American composer Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960) composed Too Hot Toccata in 1996. The six minute orchestral tour de force was written as a musical farewell to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra at the end of Kernis’ tenure as the ensemble’s composer-in-residence. It’s an exuberant and virtuosic romp in which individual instrumental voices take turns getting thrust, briefly, into the spotlight. Kernis describes the music as “a little hyperactive” with “a horribly difficult honky-tonk piano solo, as well as a fiendish clarinet solo and a big part for the piccolo trumpet, in addition to a lot of virtuoso percussion writing.”
The almost terrifying, jazzy energy of Too Hot Toccata may remind you of the most high octane dance music from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. In one passage, a rock and roll groove takes hold. A brief respite from all of this boisterous activity comes in the piece’s middle section where we suddenly drift into a magical, pastel dreamscape. The final chord explodes with all of the screeching “lead trumpet” exuberance of big band jazz. Too Hot Toccata is a magnificent celebration of the virtuosity and precision of the contemporary orchestra.
- Kernis: Too Hot Toccata, Carlos Kalmar, Grant Park Orchestra cedillerecords.org
Photograph: Midtown Manhattan at night in the 1930s, Samuel H. Gottscho