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Program Notes – Concerto # 3 for Trumpet (2016) – James Stephenson, III
duration: ca. 20 minutes instrumentation:
piccolo, 2 flutes
2 oboes, english horn
2 clarinets, bass clarinet 2 bassoons
4 french horns
2 trombones, bass trombone tuba
percussion (4 players)
triangle, wood block, temple blocks, egg shaker, slap-sticks
suspended cymbals (2: large and small), splash cymbal, cymblas a2, tambourine snare drum, cabasa, claves
vibraphone, xylophone, chimes, orchestra bells, crotales, marimba
harp piano strings
solo trumpet (C trumpet, cornet and/or flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet)
This concerto is completely and entirely dedicated to Ryan Anthony, principal trumpet of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
Ryan contacted me in 2015 to indicate that he wanted a new concerto – my third – written for him as solo trumpet. I’ve had a bit of interesting history with Ryan. In the mid-1980s, I showed up – then a trumpeter myself – at a competition for young artists sponsored by SEVENTEEN Magazine. To be completely honest, I thought I had a good chance at doing well at the competition. However, not only was I not a winner, I was completely destroyed by a colleague, who, for some reason, I had not yet heard of. (Shame on me!) The winner was none other than Ryan Anthony, and his performance at the final concert made it very clear that perhaps I should have moved on to composition a little sooner rather than later (I didn’t switch full-time until almost 20 years later).
However, this new concerto would share a slightly different history than either of us could have ever imagined during our teenage years. Just three years before the creation of this concerto, Ryan had been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a terminal cancer of the bone marrow. Determined to beat it, Ryan has been on a mission to raise awareness (the “Cancer Blows” concert(s) and a new Ryan Anthony Foundation), and to tell his story to anyone who would listen. All of this while still maintaining an active schedule of performances, clinics, travel, regular treatments, and, of course, husband and father of two young children.
At Ryan’s request, this concerto would be about his story: a concerto that would evoke the events that had shaped forever his view on life, the world, relationships. To quote Ryan:
“emotionally powerful, beauty and heartache but ending with hope; fun and full of rejoicing.
My recent life: Hearing the news and crying out why and realizing ‘what’s going on?’
Then accepting it and dealing with the reality and possible future. Then surviving and enjoying life.”
I therefore essentially set his descriptive paragraph to music. The first movement is full of beauty and fun, with a slight undertone of foreboding. This leads directly (without stoppage) into the second movement, where disbelief, pain and sadness are most prevalent. At one point, the soloist almost literally screams ‘why me?’ to the audience, as the orchestra reaches its most climactic point. This is followed by off-stage musicians who carry on seemingly with a joyous life, leaving the soloist temporarily feeling almost indescribably alone. (It should be noted that the instrumentation for the off-stage players, and for other key moments in the work, involves violin, cello and french horn (and brass), all of which have played a significant role in Ryan’s family and musical life.)
Again, the second movement passes almost seamlessly onto the third; as we move from sadness and despair to hope and a rebirth of the joy of life. The music struggles constantly between uplifted spirited music and music with a certain darkness. (This is musically represented by a battle between G and Eb Major). G Major finally triumphs in the end, and the piccolo trumpet of the soloist awards the listener with the undeniable belief that life is to be lived to the fullest, and that nothing can stop the human spirit.
Jim Stephenson; January, 2016
The Durango Herald
As composer James Stephenson wrote in the program notes, Anthony decided to combat his illness in several ways, including commissioning a concerto that “would be about his story.”
Stephenson was in the audience when Anthony and the orchestra performed the work for the first time. In three seamless movements, the concerto travels from energetic, life-affirming music through a dark wail of recognition to music that suggests resilience and possible redemption.
Anthony’s rendering of each musical mood knit into Stephenson’s rich orchestration that was full of surprises. Contrasting textures and dynamics brought each movement to a stirring climax. The inclusion of a small off-stage ensemble suggested not only other voices in Anthony’s struggle but an eerie sense of life surrounding the isolation of illness.
Conductor Robson maximized all the musical contrasts, especially when marshalling forces for a fast, highly energetic final movement. A flare of Promethean flame and human defiance seemed to propel the work to its extraordinary conclusion.
When the audience exploded in admiration, Anthony invited the composer on stage. A bear hug followed by a joint bow triggered another upsurge of emotional applause.
The Durango Herald
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