A Family Portrait for brass quintet was written as a gift to my good friend, Scott Mendoker, and his wife, Annie and daughter, Emma. It portrays the energy, humor and love that abounds in this family. Beginning with a gentle interplay between the first trumpet playing on flugelhorn and horn, the second trumpet soon enters with playful counterpoint followed by the trombone and tuba mimicking what has come before. After a few minutes, the piece erupts with a careening horn solo followed by each instrument taking its share of the spotlight ending with several strong definitive chords. A Family Portrait was premiered in Rossmoor, NJ on June 6, 2008, by the Philadelphia Brass: Trumpets – Lawrence Wright, Brian Kuszyk; French Horn – Anthony Cecere; Trombone – Robert Gale; Tuba – Scott Mendoker.
Strata was commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Brass Quintet and completed on January 1, 1999. It is dedicated to the American Brass Quintet in celebration of their 30th year in residence at the Aspen Music Festival. The work is comprised of three movements and has a performance time of sixteen minutes.
Having composed two quintets previously for the American Brass Quintet, Morning Music and Distant Voices, I began the third with a desire to expand upon what I had already written, yet refer to the other two. As a result, I chose to begin the first movement with the trumpeters playing flügelhorns as I did in my first quintet Morning Music. While this darker texture was a nod to the earlier quintet, Strata begins with slowly shifting harmonies and no themes or counterpoint, in direct contrast to Morning Music. The music of LaMonte Young influenced this section because of a series of recent performances I was involved in as a trumpeter with Young’s ensemble. Following this meditative music is a rhythmic and pointillistic section with the trumpeters now on trumpets but in Harmon mute, the trombones in straight mute, and muted horn. Motives abound and there is much playful interaction between all five players.
The second movement is an introspective dirge with no direct thematic connection to either quintet but similar emotional content to both. There is also a hint at the techniques of Arvo Pärt with close harmonies and restricted material. The texture is again dark because of flügelhorns and the bass trombone is featured with an extended solo in the middle of the movement. As the third movement begins, we hear for the first time a trumpet unmuted followed by the rest of the group in a freely shaped introduction. Slightly jazzy material is then heard which is developed during the rest of the movement. Reminiscent of the James Agee movement of Distant Voices, it ends with one final fortissimo riff.
Winter Ceremony, scored for two trumpeters also performing on flugelhorns, glass chimes and suspended cymbal, was written to appear in the February 1984 International Trumpet Guild Journal. Part of the inspiration for the work was the influence of living for four years on the campus of Delbarton School, Morristown, New Jersey, which is administered by the Benedictine monks of St. Mary’s Abbey. Through association with several of the monks and actual participation in the centuries-old ceremonies at the church, I became fascinated with the rituals of the Catholic church and with rituals in general. When the opportunity arose to write a new work for the Journal, my interest was able to take form. An additional reason for creating this piece was to honor my father who had died only months before, ending a series of deaths in my immediate family. Because of this, the work is mostly solemn with frequent moments of stillness interspersed with sudden outbursts. Between the sections of brass music are formalized movements by the performers and gentle percussion sounds. The work ends with echoes of previously heard material sounding offstage.