Hanging by a Thread




Hanging by a Thread (2014)

for Wind Ensemble

Piccolo, Flutes 1-2, Bb Clarinets 1-3 (1st part – 2 players), Bass Clarinet,
Sop. Sax., Alto Sax. 1-2, Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax
Horns 1-2, Bb Trumpets 1-2 (dbl. on flugels), Trombones 1-2, Bass Trombone, Euphonium, Tuba Harp (w/ optional amplification), Timpani, Percussion, Contrabass

solo trumpet (Bb tpt., flugel and picc.) and solo tuba


Mallets: Vibraphone, Glockenspiel, Xylophone, Marimba
Triangle, B.D., Bell Tree, S.D., Wood Block, Guiro, Tambourine, Vibra-Slap, Claves, Congas, 2 coins (quarters), Cow Bell, Slap-Sticks Sus. Cymb., China Cymbal, Cymb. a2, Finger Cymbals

Notes from the composer:

“Hanging by a Thread” – the title – was inspired by the poster for the Sydney International Brass Festival, which featured a female acrobat dangerously hanging upside-down, from a single thread of material, while playing a trumpet! (further inspection might reveal that she is actually lying on a wood floor, but no matter…) In any case, the title is also apropos for what it often feels like to be a soloist performing a new work. There is no frame of reference, no precedent –
it’s all up to you. Given all of this, I felt the title – suggested by Steve Rosse – was appropriate.
The movement titles -Fragile; Liquid; Perishable; Potentially Hazardous – refer to the inside joke I always have with myself
when I go to the post office to ship my music to various parts of the globe. Even though I know the clerk very well at this point, she is still required to always ask: “Does this package contain anything fragile, liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous?”
I often joke with her, especially with regard to the last part of the question: “Well, that depends on what people think of my music!”

And so this piece was born…
The first movement is composed as potentially a stand-alone piece on its own. Both in terms of its length (roughly 7 minutes),
and its broad appeal across many weighing points – melodically and harmonically “in-the-box”, and perhaps the easiest solo parts of the 4 movements – it could easily be extracted as a short work of its own accord. The 2nd movement is a juxtaposition of baroque and jazz styling – hence the subtitle: “Jam-Bourrée”. It is quite short – almost an interlude – but a fun frolic through poly-tonal ambiguity in standard form. The 3rd – again almost a 2nd interlude – allows for soloist melodic interplay, with flugelhorn sonorities used to match the rotund tuba sound. The finale, being the most virtuosic of the 4 movements, allows for a stirring finish to the work. We finally resolve into D Major, having used D Minor, G minor, and A Major previously.

The concerto was commissioned by brothers Michael and Paul Mergen, who both serve in the United States “President’s Own” Marine Band. This is a very unique fact in and of itself, and I am honored to write for such talented and upstanding individuals. The work is also co-commissioned by Rex Richardson and Steve Rosse for the Sydney International Brass Festival, also the location of the premiere, which was conducted by Stephen Williams. I am very grateful to Roland Szentpali, who replaced Steve Rosse as soloist on the premiere in Sydney.

Jim Stephenson 2014

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