This brilliantly played recital of works for trumpet with various accompanying forces opens with the Concerto for Hope by noted American composer James Stephenson. Stephenson has carved out an impressive niche for himself as one of the top leading composers for concertos and other works for brass and woodwinds. I have given rave reviews to any number of CDs that contained his music, which is both enjoyable to perform and listen to, but also substantive and original. This is also certainly the case is his Third Trumpet Concerto, which was written for Ryan Anthony, principal trumpeter with the Dallas SO and former member of Canadian Brass. The title of the concerto derives from the fact that it musically depicts Anthony’s unexpected diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a terminal cancer of the bone marrow. The trumpeter’s determination, along with undoubted skill of his doctors, has enabled him to live with the cancer in remission for some time now.
The three-movement work opens with some ominous rumblings in the orchestra over which soaring melodic lines in the winds are heard. After a fairly extended introduction, the solo trumpet makes a quiet appearance that quickly builds up to a fortissimo climax on a high B. The movement ebbs and flows, inexorably carrying the listener from one climax to the other, but the uneasy accompanimental underpinnings of the trumpet’s soaring melodies are omnipresent until the movement’s concluding whisper. The second movement follows directly on the heels of the first, but the ominous quality of the music is ratcheted up several notches, as is the dissonance (undoubtedly portraying the horror of the diagnosis). Shortly after the two-minute mark in this movement comes a most anguished cry from the soloist, seemingly asking “why me?!” The remainder of the movement features lamenting lines by the trumpet underscored by subtle gestures from the ensemble, and at one point an accompaniment by an off-stage group comprising violin, cello, and brass, a very effective musical depiction of the feelings of loneliness and even abandonment that Anthony must have been feeling during this dark period of his life. Quite a contrast is formed, then, by the upbeat and life-affirming final movement, with a lively and syncopated florid tune in the trumpet undergirded by quickly repeated notes and fast runs in the orchestra. The work is masterful throughout in its construction and effect upon the listener. I don’t believe I’d be required have much in the way of prognosticative power to predict accurately the quick adoption of this concerto into the standard repertory of the trumpet. Stetson really whips the piece off in splendid fashion, adroitly handling the tricky tonguing and other technical and musical challenges demanded of the soloist. Kudos must also be given to the Texas Tech SO under the tightly controlled leadership of conductor Philip Mann for a superlative collaboration in this work.
The remaining three composers are new to me, and judging by the Archive, likely to Fanfare’s readership as well. Mark Haggerty is a trumpeter himself, who also studied voice and composition at Oberlin Conservatory, and then specialized in the latter at Brandeis University. His secure compositional technique earned him early on the Joseph H. Bearns Prize from Columbia University, and it is on good display in the present work as well. The cutely monikered None of the Above contains four movements, an eponymous lively opening movement, followed by a subtle “B, C, and D” (featuring muted trumpet and a repeated sequence of three obscure chords), a rhythmically disjointed “Other (explain),” and the gently calming and somewhat jazz-tinged “All of the Above.” The harmonic language of the suite I would term “non-tonal” rather than “atonal.” The work, a most attractive addition to the trumpet and piano literature, was written for and dedicated to Andrew Stetson and Becca Zeisler, who play it superbly in every musical parameter.
A real change of pace comes in Justin Casinghino’s …And So Then I Threw the Stone, scored for trumpet and electronics. The 12-minute work begins with a series of upward figures in the trumpet which are captured by a microphone and then distorted and modified in interesting ways by the computer. In some places, the trumpet is relatively undistorted in the delays, such that an effect of multiple trumpets performing together is achieved. The work is a lot of fun to listen to (and undoubtedly to play) and presents the auditor with all sorts of unexpected twists and turns. The piece demonstrates a vivid imagination and superb control over the musical elements of the work by its composer. Since the rate of delay is not constant throughout the work, it would seem that continual control of the electronics is required of him. Casinghino is based in Boston, where he serves as a lecturer at Boston University. He is also the Associate Director of the Young Artists’ Composition Program and Director of the Electro-acoustic Composition Workshop of the Tanglewood Institute.
The program concludes with the Concerto for Trumpet and Wind Ensemble by Michael Mikulka, who is a hornist as well as a skilled composer. This light-hearted and ingratiating work may fall easily upon the ear, but it is substantive as well, and will not reveal all of its secrets upon a single hearing. Its tonality is established so firmly that I suspect that key signatures are employed in the work. I particularly enjoyed the intricate interplay between soloist and ensemble in this relatively brief (13-minute, three movement) work. A languid and gorgeous interior movement interrupts the busy activity of the opening movement before giving way once again to the fireworks of the closer, creating a powerful impression. Mikulka has had quite a bit of success in competitions and commissions, and is an active member of the musical community in Austin, performing in Density 512 and Lab Orchestra. He is also the author of A Practical Method of Horn Multiphonics and is currently is on the faculty of Southwestern University, where he teaches theory and composition. Conductor Eric Allen and the Texas Tech University Symphonic Band do a yeoman job in bringing this work to life, as does the superlative trumpet playing of the soloist.
This is an all-round winning recital, given the strong performances of equally strong music, and should win Andrew Stetson and his colleagues a lot of new fans. Most highly recommended in every respect.