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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
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.
View the above link with Adobe Acrobat Reader.
Adobe Score/Part Samples
Score (pages 11-13)
Violin I Part
(entire 8-page part)
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
JoAnn Falletta, Thomas
Wilkins, Joel Levine
Evansville Phil Virginia
Symphony Omaha Symphony Oklahoma City Phil
Additional performances of "Toccata for Orchestra" are listed
|South Bend Symphony
|East Texas Symphony
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
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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