David MacDonald:
Concerto for Steelpan and Wind Ensemble

Steelpan, the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, may not seem to be an obvious choice for a concerto instrument. However, there are many composers and players working to build a classical repertoire for pan. There are many chamber works that include pan, and even a small handful of concerti, notably, by Jan Bach (1994) and more recently, Libby Larsen (2004). My research leads me to believe that this is the first concerto for steelpan with wind ensemble.

Pan has a sound profile unlike any other instrument I know. For that reason, I open the concerto with a timbre sampling of the ensemble, punctuated with the pan for comparison. The melody presented by the pan beginning in m. 15 of the first movement is only the first statement of a theme that informs nearly all of the melody, harmony, and counterpoint of the concerto. Of the three movements, the first pits the pan most strongly against the ensemble, emphasizing the uniqueness of its sound. This movement also focuses most strongly on the relationship between the pan and the percussion section.
The second movement is more texturally dense. The pan floats over a bed of loosely imitative counterpoint, which thickens throughout the movement. The soloist has the opportunity to “stretch out” over cadenzas, including an optional improvisation. Because the range and layout of steelpans are not completely standardized, the improvisation allows the soloist to exploit the peculiarities of the instrument being used.

The final cadenza of the second movement, which includes the optional improvisation, connects directly to the final movement of the concerto. In m. 5, the pan presents the clearest statement of the theme on which the whole work is based. This movement is the shortest of the three, a succinct and groove-based wrap-up to the complete concerto. The rhythms and textures refer to jazz, a familiar genre to many steelpan players. The pan concludes with a virtuosic flourish before a cool and casual exit.

Duration: approx. 18’30”

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