The second work performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra during the Friday afternoon concert in its mini-festival of new music was David Ludwig’s new bassoon concerto, “Pictures from the Floating World”.
Longtime friend of Ludwig, Daniel Matsukawa, principal bassoon, had nudged Ludwig for a concerto over the years so it must have been a joy for him to stand in front of the orchestra for a rare moment under the spotlight. I’ve heard bassoon mostly in small chamber ensembles or as accompaniment in the orchestra, so Matsukawa’s first note made it abundantly clear why concertos for this instrument are so rare. In that large setting, its mellow, laid back sound could easily be crushed under the weight of the large orchestra around it. Ludwig described the challenge of clearing the way for bassoon to sing in a video that I edited about the creative process involved in this work:
Ludwig often mirrored the notes played by Matsukawa in other instruments in a form of a harmonic echo that reinforced the bassoon’s melody. Knowing that the piece was inspired by Debussy’s impressionistic works about water helped me to appreciate the work and visualize the music, but it was not essential to the experience. Skeptics of new music based on their experience with highly dissonant works by composers in the 19th century could find themselves enjoying the largely lyrical works of today’s composers.
A chamber ensemble formed within the main orchestra on several occasions. The most joyful was a akin to a jam session where Matsukawa challenged two cellos to keep up with his astounding blaze of notes. Other portions of the piece contained crystal clear images that evoked the theme the floating world. One could hear flowing water, ripples, and choppy seas rolling about the orchestra. Like all world premiers, the challenge is finding a way to hear the piece again. Here’s hoping for a recording in the not too distant future and a chance to hear it again live as other orchestras add it to their repertoire.