Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Too Hot Toccata”: An Exuberant Orchestral Romp

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 StoryIn 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.


Photograph: Midtown Manhattan at night in the 1930s, Samuel H. Gottscho

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

2 thoughts on “Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Too Hot Toccata”: An Exuberant Orchestral Romp”

  1. Too Hot Cantata – that was refreshing! A little Stravinsky and a lot of silvery blue-gray, and directed by Portland’s own – Carlos Kalmar, who has transformed the orchestra out here in the West. I wondered what he did before coming here! The coolness of this piece is fitting, as the smoke made for a somber high of 58 degrees here, when it was supposed to be around 90. Thanks for lending some dash to the darkening afternoon!


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