Back to work-list

(orchestrated by Daniel Ott, 2005)

Instrumentation: 2(pic).2(Eh).2(Ebcl).2(cbn)/
Duration: ca. 25′
Commission: School of American Ballet

Score available upon request.

Program Note:

My orchestration of Johannes Brahms’s monumental solo piano work, Variations of a Theme by Paganini, op. 35, was commissioned by the School of American Ballet at the request of choreographer Benjamin Millepied, who was slated to create a new work for the school’s annual Spring Workshop. He desired something orchestral, but was enthralled with the Brahms. So his solution was to ask me to orchestrate it!

Initially, I was concerned that the piece was simply too virtuosic, too pianistic, to be translated to the orchestra. Certainly the orchestra that Brahms favored––classically proportioned, with few instruments capable of reaching extreme registers––would not be able to bring about such a dynamic piece. But as I began to investigate it further, I felt that the 21st-century orchestra could. With the addition of auxiliary wind instruments, modern percussion, harp, and celesta, I believed it would be possible to give the “Paganini Variations” a life in the orchestra of today. That being said, this work is not meant to be heard entirely as a work of Brahms (though not a note of his original has been changed). Rather, it should be heard as a new work, much in the same way that Ravel’s beloved orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition belongs to the 20th, not the 19th, century.

Alas, for a variety of reasons, the orchestral premiere of the “Paganini Variations” was postponed, and the work is still awaiting its debut!