Composed in 2002 at the request of the great clarinettist Ronald Van Spaendonck (to whom it is dedicated), the Concerto for Clarinet is articulated in three movements. From an instrumental point of view, the first uses strings and harp, the second adds percussion keyboards (marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel) while the third uses the marimba in the slow opening, then percussion (snare drum, bongos, temple blocks and tom toms) in the finale. The clarinet part, virtuoso to the extreme, was written in close collaboration with the dedicatee; it is conceived alternately as partner or opponent of the orchestra.
The form of the first movement (Allegro) is ABCA’. A utters a rapid theme directly to the clarinet, a theme taken up by the strings and then developed by the soloist, the harp and the strings. This is followed by part B, slow and expressive, a series of variations on a harmonic succession. This is the soloist’s cadenza, technically formidable. A’ sees the return of the elements of A but in reverse order and with many variations.
The second movement (Lento) is in the form ABA’CA”, A being a varied refrain in each of its reappearances, A’ and A”. The beginning makes exclusive use of the lower strings (violas, cellos and double basses) as well as the marimba, vibraphone and harp; the violins only appear at bar 87 (part C) when the climax is constructed. B is only a short interlude in which the clarinet blends into the polyphonic fabric – based on a canon writing – of the strings. C is the most developed verse leading to the climax mentioned above. The movement ends in a calm and contemplative atmosphere.
After a slow, very contrapuntal opening (written in four-part canon), the finale (Lento-Vivo) gives pride of place to the virtuosity of both the orchestra and the soloist. The latter states a theme that will be varied throughout the movement, each variation being separated by the interventions of the two percussionists. As the work unfolds, the percussionists take on an increasingly predominant role, the end of the Concerto being a sort of hallucinated race to the abyss between the soloist and the orchestra.
The world premiere took place in Moscow on April 1, 2005 with Ronald Van Spaendonck as soloist, with the orchestra under the direction of the composer.