The thought of the Ewazen triple concerto premiere being only a week away has been a very sobering one, and a very exciting one. It’s hard to believe that a project we initiated 2 1/2 years ago is about to come full circle, but it’s real! My colleagues and I have been working intensely on the piece, which we’ve had in-hand, in it’s entirety, from the beginning of September. Suffice it to say that it has dominated our practice rooms and our social time together. I’ve realized many things about my own playing while working on this piece, and the three of us together have learned much about how we function as a unit, as well. I’d like to expand on this last point a bit, and please keep in mind I write from my own perspective!
One of the biggest issues – and I use ‘issues’ as a neutral word – we have realized is that we definitely have a default mode of playing together. It took a few run-throughs for this to be obvious, but taking a section that is used to sitting in the back of the orchestra — playing chorales, background chords, or short bursts of fiery ‘licks’ — and transposing them to the front of the stage as soloists, has created its own set of challenges. All of us – Jonathan, Jeff, and myself – have experience as soloists in front of ensembles, but to do so in the concerto grosso format is a unique experience. One of the happenings we notice is our tendency to fill out the sound as if setting the foundation for the entire orchestra to sit on, which we are very accustomed to doing as low brass players. As soloists, this simply does not work! Our job at the front of the stage is to be light, clear, buoyant, and sing; often times employing a less-dense, more transparent tone quality. From my perspective, this has been the greatest challenge as a trio: to play as soloists while playing as an ensemble.
Another challenge involves making the artistic decisions regarding the direction and nuances of the piece. When working on solo repertoire, the composer gives you most of the directions you need to play the piece effectively, then you can put your own personal touch on it once observing the composer’s wishes. In this case, we have three people who all play with individual nuance and style, and have their own beliefs of how any given passage should be phrased, articulated, spun, etc. Add to that the fact that Eric Ewazen does not grossly delineate his styles and nuances (ie. little to no articulation markings). As you can imagine, there has been much discussion and reasoning (sometimes heated!) amongst the three of us to decide how each phrase, and in some cases, each note, should be approached and executed. Fortunately, we all have the ability to check our egos at the door and are open to peer critique. This project would have never been feasible if we couldn’t do that. In fact, I think that’s one of the things that makes our section so special. Approaching the piece democratically is a tremendous reward, as often, playing in an orchestra is NOT a democracy – especially as a section player. Having the opportunity to sculpt something of our own, with each person able to state their case for how it should go, is a truly wonderful opportunity for which I will be forever grateful.
I’d like to write more about my experience working on this piece, so I’ll follow-up on this hopefully before the premiere. I should also note that a fine gentlemen from Texas (who’s name I’ll withhold until he gives me permission) will be writing an article on this project and will also be using it for his DMA project. That should bring more in-depth research and interviews to light, and I can’t wait to see/read his final product.