Tower's "Concerto for Orchestra"

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Joan Tower is one of America’s most famous – and quotable – women composers. She once asked audiences to imagine her idol, Beethoven, as a composer-in-residence with a modern American orchestra: “If Beethoven walked in here right now,” said Tower, “I think we’d all be a bit shocked. He’d probably look very scruffy and be an obnoxious pain-in-the-butt. Orchestras would never ask him back.”

Commenting on her own music, Tower can be equally blunt. Among her most popular and frequently performed works is the series pieces entitled “Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman.” Of these, Tower remarked, perhaps with tongue firmly in cheek: “Maybe the title is better than the music.”

On today’s date in 1991, Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony gave the premiere performance of this music, Joan Tower’s “Concerto for Orchestra.”

“It’s my WORST title,” Tower declares. “I really didn’t want people to think of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, but it is a concerto in the sense that it features different parts of the orchestra.”

This work was a joint commission from the St. Louis Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, and the Chicago Symphony.

Reviewing the Chicago performance, music critic John von Rhein wrote: “Tower's talent for flinging bold, dramatic sounds over a large orchestral palette is much on display in her Concerto... it is not intended to show off the orchestra in any virtuosic sense. Rather, it is more about the sometimes cataclysmic energies that are released when sound and rhythmic structures meet head-on.”