"whisper concerto" is named after the 'agitato' whisper cadenza of György Ligeti's cello concerto. Like my violin concerto 'Artifacts', this piece is intended not only as a showcase for the cello, but also for the full orchestra to respond to and complement the soloist. 'whisper concerto' is an elaboration of several musical contradictions that I find fascinating: how can an Andante be agitato? A presto dolcissimo? How can a cadenza play (and be playful) with the evolving demands and expectations of the performer's virtuosity? How can a simple chorale become the shadow of a desperate, fluttering, noisy deluge?
In the score I record all the sound elements in great detail, including illustrations of the objects I use to prepare the piano strings. I also give precise instructions for most of the other instruments, whether for the col legno battuto bow or a passage in which the cello uses a bamboo stick. At other points, I call for unconventional variations on traditional techniques such as pizzicati or flutter tonguing.
In my concerto, composed in 2022/23, I try to stay true to my style while making it sound idiomatic and yet extremely strange. Euphonious, almost conventionally tonal melodies are in loving exchange with shameless noise. A certain amount of disorder, then virtuosity, pauses for breath, strangely wild passages, shards and fragments of free jazz mysteriously come together to form a peculiar chorale. The end of my concerto has elements of Ligeti's noise-based cadenza as its foundation, but in a different, more tonal context. I explained this in a recent interview with Rita Fernandes of The Strad magazine.
One challenge in composing my cello concerto was to strike a balance between the solo instrument and the orchestra. The cello's low register can be difficult to balance, and I really wanted to preserve the integrity of the instrument. It was never going to be a battle between the cello and the orchestra. Rather, I wanted them to come together in a way that provoked intimacy between them.
- Katherine Balch