Program Notes

Overture for Violin and Orchestra

BORN: November 24, 1960, in Tulsa, OK; currently resides in Nashville, TN


WORLD PREMIERE: June 22, 2017, at the 2017 Bravo! Vail Music Festival in Colorado, with violinist Joshua Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields

INSTRUMENTATION:  2 each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets; timpani; and strings

DURATION: About 10 mins

When Edgar Meyer received a MacArthur “Genius” Award in 2002, he was singled out for being equally at home in “jazz, folk, country, and classical styles” and for “creating a unique musical voice that broadens the technical potential of the bass and stretches the instrument’s stylistic possibilities.” Meyer has earned acclaim not only for opening up new vistas for the double bass but for expanding the dialogue between the various worlds he inhabits. His collaborations range across a spectrum encompassing Joshua Bell, the banjo wizard Béla Fleck, and tabla player Zakir Hussain; popular music figures with whom he has done session work in Nashville’s recording studios; and symphony orchestras.

Collaboration has in fact fueled Meyer’s musical imagination since he started his career.

He travels naturally and freely between the worlds of bluegrass, jazz, and classical music, displaying a talent for negotiating the counterpoint of different personalities required for this level of collaboration. Meyer started learning double bass from his father while still a child, and his work with Joshua Bell has deep roots dating back to the early 1980s, when Meyer was a student at Indiana University’s School of Music. In Bloomington he first began performing with Bell, later forming a quartet with him and bluegrass legends Sam Bush and Mike Marshall. Another high-profile collaboration has been with Yo-Yo Ma and the violinist/fiddler Mark O’, with whom Meyer released the landmark trio recording Appalachian Journey in 2000. The recording won Meyer the first of several Grammy awards.

Now fifty-seven, the bass virtuoso and composer continues his longstanding connections with the orchestral world. Recently, Meyer expanded his scope even further with New Piece for Orchestra (premiered last year by his hometown Nashville Symphony), which marked his first time composing for full orchestra without a featured soloist. Soon after, Meyer completed his next project by combining a commission for a compact violin concerto for Joshua Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields with a request from the Bravo! Vail Festival to write an overture. The resulting Overture for Violin and Orchestra was given its world premiere in Vail last summer. Bell and the ASMF gave the UK premiere in January and have included the work as part of their current US tour.

“Joshua and I have been friends for most of our lives and he has been a significant influence on my musical voice,” Meyer remarks. “We check in from time to time and think about what potential projects might be mutually engaging.” Bell states that the Overture for Violin and Orchestra presented some fascinating challenges both for the Academy and himself.

When Meyer wrote his 2012 Double Concerto for himself and Bell, he noted that the violinist “has a gift for the overview and can see the whole piece when he plays it. In his classical playing, Joshua also possesses a lean voice that is appropriate for the music I write. And he can master the more ambitious rhythmic aspects of my writing as well.”

The composer has provided the following description of the score:

It has nine beats to the bar. It is probably fair to say that over half of all easily listenable music has two or four beats to the bar, i.e., it is fundamentally duple. Groups of five or seven beats seem to be comparatively irregular. Groups of nine, potentially three groups of three, occupy a pleasant middle ground. Familiar, although less so, and entirely regular. From this starting place it is possible to reference rhythms both obvious and obscure.

One of my objectives is to provide the listener with things they can feel and also with elements that may be less known. To establish trust and to provoke interest. This combination seems to get my attention in any number of contexts.

—Thomas May

Thomas May is a Contributing Writer to the San Francisco Symphony program book. He blogs about the arts at

(March 2018)

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