Mark Francis: Second Guitar Concerto, orchestral reduction for piano and guitar

Revisiting Mark Francis second guitar concerto, original version for guitar and orchestra vs orchestral reduction for piano and guitar premiered in Amsterdam on 17th July 2011 at a private birthday concert.

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The positive reaction to our premiere of Mark Francis’ new work in Amsterdam led me to revisit the score.

Piano part from 1st movement of 2nd Guitar Concerto by Mark Francis
Piano part from 1st movement of 2nd Guitar Concerto by Mark Francis

Subtitled “In Somnis Verita” which means “in dreams there is truth,” the 2nd guitar concerto contains three movements albeit the composer had originally conceived of five. He wrote in the programme notes for the orchestral premiere in Jackson, Mississippi, “It is my belief that many people refuse to acknowledge what is true when they are conscious, but can’t escape from what they know to be true in their subconscious when sleeping. These things manifest themselves in dreams. Our subconscious will cobble things together in all kinds of strange scenarios. The music tries to depict these cobblings.”

A few days after the concert, I listened to the live recording of the orchestral premiere. I saw the piece come to life —- what the piano could not fully muster.

Guitar Concerto No. 2 by Mark Francis
Guitar Concerto No. 2 by Mark Francis

We had performed the first movement faster than the composer had intended (quarter note = 72). After the concert, we read Mark Francis’ programme notes, “The tempo of the first movement is slow, which sets the stage as our ‘dreamer’ drifts off to sleep and begins to dream. The opening triplet motif represents breathing. These are gentle dreams filled with longing and nostalgia. This movement is set in a kind of arch form.”

Guitar part to 1st movement of 2nd Guitar Concerto by Mark Francis
Guitar part to 1st movement of 2nd Guitar Concerto by Mark Francis

Who is the composer, Mark Francis?  He is a guitarist. He knows how to write music that guitarists like to play. That is very important. He wrote the second concerto specifically for guitarist Jimmy Turner, music director Wayne Linehan and the Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra in Jackson, Mississippi.

How did we discover Mark Francis? None other than my Call for Scores for multi-hand piano duets! He submitted two pieces which I will mention in a future blog post. Noticing that I had a piano guitar duo, he asked if we’d be interested to see his new concerto — reduced for piano and guitar. That’s how it started. Now I am even more curious about his first concerto and other works.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo, birthday concert in Amsterdam. Photo: FCAP
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo, birthday concert in Amsterdam. Photo: FCAP

Birthday concert in Amsterdam

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo recalls the birthday concert in Amsterdam, including the well-received piano-guitar premiere of Mark Francis’ Guitar Concerto.

Unlike the Chinese who consider a birthday worth celebrating only if the age ends in a zero after retirement, the Dutch happily celebrate every single birthday. It’s the one day in the year, your family and close friends can turn up at your door uninvited and unannounced. When you arrive, you’d congratulate everyone else — not just “happy birthday” to the one whose birthday it is.

Our first booking for a birthday concert was made by our next-door neighbour as a surprise 50-year birthday gift to his wife who loved classical music. He hired us to give a one hour concert in our own home. Afterwards we were invited to join them in their home for a chef-catered dinner and festivities.

Last month, we were asked by the producers of the Funen Concerts Art Productions in Amsterdam to provide a half-hour programme (1 page PDF) for a private concert for the birthday of an architect. We have given many one-hour performances at Funen Concerts or FCAP for short. Each time there was a different art exhibition, for the owners turned their home into an art gallery.

While it was easy to include the more popular pieces from our 2011 and 2010 concerts, we thought we’d add something entirely new: a movement of a new guitar concerto. Award-winning American composer Mark Francis had written his second guitar concerto for an orchestra in Jackson, Mississippi. Unbeknownst to us, our performance on Sunday 17th July 2011 was the world premiere of the piano and guitar version of the concerto.

Before the music, the birthday gentleman announces. Photo: FCAP
The birthday announcements. Photo: FCAP

There was a buzz not commonly found in our audiences. Because it was a birthday celebration and a gift of the birthday gentleman to his guests, the concert was received as a gift. These were not ticket-holders but recipients of a gift. We, as performers, felt the buzz.

When we announced that we were premiering a new piece, we felt that buzz again. We mentioned that new music was not as well received by general audiences in the USA as it was here in the Netherlands. In other words, we dared to include a new piece by a composer not known in this country at a privately commissioned concert.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo, birthday concert in Amsterdam. Photo: FCAP
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo, birthday concert in Amsterdam. Photo: FCAP

To our surprise, the audience smiled. They welcomed such a new work. They felt privileged that we’d select this occasion to premiere a new piece whose orchestral debut was less than two months before. After the 45-minute concert, one lady approached us as we were leaving to tell us that she specifically enjoyed the modern piece.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo, birthday concert in Amsterdam. Photo: FCAP
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo, birthday concert in Amsterdam. Photo: FCAP

We did not know enough about the work or the composer to share with the audience. As with good works of art, each time you visit, you enjoy it more than the previous. The first time we played it, we thought there was potential. But we had only rehearsed it three times together before we performed the first movement which we thought was the shortest and easiest of all three. What does the guitar concerto sound like with a real orchestra? We had no idea.

Robert Bekkers on Jeroen Hilhorst concert guitar in Amsterdam. Photo: FCAP
Robert Bekkers on Jeroen Hilhorst concert guitar in Amsterdam. Photo: FCAP