Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Harmonica Concerto

In 1955 Villa-Lobos was commissioned by John Sebastian to write a harmonica concerto, and the piece was premiered in in Jerusalem on October 27, 1959, a month before Villa's death. Lisa Peppercorn, in her article "Villa-Lobos in Israel", Tempo, New Series, No. 169,  (Jun., 1989), pp. 42-45, quotes from a letter she received from Sebastian's widow, Nadia Sebastian:

"It was one of my joys to work with John and Villa-Lobos during the writing of the Concerto. The composer sat at the huge semi-circular desk with a pot of black thick coffee, several cigars and ashtrays all around working on several compositions at once, while watching a TV at intervals. All the time wearing a hat..." Apparently Sebastian wasn't comfortable with Villa's first version of the Cadenza, so together they put together this:

Sebastian recorded this work on a Heliodor LP with Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, with Hans Schwieger. I'm not sure if this has ever been transferred to CD. Here is a YouTube video of the LP:

This piece has been very lucky with recordings. The top modern exponent is Robert Bonfiglio; his recording on RCA with the New York Chamber Symphony under Gerard Schwarz is my favourite. 

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