Every woodwind has a unique musical personality. Born from a military flute in the middle ages, the piccolo, the highest instrument in the orchestra, is commonly associated with a piercing sound that can penetrate through an entire mighty orchestra.
Due to its very high register, the piccolo’s solo repertoire is quite limited.
When Regina Helcher Yost first approached me about commissioning a piece for piccolo and piano, the challenge seemed daunting. How was I supposed to come up with an effective recital piece for this extreme little instrument?
Each time I write for a new instrument, I strive to connect with what makes that particular instrument unique. What kind of music will make the instrument sparkle and come to life? What kind of material would be most satisfying to play?
For me, the key to unlocking the potential and the beauty of the piccolo is to explore its haunting and expressive lower register and to embrace its singing middle range. I only use the high register when structurally necessary, and try not to stay there for very long. Besides its singing qualities, the piccolo is also remarkably agile and capable of exciting virtuosity.
My Piccolo Concerto was born out of two consortium/crowd-sourcing commissions. It began as a Sonata for Piccolo and Piano, commissioned by Regina Helcher Yost, who spearheaded a group of 23 distinguished performers who co-commissioned the sonata, and premiered the piece in 2018.
Erica Peel, piccoloist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and I became friends in 2019. Erica has given me great inspiration throughout our numerous collaborations. In 2020, she asked if I would compose a concerto that she would premiere at the 2020 National Flute Convention’s Gala Concerto concert. I suggested orchestrating the sonata, and we agreed that the piece would lend itself particularly well to an orchestrated and expanded concerto version.
When Erica commissioned me to transform the sonata into a concerto, we agreed that it would make most sense to use a string orchestra plus harp and percussion. A full orchestra would likely overshadow the piccolo in terms of balance, whereas a string orchestra would act as the perfect foil to the piccolos metallic brilliance. Erica had many great ideas for how to push the piccolo to new heights in the last movement. She even figured out how to channel her inner Jethro Tull through singing and playing simultaneously during the rock-and-roll influenced last movement. We had many happy moments of brainstorming together throughout the orchestration process.
Erica, like Regina, put together a fundraising campaign to help support my work on this project. Unfortunately, like most live events around the world, the 2020 convention was canceled because of Covid-19. But as some doors temporarily closed, others happily opened, and the Philadelphia Orchestra scheduled the premiere of my concerto for their Digital Stage series.
Commissioning is invaluable to the continuation of our art. Without Regina Helcher Yost’s initiative in putting together the sonata consortium, and without Erica Peel envisioning the concerto version, and without the generous support of the piccolo community and friends, I would not have discovered this music inside myself. I am endlessly grateful to everyone who supported me in creating this work.
List of sonata co-commissioners:
Zart Dombourian-Eby Laura Dwyer
Christine Erlander Beard Gabriel Goñi Dondi Jennifer Gunn
Lois Bliss Herbine Kimberly Hickey Gudrun Hinze
Lindsay Leach-Sparks Barbara Ogar
List of concerto contributors:
Thomas and Lisa Leise
Clint and Judy Steele
Allen Harberg Jr