frank stemper

Violin Concerto (1979)
for violin and orchestra — 17 mins.


This work for violin and orchestra was written between Spring 1978 (in New York) and 1979 (in Berkeley, California).  Thus I began it while a Master degree student at SUNY Stony Brook, while working with David Lewin (the famous music theorist) and finished as I began my PhD at Berkeley, working with Andrew Imbrie (the famous composer).  Both of these teachers were incredibly brilliant human beings.  David was fun, Andrew was nervous.  I have some frightful stories about how brilliant they actually were.  Ask me about it sometime.  While working on the piece with Imbrie, we had terrible arguments, and I won them all.  Although I did listen to everything he told me, most of what he said were objections to what I had written, and almost commanding me to change it.  I never would. 

Once, when I had only been at Berkeley for a few weeks, I objected so strongly to his suggestions that he got mad and left the room where we were working.  I sat there for about 15 minutes, really worrying about what I was going to do.  I was pretty sure my strong musical will had cooked my goose, and Imbrie would somehow get me kicked out of the PhD program.  So I sat there for a while, and — my god — he came back, and the arguing continued!

Once toward the end of the work on this piece, he objected so strongly that I did agree to CHANGE this concerto to try it his way.  And over the next week I composed exactly what and how he wanted me to compose.  At our next meeting, I showed it to him, and he seemed pleased, as if he'd won.  But then I tossed that version of this Violin Concerto back in my briefcase, and pulled out MY version saying, "fine, but this is the way it's going to be."  It pissed him off, but I learned later that he respected that.  He was doing it on purpose, in order to see if I knew what I was doing or not.  I did.

This might have something to do with my winning the Gearge Ladd Prix de Paris in 1981.  It allowed for me to live and work in Paris for two years - a sort of Post-Doc.  My wife and our two babies had some time during that adventure, and I was able to spend all of my time composing.  It was great.  And while in Paris, I made a connection with a brilliant American conductor who was working Utrecht Netherlands.  This brought about the premiere of my Violin Converto - it's only performance.  The conductor was Melvin Margolis.  The violinist is the Bulgarian viiolinist, Maria Teofilova.  It was funny, we had very little money while living in Paris, and it was a great expense for me to travel up to Utrecht.  When I got there, I met with the conductor, prepared for the first rehearsal which was to take place the next morning.  I couldn't wait.  Then I had dinner with Mel and his wife, the California violinist, Donna Margolis.  During dinner, the phone rang.  Mel answered it and spoke in Dutch.  He mostly listened, and every few seconds covered the phone and told me what was being said:

"It's Maria - the violinist."

"She says she can't possibly play your concerto."

Then Mel saw the look on my face, looked and me, and smiled and shook his head "no," as if to tell me not to worry, everything was fine, Maria was just a little scared.  At our first reading in the morning,  Mel conducted me playing the orchestra part on the piano and Maria of course doing the violin part.  She was absolutely superb.  A fabulous player and completely prepared.  And so was Mel.  There is one measure in the piece that has a time signature of  3/4+2/3+1/8 — I mean absolutely crazy.  Only a young idealistic composer would write something complex.  But neither Mel nor Maria had a problem with it.  Oh, they did laugh a bit - at my expense.


Last Updated: January 17, 2018

  • Violin Concerto 15:27