Saturday, June 26, 2004

Looking back, moving forward

As I have mentioned before, last weekend was the official reunion weekend of my alma mater, Lawrence University. As part of the reunions, there was a special celebration for the retirement of Robert Levy. Bob was the trumpet professor and band/wind ensemble director at Lawrence for 25 years. I studied with Bob and played in his ensembles for five years at Lawrence (I got two degrees). I also studied trumpet with Bob for four years before I went to Lawrence, so he has been a big part of my life.

On Friday, there was a three-hour long rehearsal of the Reunion Wind Ensemble, followed by social hour (drinking), dinner (more drinking), the Wind Ensemble concert, and a roast for Bob (drinking, stories, and very bad songs). Because of concerns that there wasn't enough alcohol involved, several of us brass players also visited the Wooden Nickel for some beer and shots during a lull in the rehearsal. For the concert, we played two movements of Percy Grainger's Lincolshire Posy, part of Rodney Rogers Air Mosaic (1991), Warren Benson's Transylvania Fanfare (1964), Alec Wilder's Serenade for Winds, a transcription of Morten Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium (1994), Eric Ewazen's Celtic Hymns and Dances (1990), excerpts of local composer John Harmon's Symphony "For Love of the Game" (2003), and in a nod to years of Bandorama concerts, Goldman's On the Mall Concert March.

Rodney Rogers was a member of the Lawrence faculty in the 1980s; he wrote several pieces that were performed by the Wind Ensemble. Alec Wilder was Bob's mentor, inspiring him to seriously pursue both jazz and contemporary music. Bob formed a trumpet/marimba duo with Gordon Stout called The Wilder Duo, and commissioned many works by Wilder for that group as well as brass quintets, unaccompanied trumpet works, and band pieces. But the piece that moved Bob the most that night was O Magnum Mysterium. It is a lovely work, transcribed by Michigan's H. Robert Reynolds, that captures the spirit of the Medieval Mysteries without compromising its contemporary tonal language.

On Saturday, after a nice noontime picnic where I got to see some friends' new children for the first time, we had a alumni trumpet recital. Former students of Bob's played some solos, trumpet ensembles and one work for trumpet and voice. The first performance, the first movement of the Neruda Concerto, was somewhat disappointing. The soloist (a classmate of mine) had a very beautiful sound, but she did not seem to know the piece well at all, and was hindered by a sticky valve at one point. The next work, Ned Rorem's Cries and Whispers, was absolutely stunning. I barely knew the soloist, as he was a freshman during my last year at Lawrence. But he had marvelous stage presence and did yeoman's work on the very difficult piece. Enesco's Legende was capably carried off by a friend of mine from high school and college (currentl in the Coast Guard Band), and a relatively new student of Bob's did a fair job with Arban's Fantasie Brillante. She overblew sometimes, and had to muscle out the final high C, but it was a very musical performance.

I did not like Alan Hovhaness' "He Touches the Broken Heart" for mezzo soprano, trumpet, and organ. For one thing, it did not feature the trumpet nearly enough for a trumpet-focused recital. Second, it was similar to Hovhaness' Prayer for St. Gregory, except without the passion, leaving a very flat feel at the end. Alums Edward Sutton, '03 and Marty Robinson '91 each wrote trumpet ensembles for the recital. Edward's trio was good, somewhat reminiscent of Verne Reynold's brass chamber works, though it started unevenly. Marty's arrangment/composition on "Now's the Time" (to Retire?) for five jazz trumpeters was great. I've known Marty since high school, and he let his humor show as well as masterfully handle the problem of writing a jazz work that doesn't involve a rhythm section. Each trumpeter took a solo, with another trumpeter playing a walking bass line and hits provided by the ensemble. Great solos all around, out of graduates ranging from '80 to '03. John Carlson, '82, recently of the Either/Orchestra, played a beautiful rendition of Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now" with John Harmon at the piano. Man, those guys can swing!

For the finale, fifteen of us played the premiere of Eric Ewazen's Fanfare for a great teacher (2004), commissioned by the local chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. Conducted by the new trumpet professor, John Daniel, it was a very good piece. It was Ewazen-ish, without being too much so.

After the recital, we managed to work in another social hour (drinking), dinner (more drinking), and a big band dance (drinking, dancing, and sitting in with the band). After two nights of staying up past midnight, and being awoken at 6:30 by the kids, I was exhausted (and somewhat tipsy). Overall, it was a great weekend. I got back in touch with some old friends and teachers, heard and played some good music, and also spent time with my family (when I wasn't drinking.)

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