Romer’s Gap (2016)

Description

by Andrew Mellor

Only in Finland has the cello – that instrument we think of as mellow and elegiac – found itself a firm foothold in the world of rock music. Olli Virtaperko’s new concerto for amplified cello Romer’s Gap was written in 2015/16 for Perttu Kivilaakso, one of three cello-playing frontmen in the metal band Apocalyptica. But Kivilaakso isn’t the only cellist to have been a member of a rock band in Finland. Virtaperko is known as a Baroque cellist and violist as well as a composer, but for six years from 1995 he was a vocalist in the Finnish group Ultra Bra. Throughout his composing career, Virtaperko has explored and tested the common ground occupied by early music performance practice and contemporary popular music.

Romer’s Gap is a concerto, not a rock anthem. But it takes its inspiration from Kivilaakso’s work with Apocolyptica and his playing style in general, which has been shaped as much by his time in the band as it has by his love for classical music, particularly opera. Combining two musical languages is fraught with difficulty, as Virtaperko experienced in the ‘intense laboratory work’ that surrounded his Knifonium Concerto Ambrosian Delights. Romer’s Gap might not aim for the balanced synthesis of that piece, focusing instead on aesthetic versatility, craftsmanship, virtuosity and the communicative potential of all those things combined. But it does hinge, in a sense, on the two very different worlds occupied by Kivilaakso and his cello. The solo part in Romer’s Gap can has the lyrical power and sweep of a Formula One car but also the delicacy and fragility of a butterfly. Even after Magnus Lindberg’s two cello concertos, the instrument’s expressive range is blasted wide open in Romer’s Gap.

‘Perttu’s candid approach to the cello as an instrument had a deep effect on the way the cello part of the concerto was constructed’ says Virtaperko. But the composer also acknowledges that his own personal background as a cellist was ‘crucial’ in the composition process, during which he ‘used the cello as a primary working tool.’ The piece is scored for amplified solo cello and small orchestra, and is cast in three movements. The title comes from evolutionary biology, where ‘Romer’s gap’ refers to a period for which no relevant fossilized materials have been recovered – a biological lost age.

For all Kivilaakso’s power, it’s fragility that is revealed in the concerto’s first movement, when from the spiraling vortex of classic Virtaperko harmonies the cello appears to ‘birth’, unsure of the world it is emerging into. It finds its rhythm in a passage marked ‘intensively and vigorously’, but appears to collapse into an abyss. In a cadenza the cellist is instructed to ‘improvise a texture that is devoid of all melodic elements and focuses on the concepts of friction, noise and pressure.’ But that heavy darkness is destroyed by light, heavenly celesta and xylophone.

In the second movement we hear more Virtaperko hallmarks: the playful tread of a vibraphone and those funked-up, psychedelic harmonies that appear to suck the music up momentarily like tiny tornadoes. Here the cello’s sliding glissandi together with the pitch-shifting and prescribed improvisation of the orchestra conjure a fleeting view of a barren wasteland, perhaps the lost age of Romer’s gap itself. The third moment begins with a display of classic rock virtuosity marked ‘shamlessly, with attitude’. The music is wild and ominous until the solo cello discovers a lyrical oasis, and from that same material gathers the strength it needs to confront the orchestra at last. Each chases the other down, until the concerto ends with a sudden descent somehow disguised as an ascent.


Instrumentation

for amplified cello and sinfonietta
2016

2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo)
2 oboes
clarinet (in Bb)
Bass clarinet (in Bb)
bassoon
double bassoon
2 horns (in F)
piano/celesta
2 percussion
strings (8.6.5.4.2)
amplified cello soloist

for amplified cello and symphony orchestra
2016

2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo)
2 oboes
clarinet (in Bb)
bass clarinet (in Bb)
bassoon
double bassoon
2 horns (in F)
piano/celesta
harp
2 percussion
timpani
strings (12.10.8.6.4)
amplified cello soloist

RomersGap3321p
Recording Romer’s Gap, 21 November 2016 (photo Maarit Kytöharju)

RomersGap3276p
Recording Romer’s Gap, 21 November 2016 (photo Maarit Kytöharju)

Audio

 

Romer’s Gap I

Romer’s Gap II

Romer’s Gap III

Performed by Perttu Kivilaakso and Jyväskylä Sinfonia (cond. Ville Matvejeff), 7 September 2016.


Video

Romer’s Gap, Cadenza of the 1st movement.

Olli Virtaperko on Romer’s Gap (in Finnish)


Scores

Romer’s Gap (sinfonietta version)

Romer’s Gap (symph. orch. version)


Details

Duration 26’

Movements

I – II – III

First performances

for amplified cello and symphony orchestra
11 August 2016
Turku Music Festival
Perttu Kivilaakso, amplified cello soloist with Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Ville Matvejeff
Turku Concert Hall, Turku, Finland

Version for amplified cello and sinfonietta
7 September 2016
Perttu Kivilaakso, amplified cello soloist with Jyväskylä Sinfonia, cond. Ville Matvejeff
Jyväskylä City Theatre, Jyväskylä, Finland

Recording

21-22 November 2016, Martti Talvela Hall, Mikkeli
(Kivilaakso/Matvejeff/Jyväskylä Sinfonia).
To be released mid-October 2017 by Ondine.

Commissioned by Turku Music Festival and Jyväskylä Sinfonia

Published by Music Finland

Press Quotes

”Romer’s Gap was a great piece in all aspects. Virtaperko has patience in developing musical material almost in a Sibelian manner while keeping his musical language strictly up-to-date. The possibilities of the amplified cello were profoundly explored and the sounding result was both rich and enchanting.”

– Tomi Norha, Turun Sanomat 13 August 2016

 
”The cello’s electronic sound integrated to the full with Virtaperko’s own musical language and skillful orchestration.The effects were a natural element of what was, for a concerto, actually a very classical expression, adding roughness, growls and grit but also sensitivity and a certain brittle quality.

Romer’s Gap did indeed demonstrate how crossing borders can add something to a compositionwithout in any way watering it down. On the contrary: transferring the effects from their home in rock to a contemporary music context gave the concerto an edge and a touch of the experimental that raised it to a new plane.

-Merja Hottinen, FMQ 3-4/2016