Modern Music That Doesn’t Suck (one of a series): Robert Kyr’s Violin Concertos

On a recent Sunday morning I heard a story on NPR about the American composer Robert Kyr, who retreats to a secluded and austere monastery in the New Mexico desert to composer. I was intrigued by the story and the musical excerpts, so downloaded a couple of them from, including his Violin Concerto Trilogy.  There are three concertos (obviously), all quite different, but in a recognizably tonal style, very striking and beautiful. Each has a traditional concerto movement structure, fast – slow – fast.

The first of the concertos is based on the old American southern hymn tune “What Wondrous Love Is This.”  It exploits the lower range of the violin, creating a mournful autumnal sound. Strands of the hymn weave themselves through the texture.

The second concerto combines a modern orchestra and solo violin with a Javanese gamelan, a southeast Pacific percussion orchestra that creates a kind of metallic, shimmering sound.  Various composers, including the American Lou Harrison, have used the gamelan in their works. Benjamin Britten was highly influenced by the sound and incorporated similar textures into his later works.  Kyr’s concerto is, I think, the most successfully in blending the eastern and western sound worlds.

The third concerto is the most traditional of the three, with long, arching melodic lines.

The performers are the Third Angle New Music Ensemble.

This music won’t necessarily stretch your intellectual muscles, but it is beautiful, and it’s been coming out of my speakers and my iPod quite a bit in the last couple of weeks.  It’s a keeper.

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