The last decade of my career as double bassist with the Phoenix Symphony, I had the pleasure of working with the then concertmaster, Steven Moeckel, whose playing was among the most beautiful I had ever heard. Every year, he would perform a different concerto and every year I would tell myself that when I had the time, I should write him a concerto. As it turned out, that opportunity did not occur until after I had retired from the orchestra. Steven has turned out to be a gifted and insightful collaborator as well as an incredible violinist and musician, and we have continued to collaborate on other projects as well, including the unaccompanied The Unreal Dwelling (2020) for his album, Sei Solo.
Like almost all of my work of the last twenty years, this concerto is derived, initially, from piano improvisations. The first movement is derived from an improvisation on my recording Hold That Thought, and the second and third movements are derived from the first two tracks of Just Add Water. All of these tracks were recorded within a week of each other and are not only stylistically consistent, but share some musical material as well. The titles of the movements have been retained from the recordings. The original improvisations have been transformed into completely different pieces with a different purposes that bear only a passing resemblance to the original.
The first movement, Emergence, refers to a melodic idea that, though it can be heard in the early portions of the piece, doesn’t become prominent until about halfway through the piece. At that point, it is repeated and sequenced in a manner reminiscent of Richard Strauss. Hence, it is as though the musical idea was discovered in the middle of the piece. The feeling is somewhat like a mild attraction, barely noticed at first, which grows fonder and fonder until it becomes real affection. The emotional content is overtly romantic at times.
Lighthouse, the second movement, derives its name from a repeated B-Bb passage in the center of the piece that seems to be a guiding light throughout the stormy surrounding music. The movement also describes the loneliness of isolation and the beautiful serenity of a peaceful sea. For me, the idea is a metaphor for the creative muse, which can bring beauty and serenity as well as providing a beacon through troubled times.
The title to the third movement, Floating Spheres, refers to the hollow balls of glass used by fisherman to float their nets. The glass balls from Japanese fishing nets used to occasionally wash up on the shore when I was growing up in the Pacific Northwest. When I am improvising, I often visualize myself as floating in a glass ball on a sea of emotion, so these balls have extra meaning for me. The floating balls of glass are represented by small repeated passages that appear throughout the movement, even in the cadenza. There are bits of music which tie the movement together as well, but the swirling repeats, especially when they appear as cross-rhythms, are the real glue.
As I was considering how to end the piece, I was thinking about the floating balls and had a vision in which my mind pulled back to take in the ocean as far as I could see full of glass balls. At that point, I realized the fishing floats had been transformed into the jewels of Indra’s Net, a Buddhist metaphor for interdependence. Each nexus in the net contains a jewel that is so highly polished, it reflects every other jewel in the net (and each jewel’s reflection). This vision gave me an inspiration for how to end the piece as the small repetitions multiply until they are indistinguishable from one another. This makes for an appropriate ending that is more glowing than rousing, and fits with the rest of the concerto.