Wynton Marsalis and Nicola Benedetti seem to be unlikely collaborators at first glance — she's a classical violinist from Scotland and he's a trumpeter and jazz bandleader who hails from New Orleans.
But they're both virtuosos with wide-ranging musical interests, and he's been composing substantial classical pieces for over two decades now.
Marsalis and Benedetti first met in 2005 when she was still a student; a friendship was born, and they stayed in touch over the years. She was impressed by some of his compositions and asked him to write a piece for violin.
Support for the project was very strong, with a number of orchestras co-commissiong the work, including the Chicago Symphony, the London Symphony Orchestra, Ravinia, the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig and the National Symphony Orchestra Washington.
The result is the "Violin Concerto in D," which manages to reflect both Benedetti's Celtic heritage and Marsalis' African-American ancestry.
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Marsalis outlines the four movements:
- Rhapsody is a complex dream that becomes a nightmare, progresses into peacefulness and dissolves into ancestral memory.
- Rondo Burlesque is a syncopated, New Orleans Jazz, calliope, circus clown, African gumbo, Mardi Gras party in odd meters.
- Blues is the progression of flirtation, courtship, intimacy, sermonizing, final loss and abject loneliness that is out there to claim us all.
- Hootenanny is a raucous, stomping and whimsical barnyard throw-down. She excites us with all types of virtuosic chicanery and gets us intoxicated with revelry and then goes on down the Good King's highway to other places yet to be seen or even foretold.
The concerto was recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Romanian-born conductor Cristian Măcelaru.
The new release also includes the "Fiddle Dance Suite" for solo violin, a five-movement piece with some traditional Celtic dance elements including a strathspey, jig and reel.
Benedetti is spectacular in both pieces, displaying technical command, gorgeous tone and lots of subtlety in the constantly shifting soundcapes that Marsalis has provided for her. It's compelling, interesting music, and don't be surprised to find your feet tapping and your body moving here and there.