Suitable for Classical concerts.   Duration approximately 9-10 minutes.  See orchestration.   See printable documents. See performances.   See reviews.  See Audio Samples.

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About Toccata for Orchestra

"Toccata for Orchestra" was commissioned by a consortium of orchestras including the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra, Alfred Savia, Music Director; the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Mario Venzago, Music Director; the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, Joel Levine, Music Director; the Omaha Symphony, Thomas Wilkins, Music Director; and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta, Music Director.  The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra premiered the work. 

This lively toccata is meant to be a miniature concerto for orchestra. From the string quartet to the lyrical flute and clarinet solos in the middle of the work, to the fugue section, every instrument in the orchestra has a solo moment somewhere in this piece. 

A composition colleague of Mr. Beckel mentioned to him his discussion of toccatas with the organist at the main cathedral in Siena, Italy. He was told that in the 17th century, toccatas were typically improvisational preludes for church services often involving music that would sequence keys in fourths or fifths to see which notes on the organ might be malfunctioning, as they were unpredictable instruments at the time.  This practice would inform the organist of which notes to avoid in the rest of the religious service.  The composer decided to incorporate this musical idea into his toccata.  The melodic pattern of fifths states all of the notes in the chromatic scale by the sixth measure, and continues to be the basis for the B theme.  The use of fifths is also dominant in the rhythmic accompaniment to the A theme. 

Structurally this work can be divided into five major sections.  The first section includes the introduction, A and B themes, and a miniature development of those themes.  The second section is meant to totally contrast the loud and rhythmic opening of the work.  The more intimate music features the clarinet solo, which leads into a string quartet.  This music takes us to the third section, a quasi fugue that begins quietly with the bassoons and culminates in a very loud multi-metered feature of the percussion section.  The fourth section abruptly returns to the quiet music of the second section, now heard in the solo flute with an ostinato accompaniment derived from the fugue theme.  This music eventually takes us to the fifth section, a recapitulation and coda. 

Another key component of “Toccata for Orchestra” is the rhythmic interjection of a 7/8 meter, first stated by the piano, xylophone, flute, and piccolo.  This 7/8 rhythm evolves throughout the work.  The underlying rhythm of the accompanying ostinato to the lyrical flute solo is derived from this 7/8 rhythm. This toccata covers a large spectrum of sounds and moods within the orchestra. 

There are many definitions for toccata including “a piece of music that shows the technical prowess of a soloist.”  In this case the soloist is the entire symphony orchestra.  Another definition of toccata is "to touch."  While this definition refers to touching a keyboard, the composer is hoping that the lyrical moments in this work will touch the listener and show off the beauty of the orchestra, along with its dazzling technical abilities.

The piece was premiered by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra on subscription concerts with Mario Venzago conducting March 16 and 17, 2007 at the Hilbert Circle Theater.  The length of the work is approximately 9-10 minutes.  

Orchestration

2 Flutes

4 Horns in F

1 Piccolo

3 Trumpets in C

2 Oboes

3 Trombones

2 Bb Clarinets

1 Tuba

1 Bb Bass Clarinet

1 Timpani

2 Bassoons

3 Percussion

Piano

Harp

 

 

Strings

Violin I

Violin II

Viola

Cello

Bass

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Documents

About the Work

View the above link with Adobe Acrobat Reader.  

Adobe Score/Part Samples

Score (pages 11-13)

Violin I Part (entire 8-page part)

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Performances

Toccata for Orchestra was premiered by the Indianapolis Symphony on March 16th and March 17th of 2007 on a classical subscription pair of concerts, with Mario Venzago conducting.

 

Also performing this work in the 2007-2008 season was the Evansville Philharmonic, Oklahoma City Philharmonic, Omaha Symphony, and Virginia Symphony.

     
     Alfred Savia,           JoAnn Falletta,      Thomas Wilkins,         Joel Levine
    Evansville Phil     Virginia Symphony  Omaha Symphony   Oklahoma City Phil
         9/15/07                    10/4/07                10/5 & 10/6/07              5/10/08

Additional performances of "Toccata for Orchestra" are listed below.

Lamont Symphony
Utah Symphony 
Bozeman Symphony
Florida Orchestra
South Bend Symphony
Rockford Symphony
East Texas Symphony
Wyoming Symphony
Rochester Philharmonic

Reviews

Indianapolis Star, Saturday, March 17, 2007 - Whitney Smith

"The crowd roared after the "Toccata," a taut, generally intense, brilliantly hued piece full of driving rhythms and melodic fragments.  Beckel made fine use of the strengths of the orchestra he knows well, especially the principal string players and French horns.  On this St. Patrick's Day, here's wishing the luck of the Irish to this piece."

Nuvo, March 21 - 28, 2007 - Tom Aldridge

". . . the debut performance of ISO principal trombonist James Beckel's Toccata for Orchestra, . . . began the program under Venzago.  One of the few contemporary composers who gives us something to sink our teeth into (Jennifer Higdon is another), Beckel had previously impressed with his Fantasy after Schubert a few years ago.  His Toccata easily maintains his earlier standard, showing his expected mastery in orchestration.

Instead of the delicate employment of a serial tone row, as in the Fantasy, Beckel's latest explores the so-called "circle of fifths," while employing fifths and fourths as open intervals, but in a new and exciting way.  A xylophone struck with soft mallets serves as a connecting link between the loud sections. The audience gave the nine-minute Toccata a well-deserved standing ovation." 

Evansville Courier & Press, September 16, 2007 - Jamie Morris

"The Philharmonic began with Beckel's "Toccata for Orchestra."  This piece had a fanfare quality that kept your attention from beginning to end.

The energy in the orchestra was dynamic.  Part of what added to the excitement was the use of mixed meters.   . . .

. . . .The composer was in attendance for what was a very enjoyable and refreshing opener."

The Virginian-Pilot, October 6, 2007 - Lee Teply

"The concert opened with James Beckel's Toccata for Orchestra, a multisectional piece that required ensemble virtuosity and fine solos, both of which it got from the orchestra.  It had a fresh sound, tonal but obviously modern, that brought to mind the style of Aaron Copland, the next composer on the program."

Portfolio Weekly, October 16, 2007 - M.D. Ridge (Virginia Symphony Review)

"The delightful opener, James Beckel's Toccata for Orchestra, premiered earlier this year.  Its wonderful orchestration " Gershwinesque percussion, sweeping strings, a sudden shower of piano that faded as suddenly, a gorgeous cello melody in the middle section " showed off superb playing in each section of the orchestra."

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Audio Samples

The following four samples are synthesized.  Just click the center arrow on the player to begin.  Use the double arrows to cycle through the tracks.

If you are a conductor or artistic administrator and you would like to hear the entire work, please use the contact page to let us know.

 

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