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Work of the Week – Katherine Balch: whisper concerto

Reinventing instruments: The world premiere of Katherine Balch's new work whisper concerto for violoncello and orchestra will take place in Dallas, Texas, on 20 April 2023 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gemma New. Cellist Zlatomir Fung, the youngest musician to ever win the First Prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition Cello division, will perform as soloist. 

The 25-minute piece requires careful preparation of the instruments. In the score, Balch has specified in detail which instrument needs additional equipment, how to attach it, and how the resulting sound should be. These additions range from glass bottles and bubble wrap for the percussion to letter clips for the double bass. The piano requires the most elaborate preparation as it needs various tools such as a one-cent coin, adhesive tape, expanding dowels, and crocodile clips.    

Multiphonics in instruments: whisper concerto by Katherine Balch

In addition to the extensions of the instruments, there are special characters in the notes that refer to the way they are played. Balch explores the possibility of making several notes sound simultaneously in one instrument using these so-called multiphonics, as well as volume changes of individual instruments in the orchestral tutti, to form a sound image that condenses and dissolves again throughout the work. 

For me my workspace isn’t just a place for composing or practising my instruments. It’s also a place for play and discovery, and I try to keep a lot of noise making devices at my disposal to facilitate that playful mental and physical space I try to cultivate when I write. (Katherine Balch)

Further performances of the whisper concerto with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra will take place on 21 and 22 April 2023, whilst the German premiere with the Staatsorchester Darmstadt and Maximilian Hornung as soloist, will take place in Darmstadt on 7 May 2023. The work was commissioned by the BBC alongside the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Staatsorchester Darmstadt with future performances planned for the UK.



Katherine Balch: Composer Profile 

Whisper concerto: Work Details and Online Score

Website  Dallas Symphony Orchestra


Illustration: Bluebird Photography UK