July 1, 2019
On July 1, a new work of mine titled Random Acts for trumpet/flügelhorn and piano was premiered at the Aspen Music Festival in Harris Hall. The performers were Kevin Cobb, trumpet and Derek Wang, piano. Over the years with a plethora of performances under my belt, I have lived through the entire gamut of performance possibilities. Since I knew Kevin Cobb very well, I was confident with half of the team. Derek Wang was unknown to me and to Kevin, so when I received an email from Kevin a few days before the performance letting me know that Derek was very well prepared and highly accomplished, I immediately relaxed. Fast forward to Sunday, June 30 at one of the Aspen Music School’s rehearsal spaces. Kevin and Derek were there along with several students who were curious to hear how hard this new piece was and experience first hand how professionals rehearse. My responsibility was to catch any copying mistakes along with suggestions for interpretation. As a composer, notation only gets you close to what you want so it’s up to the performers to close the gap. It’s so much easier when the performers are as good as Kevin and Derek. I mostly spent time finding just the right articulation with Derek since pianists’ interpretations can vary quite dramatically.
We also had a dress rehearsal in Harris Hall noon the next day. This was when the piece started to come alive because the acoustics were rich and warm and the performers responded by raising their level of playing several notches because of the detailed rehearsal the day before. The anticipation of performing Random Acts in front of a highly educated audience also added a bit of adrenalin.
My work was preceded by Contrasts by Bartok and “The Lark” String Quartet by Haydn. Sitting in the fourth row so I could get on stage to take a bow before the applause died down, I felt closely connected to the performers. From the moment the first aggressive entrance of the piano sounded, I lost all sense of time. What I was listening for was not how well they were playing the piece but how well I had calculated the flow of the musical ideas. This was the first time I had heard the work from beginning to end without stopping. Music, just like any art form that uses time as an element, only works well if the creator calculates when and how long to present the hopefully engaging ideas. We have all watched movies thinking “will this thing ever end.”
I was pleased to realize that the end came at the right time and that I was always engaged. Judging by the response of the audience, they also felt the same way. After not tripping on the steps to the stage, I took my bows with the performers and went backstage. With my heart pounding, I realized that the circle had closed: creation, giving and receiving. This was as good as it gets and why I will keep doing this as long as I can.