The piece was commissioned by Nürnberger Filharmoniker, who gave its first performance on 22nd May 1976 in Nuremberg. The soloist was Stefan Kamasa, the conductor - Hiroyuki Iwaki. The Polish premiere, with Stefan Kamasa and the Polish Radio and Television Orchestra in Cracow conducted by Jacek Kaspszyk, took place on 22nd September of the same year during the 20th “Warsaw Autumn” International Festival of Contemporary Music.
Concerto lugubre is a kind of requiem dedicated to the composer’s mother, who had died in 1974. The sombre lugubre mood permeates the whole piece. Its form bears many similarities to a Classical concerto for a solo instrument with an orchestra; its expressive plan also looks back to past models. The Concerto appears to draw on the traditional tripartite form. Part One, dramatic in character, exposes the “main theme” in the viola, which is composed of sequences of two-tone and three-tone chords played with strong, resolute bowing. Part Two, sharply contrasted to Part One, is imbued with sad lyricism. The finale brings the speeding unrest of racing notes, interrupted by the chordal viola motif from Part One. The whole composition eventually dies away in a subtle reverie, a return to the mood of the beginning. Emotion in Concerto lugubre, as in many other works by Baird, has Romantic roots: but the composer does not overdo in emotionality; rather, he penetrates into the listener’s sensitivity in a subtle and premeditated manner, avoiding the weariness that might result from excessive tension. Concerto lugubre is a rare example of a viola concerto; the instrument is usually seen as a part of an orchestra or a chamber ensemble. It is also a work very attractive for performers, with a solo part both virtuoso in character and rich in emotional expression. The choice of the solo instrument probably results from the mood and subject of the work, for which the viola’s dark sound seems to be most suitable. The instrument is supported particularly by two instruments: the kettledrum with a deep and plaintive sound and a dark-coloured alto flute. Thanks to its direct but subtle emotionality, its evident references to tradition and its impact as a concert piece, Baird’s Concerto has become one of the very few contemporary works featuring in the programmes of subscription concerts in the philharmonic and appealing to the average concert-goer educated on Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.