It was during his time with the Boston Pops Orchestra that Williams composed his Tuba Concerto, in response to a commission for the orchestra’s centenary in 1985. Dedicated to the orchestra’s solo tuba player, Chester Schmitz, the work was premièred in May of that year, and is in three movements without a break. The first movement, a joyful classical sonata-allegro, presents two contrasting themes, concluding with a cadenza in which the tuba shows itself to be a true acrobat with its trills and its explorations of all the instrument’s registers. The second movement, Andante, exploits the instrument’s lyrical capabilities and concludes on a note so low that one can almost feel the vibrations. The third movement, in rondo form, is introduced by a brass fanfare that makes its presence felt throughout the movement. An episode with a jazzy character reminds us that the composer is the son of a jazz percussionist. Virtuosity and velocity meet when the work ends dramatically and brilliantly.
Williams has written about his concerto: ‘I really don’t know why I wrote it – just urge and instinct. I’ve always liked the tuba and even used to play it a little. I wrote a big tuba solo for a Dick Van Dyke movie called Fitzwilly and ever since I’ve kept composing for it – it’s such an agile instrument, like a huge cornet. I’ve also put passages in for some of my pets in the orchestra – solos for the flute and English horn, for the horn quartet and a trio of trumpets. It’s light and tuneful and I hope it has enough events in it to make it fun.’