the orchestra are either performed by multiple players (the strings) or whose colors are so special that they need to be used with discretion (percussion). Their lines are rarely in the forefront of the musical texture; their primary function in the piece can be compared to the basso continuo of the Baroque: serving as an underpinning of the basic harmonies of a piece, but also as a way to bring different shadings to the primary colors of the main ensemble.

So why go to all this trouble, you may ask?

I am looking for ways to create a freshness and sense of spontaneity in the performance of classical music: something which can be found in much popular music today as well as in the interpretation of medieval and early Renaissance music: something which often gets lost when musicians focus excessively on a literal interpretation of a score by a contemporary composer. Of course this doesn’t signify complete freedom for all the performers, but it does try to leave a little bit of creative space so that the score can be tailored to each particular performance.