In 2012 a conductor-friend, Dale Swisher, and I were warming up for one of our frequent tennis sessions. He was telling me about Benjamin Fryxell, a talented young cellist who was due to play a solo with the youth symphony that he conducts. I knew Ben's parents from my years with the Cincinnati Symphony and asked what he would be playing. Dale said that it wasn't set yet, but mentioned some of the familiar cello favorites - Elgar, Schumann, Dvořák, etc. Ben was around 16 at the time and I wondered if he really had a sure enough grasp of these big works to be able to play them in public with orchestra. Dale assured me that he did and recommended a performance of him playing a movement of the Elgar on YouTube for me to check out. I viewed it and at our next tennis date I told him how impressed I was not only with Ben's technique, but especially his overall musicality. We then began discussing repertoire and I mused; wouldn't it be great if a group of young performers would play something new and different instead of the inevitable, predictable and familiar? or words to that effect. A long and winding discussion of all the problems bringing a new work to life would entail followed. As the heat gradually increased, we arrived at Dale's; if you write it I'll conduct it challenge, to which I of course had to reply; OK, you're on, let's do it!
After checking with Ben to see if this appealed to him - it did - I promptly put it out of my mind and got back to another work that had a pressing deadline. A few months later I was reminded of what I had signed up for and prepared to begin work on Ben's piece. But a thought occurred to me; while I'd written many works that feature a soloist with orchestra - concerti and the like - what I had never done before was to write for an orchestra of youngsters. After consulting with Dale on the dos and don'ts of everything I could think of, both in the technical and musical areas, I thought I had a handle on things, resolving to behave myself by not putting anything into the score that might cause even the slightest amount of trouble. After finishing my first draft I went back and began to tweak the orchestration. Thoughts like; Humm, this spot could use a little more spice, or I'm sure the strings can manage that, or the brass should be able to . . . kept going through my mind and of course working their way onto paper. When I finally put the pencil down I thought Dale would certainly tell me if there's anything here that might cause a problem, and delivered the score to him. It happened to be the beginning of a summer break. He was leaving town for a while and I was on to another project. I heard nothing for a couple of months. Fall arrived. Still nothing. No word at all. Maybe he doesn't like it I thought. I was pretty sure that I'd adhered to all of the rules. Maybe a couple of adjustments might have to be made? When we finally hooked up again I inquired; So? Was that a look of doom on his face that I saw as he replied? Maybe we'd be better off if Michael (Chertock) played it with his orchestra he said. The kids will never be able to do it. I was disappointed I couldn't meet the challenge of creating something that his group could get into and enjoy, but relieved that we didn't have to experience a disaster to learn that the piece just isn't for a youth orchestra!
The Divertimento for Cello and Orchestra was premiered on February 23, 2014. 19 year-old Benjamin Fryxell was the soloist and Michael Chertock conducted the Blue Ash-Montgomery Orchestra. The work is scored for: Piccolo, 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes, 2 Clarinets, Bass Clarinet, 2 Bassoons, 4 Horns, 3 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Tuba, Percussion, Harp and Strings.
Musically, the Divertimento is meant for a young soloist. I like to think that it has a bright outlook. It is in one continuous movement but in three distinct parts - a mini concerto in one movement of sorts. The soloist has a chance to sing, especially in the middle part and to show off his virtuosity in the last. There is also an opportunity for some improvisation during one of the cadenzas.