I'm really glad fnork brought this topic up because I've had some thoughts about this for the past several years.
I've been fascinated by piano concertos since I was a young preteen piano student. I discovered the piano concerto when my mother (who's still with us, God bless her, at 94--the last of 14 brothers and sisters, good Italian family) bought me Rubinstein's "The Heart of the Piano Concerto" when I was 11 which included Chopin's Larghetto. I immediately rushed down to our local library in Lincoln Heights on Workman St. to borrow the 2 piano score from the main library downtown.
Flash forward to 2010. I had given up the piano in 1976 or so to go into the business world because of a finger injury at 19/20. Gave it up again in 2006 after the injury resurfaced when I was trying to make a comeback. I'd listened to several contemporary piano concertos during 2010-2014 on YouTube. What I noticed was that they had all been given flashy premieres by well-known pianists who had commissioned them and then the pianists had totally forgotten them.
Question re the Volans concerto: does Barry Douglas regularly perform this concerto like he does the Rachmaninoff 2nd? If not, why? Does the Rzewski get regularly performed? If not, why? In 2010 I watched Ronald Brautigam give the world premiere of Jacob ter Veldhuis' (better known as Jacob TV) Piano Concerto No 2. There was a video online of the premiere that has since disappeared. To my knowledge Brautigam has never played it since. Again I ask, why?
Anybody noticing a pattern here: famous pianist commissions a concerto; the concerto is ultra avant-garde; it's given a splashy premiere; but afterwards the concerto is never heard from again and the pianist who commissioned it and paid a lot money for it, presumably, drops it from his repertoire.
What gives? These concertos are doomed to obscurity from the moment they are created. The average concert goer would never sit through one of these concertos more than once. Notice that in both cases above there is a long pause before the applause tepidly kicks in, as if the public is asking themselves, "Is that the end? Am I supposed to clap now?"
This scenario is repeated hundreds of times every decade as piano concertos are premiered and then forgotten. We know, based on prior results, exactly what their fates are. I pose a sincere question that I have been asking myself for many years: why does this happen?
I know politics plays a huge part in this. The classical music apparatchik which runs the industry has a huge say in what gets premiered by the big orchestras and what doesn't. Many individuals have commented to me that they do NOT want to see music return to the 19th century. They want to look forward, not backward. I can understand their sentiments, but we have two very real facts that create a huge predicament for the classical music world:
1. most people, other than a few die-hard philes, just don't care for this music, which is why these concertos are rarely, if ever, heard from again. So me, being the practical guy I am, ask, "Why write them then; to what purpose if they are not going to hang around past their premiere?" History repeats itself over and over and over again and yet nobody seems to learn.
2. But modern composers have reached the limits of what Schoenberg and Webern started 70 years ago. Where do we go from here? I don't think there is an idiom that can be created that could be so new and modern and yet achieve the popularity of a Rachmaninoff 2nd or a Tchaikovsky 1st, which is why when 95% of people go to concerts nowadays it is to hear music dating from Bach to maybe Prokofiev, but not much beyond that.
Frankly, I don't think classical music has a future far as original works go. The pattern I outlined above will be repeated over and over; thousands of piano concertos will be written and then forgotten, and for what? Certainly not for posterity. These two concertos will be lucky if they make it as a footnote in the Groves Encyclopedia.
I do have a personal interest in this topic. Some know I wrote two piano concertos in the neo_Romantic style. The first is a throwaway, being my first attempt at orchestration. But I feel my 2nd has something to offer: J Joe Townley: Piano Concerto No 2 in C Minor (full score)
Yet I cannot get it heard by any professional pianists/conductors to even evaluate it. Dozens of listeners at Youtube have praised it to the skies (very kind of them) but I think that goes more to a desperate thirst for something--ANYTHING that smells of Rachmaninoff/Tchaikovsky than to the quality of my music itself. If anyone clicks the link above be warned; the audio is not good; the screen capture program damaged it. A much better audio is here:https://soundcloud.com/joe-townley/j-joe-townley-piano-concerto-no-2-in-c-minor-opus-2
See the paradox: I am not alone; there ARE some neo-Romantic composers out there but they cannot get out the front door; on the other hand, avant-garde/modernism rarely, if ever, gets more than one performance.
The only modern concerto I can think of that has achieved a degree of popularity is Liebermann's 2nd Piano Concertohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSL3JIveB5Y
This is a serious state of affairs for classical music and I don't know how it will end but I am thinking it cannot end well.
PS I commented on George Haas' YouTube page on the Piano Concerto pic his striking resemblance to Mads Mikkelsen and he deleted my post. I must have insulted him.