The Musical Conversation of Concertos

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The musical concerto-in the Latin and Italian root of the word-has a double meaning: it’s a contest, an uneven contest at that between a soloist and the full force of an orchestra, or between a man and a crowd, one against many.

Tchaikowsky, who wrote some beauties, said the concerto sets the infinitely colorful orchestra against the small but strong-minded adversary voice of one performer with one instrument: piano, violin, cello, clarinet, whatever.

Sometimes it can feel like a life-and-death struggle. Yet the other meaning of concerto implies an arrangement if not agreement in this contest, a conversation and a resolution.

So as a wise elder listener Joseph Kerman writes, we should be listening in concertos for give-and-take that can be playful, antagonistic, teasing or exploiting: about a relationship between lovers, or rivals; between student and teacher, between winner and loser.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


Joseph Kerman