My father loved to sail. Whenever possible, my family would head to the nearest body of water, rent a boat and catch the wind. When we moved to Virginia from South Carolina in 1964, the Chesapeake Bay was that body of water. Years later, when a group of guys from my church in Brookside, NJ decided to organize a sailing trip, I signed up immediately excited about returning to my childhood haunts. Chesapeake is a mosaic of the subsequent three sailing trips from Annapolis to St. Michaels, Maryland sprinkled with a healthy dose of nostalgia. It is strongly programmatic with Movement 1 depicting waking up in Annapolis, preparing the boat, motoring out into the Bay, and setting sail. Movement 2, Full and By, uses a nautical term which in essence means that the sailing was as good as possible with a strong wind and high visibility. Movement 3, Bloody Point, imagines a long-forgotten conflict that occurred on a passing shoreline now occupied by a lighthouse. Movement 4, Crab Claw is an eating establishment in St. Michaels where after a long day of sun and wind, we went to recover with soft shell crabs and a bit too much to drink. Chesapeake was written in 2010 for the American Brass Quintet and is dedicated to my father, Herman Sampson, whose passions were generously shared.
Chants and Flourishes for double brass quintet was written to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the formation of the American Brass Quintet. The work is a continuation of my ongoing collaborations with the ABQ that began with Morning Music, written in 1986. I have been, and continue to be, a strong supporter of the work of the ABQ in guaranteeing the survival of the brass quintet as a serious chamber music entity through commissioning, performance and recording of new brass chamber music. It has been my honor to be a co-conspirator in their quest.
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.