For 6 pairs of soloists: Recorders, Oboes, Clarinets, Trumpets, Violins and Cellos; plus cowbell and continuo
History and Performance Notes
Ostensibly this concerto is for 2 recorders, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 trumpets, 2 violins and 2 cellos plus continuo. Don't be fooled-- it's really for Cowbell!
Vivaldi's Ark is a concerto for 12 instruments commissioned by the fabulous Marta Belén, a driving force behind the entire music scene in the Sacramento, CA area. Marta was hosting a concert called "Vivaldi's Ark: And They Played Two By Two" featiring twin-instrument duets -- 2 oboes, 2 trumpets, etc. She approached me to compose a concerto in Vivaldi's style, that would bring everyone back on stage, with the addition of violins, for a Final Number. The concerto features round-robin solos for each pair of instruments. In keeping with Vivaldi's style, I allowed sequences to go beyond a tasteful one or two iterations, especially in the second half of the ritornello of the third movement.
I decided the use the cowbell as a soloist in the slow movement when Marta suggested there should be some element representing the fabled Unicorn, who wanted to get on the Ark but was overlooked. The cowbell part is a concerto solo unto itself, doing a perfect job as Dejected Unicorn (especially at Bar 29 of the slow movement, with sullen slow triplets). The actual cowbell instrument is either something you shake in your hand like castanets, or something you hit with a mallet, but either way you need to be able to do the rolls which feature so prominently in the part.
There's a very intimate moment toward the end of the second movement, in Bar 29 as mentioned above. The orchestra comes to rest on some nice background notes, while the hero reconsiders the situation. Fortunately he decides to stay aligned with the rest of the group!
The final movement is also about the Cowbell, but we don't know it until the very end when he triumphantly returns.
Marta Belén was indescribably fabulous. I am so sorry she is gone.
Performed at the Berkeley Early Music Festival, June 2008