Columbus Concerto Program Notes:
My decision to base the primary materials of Columbus Concerto on music of Mexican composers active a generation after the landing of Columbus was prompted by desire to celebrate Latino culture and create a bridge between it and my own. Having spent twenty two years on the West Coast, I feel that my life is bound up with the Mexican traditions which must, of necessity, find their way into my art.
The piece was commissioned by a matching grant from the Ahmanson Organ Programming Endowment and the National Endowment for the Arts. As in concertos of the past, there are three movements, the central movement being a slow evocation of jazz influences coupled with the "Kyrie" from theMass for Five Voices of Juan de Lienas, which appears in the saxophones half way through. The outer movements contain a plethora of sources, from anonymous "Lamention" in the upper winds against a "Hosanna" of Francisi Guerrero in the brass in the opening of I, to an anonymous "Tristis Est" which begins III.
The borrowed materials function as a middle ground layer, much like the traditional cantus firmus of old, and my own thematic material is made from the incipits of these materials. For example, the tune heard in the highest flute part at the beginning of I becomes the main material of the organ's entrance, and it returns at the end of the whole piece as a compressed foreground in the horns. In the ensemble itself, there is a balance between winds, percussion, and organ, much in the way that winds, strings, and piano have balanced roles in a Mozart piano concerto. I first experimented with this format in the Concerto "Dies Irae" of 1982 for piano trio and winds as a way of sidestepping the problem of the solo combat implied in the Romantic concerto. In Columbus Concerto the organ is an integrated partner with the wind ensemble; and, it occasionally emerges on its own with separately developed materials.