Joseph Schwantner (b. 1943) is an American composer and teacher. He grew up in Chicago playing guitar and tuba. He had early success at composition, winning the National Band Camp Award in 1959 when he was just 16. He went on to undergraduate studies at the American Conservatory in Chicago, then masters and doctoral work at Northwestern University, which he finished in 1968. He has served on the faculties of the Eastman School, the Juilliard School, and Yale. His compositions have won him the Pulitzer Prize (1979), several Grammy nominations, and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is known for his eclectic combination of compositional techniques and his mystical orchestrations. His important wind band works include …and the mountains rising nowhere (1977), From a Dark Millennium (1980), and In Evening’s Stillness (1996).
His Percussion Concerto first came into being as the Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra in 1994. It was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for their 150th anniversary, and written with the percussionist Christopher Lamb as its intended soloist. Lamb and the Philharmonic premiered the piece at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City on January 5, 1995. It has subsequently been transcribed twice: once for two pianos and percussion, making it accessible to the recital repertoire, and again (by Andrew Boysen) for wind ensemble and percussion. In both cases, the solo part is unaltered from the original. The soloist uses an entire world of equipment in two different setups (behind the ensemble in the first and third movements, and dramatically in front in the second). The three movements are motivically unified, making the piece a long development of a small amount of material.
Here is the wind band version by the University of Michigan Symphony Band (in three parts):
And the orchestral version, with Lamb as soloist:
Finally, here is the two piano version, with Bryan Hummel as soloist. I had the privilege of conducting Bryan and the Arizona State University Symphony Orchestra in the first movement of the orchestra version on February 4, 2015. He’s a pro, and it shows here!
Bonus: the composer and percussionist Evelyn Glennie discuss the piece, with some performance and rehearsal footage:
To learn more about the concerto itself, visit the Schott page, read the LA Philharmonic’s program notes, read Shawn Michael Hart’s dissertation about it, or see what the Boston Conservatory has to say. Joseph Schwantner has a biography on Wikipedia and his own website.