Saturday, May 26, 2012

Young Musical Talent Commences

I have much to blog about. My new suite for brass quintet, Isle of Colours, was recently premiered and will soon be published. My publishing company, Premiere Press, will also soon publish Mass for Brass Quintet, a masterfully crafted, stunningly intellectual, and deeply musical five-movement composition by my longtime friend and colleague, Steven J. Williams. And in July I'll be giving a paper entitled, "American Ladies' Brass Quartets Before 1900: 'Clever, versatile, and fair to look upon'," at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as part of the Second International Historic Brass Symposium. Blogs on these items will appear soon.

But first, at this season when the brass music of college commencements sounds thick in the air, I must write about this year's delightful Pomona College Brass Quintet and – somewhat evocatively of nineteenth-century music criticism – introduce an important young composer.

The Pomona College Brass Quintet performs at the California Club, January 2012.

The brass chamber music program at Pomona College is a phoenix that arises whenever a group of like-minded musicians agrees to form an ensemble. Before this year, I've coached brass quartets and various trumpet ensembles, but this past year we had an honest-to-goodness brass quintet, and a fine one, too. The enthusiasm and talent of these five college musicians was a thing to behold, and – in a somewhat rare and wonderful case – their temperaments and ability levels matched beautifully.

Like other musical groups at the Claremont Colleges, the members of this brass quintet were drawn from various Claremont Colleges. Trumpeter Alex Groth and hornist Will Savage attended Pomona College. I use the past tense, since they both just graduated to new things – surely great things – and I hope they continue to find time to be part of the honorable (or at least, mostly honorable) lineage of chamber brass players. Trombonist William Chen and trumpeter Carling Sugarman represented Harvey Mudd College handsomely, and trombonist Rachel Fidler attends Scripps College. All five musicians were members of the Pomona College Orchestra last year. William Chen has also graduated, which leaves Carling and Rachel to carry on a fine new tradition next year with the addition of new players. Their fine musicianship and good humor should be the backbone of another great group in the Fall.

This ensemble got from zero to 60 in a very short time. At first when I coached them, the silence between my comments was such that I had occasionally to check their pulse. (Note to colleagues who coach string and woodwind chamber ensembles: A quiet brass quintet is not a normal thing.) I appreciated the respect, but formality in a brass quintet can only be endured for a brief time, and it wasn't long before their collective good upbringings relented enough to let their keen and incisive wit and humor shine through. They took my coaching to heart and practiced seriously. I have rarely enjoyed a brass quintet more than these five young musicians.

In what seems like a very short musical year, they performed for several Student Recitals, one or two informal concerts around campus, provided entertainment for a very refined ARCS (Achievement Rewards for Young Scientists) Foundation luncheon at Los Angeles' very private California Club (see photo above), and gave the world premiere of a new composition for brass quintet by now-Pomona-College-graduate, Scott Jesperson.

I first met Scott when I conducted the Pomona College Orchestra in 2009. He sat among the first fiddles, and we had little direct personal interaction. Even now, I've only had one meeting with him of any length, when he attended a rehearsal of the Pomona College Brass Quintet that focused on preparing his new brass quintet work, Overture to Middle Earth, for his senior recital. I became a fan of his music immediately.

Scott has composed for full orchestra, string quartet, solo piano, and surely other ensembles, but it is his brass quintet with which I am most familiar. It is boldly thematic, refreshingly harmonic, and richly rhythmic. It will appeal to many players and audiences alike. One of his orchestral works was performed this year by the Pomona College Orchestra, so the faculty there clearly has confidence in his work.

Scott Jesperson, recently of Pomona College, is a highly talented young composer whose art music already evidences a level of refinement and maturity rarely found among fresh college graduates. His works deserve repeated hearings by a growing audience. I hope he publishes his new work for brass quintet and, as his catalog grows in the future, that he revisits the chamber brass genre frequently.

To hear a live recording of Scott's Overture to Middle Earth, as played by the Pomona College Brass Quintet, click HERE. Dr. Ray reminds you that, as a live recording of a student ensemble with not a single music major among them, some performance imperfections will be apparent, but so, too, will be much successful ensemble playing and, more importantly, the spirited and uplifting ideas of a noteworthy young talent.