Randy Casey Article

JAMES STEPHENSON AND HIS MUSIC
by Randy Casey

When a composer declares that he will compose a concerto for a childhood chum, words such as “contrived, campy, and cute” could come to mind.Happily, none of the above applied when Lake Forest Symphony Composer-In-Residence James Stephenson composed a trumpet concerto for his long-time friend Jerey Work. Rather, words such as “classy, comprehensible, challenging, and charming” come calling.

I have seen James Stephenson at other Lake Forest Symphony concerts and actually encountered him during an intermission at a performance in Orchestra Hall in Chicago.In addition, I was at the pre-concert lecture when Jim Kendros spoke with the composer prior to the playing of his trumpet concerto.Stephenson’s music is “classy and charming” because those same words apply to the composer himself.I hesitate to use the word “charming” because it might have an insincere connotation. James Stephenson is genuine and down-to- earth, and as a composer wants his audience to “get” his music.

One assumes that because Stephenson is a former trumpeter his piece is idiomatic to the instrument.  In the hands of his very talented friend the work sounds as natural for the trumpet as an idiomatic piece normally does. One also assumes that the composer created very challenging sections to test his friend, knowing full well that he could rise to the occasion.

The harmony of the orchestra part of Stephenson’s trumpet concerto is distinctly modern at times without being crass.e rhythm is uneven now and then to complement the contemporary harmony.  The rhythm is even jazzy at times, but also has its straightforward moments.  The rest movement is intentionally lyrical while the second is bravura in contrast.  The differences between them create an elective whole.

Clearly the relationship between James Stephenson and the Lake Forest Symphony is mutually beneficial. Considering the many perils of being a composer, one would presume that Stephenson would welcome being a “composer-in-residence” in almost any situation.at his “situation” is with a respectable symphony in the Chicagoland area is most attractive.at the Lake Forest Symphony has a contemporary composer who actually lives in Lake Forest and writes such pleasing music is a boon of seemingly boundless proportions to the symphony itself.In a word, the Lake Forest Symphony can honestly say that it is playing modern music that is not driving people from its performance hall, but rather making its listeners smile.

One observes few young audience members at the concerts of the Lake Forest Symphony.For the organization to have a long-term existence, something must be done to generate listeners under 40 years of age. e relationship with James Stephenson is a signicant step in the right direction. Lakre Forest Symphony’s Composer-in-Residence, James Stephenson

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