Program Notes – Concerto for Trumpet (2003) – James Stephenson, III
The Concerto for Trumpet, James Stephenson’s second major work written for the trumpet, is a product of a long-time friendship between Jeffrey Work, for whom the concerto is written, and the composer. As a (former) trumpeter himself, Stephenson had spent many years admiring the abilities of Work, first as a fellow student at Interlochen’s summer music festival (the two sat next to each other as high school students in the camp’s orchestra), and later at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.AfterWork’s performance of Stephenson’s Sonata for Trumpet and Piano, the idea of a piece composed especially for the soloist began to germinate, but lacked a host to commission and perform a new piece.The Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, of which Work is a member, provided the final piece of the puzzle, and the Concerto for Trumpet was born.
The two movement piece opens almost ominously, and in no definitive key, with a solo bassoon stating a two note figure, F-D. (Those looking for a composed reference to the soloist to the soloist may find it here, though it requires a stretch: F-D, if changed somewhat using solfege syllables, could be pronounced F-Re, almost sounding like “Jeffrey”.) This F-D figure is repeated and developed throughout the entire piece, though probably more evident to the score-studying student than to the first-time listener. In this opening Adagio, the soloist enters plaintively on top of an established ostinato, almost searching for a home key.The soloist ends this opening trying to rise up triumphantly in the key of E-flat, only to get dissolved into a vague state once again, as the music is then transported into the scherzo-esque main body of the first movement. Again the solo trumpet tries to establish the main key of E-flat only to land on the non-diatonic raised 4th degree, or A natural.The orchestra and soloist trade capricious phrases, finally culminating in a grand re-statement of the main theme, this time in B-flat, or what would seem to be the dominant of E-flat.The music again takes a quick turn, and the orchestra lands on a pedal F- sharp, whereupon the soloist begins winding through various forms of music already heard.This Cadenza-like material returns us back to E-flat, but only briefly, as we are quickly transported to a frenzied jazz-like section, forecasting music to be heard in the second movement.. A grandiose section follows, incorporating the F-D motif one more time, and the movement ends almost as mysteriously as it started, but decidedly in A Major.This resolution in A Major, though perhaps a surprise, explains the use of the raised 4th degree explored extensively while in E-flat major.
The second movement is written to display what almost every audience member is seeking when first hearing a concerto: technical virtuosity. Knowing the technical and musical abilities of Mr.Work, as well as his love for the cornet solos of the early 20th century, the movement is composed to highlight what is available to the modern trumpet, though often not exposed. After a few minutes of pure energy, the music finally relaxes, drawing upon various motifs already heard. Again the piece builds up to a climax in the dominant key of E Major, only to settle again to a false coda. A demanding cadenza follows, highlighting some musical effects written especially for the dedicatee. Now beginning the true coda, the virtuosic music returns, and many
motifs are again tossed into the mix to bring us to our denouement, again decidedly in our true home key of A Major.
As a side note, it might be interesting to learn that while growing up both Work and Stephenson enjoyed stretching the outer limits of “punmanship,” as well as the fine art of trumpet playing. Many a day were spent manipulating the English language to satisfy their absurd sense of humor. The composer is happy to add another to the abused 20 year-old melting pot of puns: If one considers the key of the piece, and the name of the dedicatee, he is proud to contribute “A Major Work” to the trumpet repertoire. One could even stretch to include “A Major F-Re Work”, as discussed earlier.
(OK – enough nonsense!)