Thursday, March 10, 2016

Premiered: “Suite Arcata” for Mixed Wind Quintet

My composition Suite Arcata received its world premiere on September 27, 2015 at Pomona College, and I now have the video to prove it! I hope youll enjoy a look and listen.

(L-R) Rachel Rudich, flute; Chisco Castillo, oboe; Carolyn Beck, bassoon;
Linda Sylva, clarinet; Ray Burkhart, trumpet.

The occasion was Pomona Colleges inaugural Chamber Music Extravaganza featuring primarily their applied music faculty. It was a lot of fun, and Suite Arcata concluded the concert. I am very, very grateful to my wonderful colleagues who joined me enthusiastically in the performance: Rachel Rudich, Chisco Castillo, Linda Sylva, and Carolyn Beck.

Suite Arcata is in three movements: I. Winter Rain, II. Coastal Fog, and III. Summer Sun. Total duration is about eleven minutes of music. Usually in my music, I don't try to tell stories. I do try to capture the essence of something or relate emotions, and sometimes that tells a story very well. I find that if I express an idea or emotion clearly to the minds and hearts of my listeners, they infuse the music with their own private meaning. Thats my goal.

What, then, are my ideas behind Suite Arcata? Much more than invoking Arcatas seasonal weather conditions! Its true that I love the northern California coast, with its winding roads, quaint towns, and scenic beaches and rock formations in rugged alternation, but in this piece, as in so many others, I let the music determine my titles. Woodwinds and, yes, even the trumpet, can perform very agile passages, so I explored some of that in the first movement, along with rhythmic asymmetry and occasional dense dissonance. The second movement was motivated by a common human emotion, but it need not be further defined, since listeners will connect to this music in their own way. And as life proceeds from its occasional tears to days of sunny, carefree, weekend fun, so Suite Arcata concludes with a whimsical smile of a third movement that I once described as having a palm trees and light breeze feel. And throughout the work I play with changing meters, instrumental solos, and colorful pairings.

Suite Arcata was commissioned by the Chamber Players of the Redwoods in Humboldt County, California. I enjoy good ties with several of the groups members, given my many years as a coach, lecturer, and performer at the Humboldt State University Brass Chamber Music Workshop (held in Arcata annually since 1974), and Val Phillipsoriginal Brass Chamber Music Workshop director, esteemed retired HSU music faculty member, and Chamber Players of the Redwoods mover and shakerapproached me in 2012 with the idea of the commission.

Val is a fine horn player, chamber musician, and arts proponent. He likes to bring people and things together. The big vision type, who can manage the details, as well. And during decades of directing both brass chamber music and normal chamber music workshops, he developed a growing desire to break down the wall between them, even if just a little. Suite Arcata contributes to that effort.

This isnt a new idea, of course. Chamber music crossover works that blend brass instruments with the more usual chamber music suspects include Carlos Ch├ívezs Soli No. 1 (oboe, clarinet, trumpet, and bassoon, 1933), Paul Hindemiths Septett fur Blasinstrumente (flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, horn, and trumpet, 1948), Vincent Persichettis Serenade No. 6 (trombone, viola, and cello, 1950), Mel Powells Divertimento (flute, oboe, clarinet, trumpet, and bassoon, 1957), and Michael Cunninghams Epitaph for Dylan Thomas (brass quintet and piano, 1961). There are surely others. I didnt realize it at the time, but my own early work, Three Psalms (flute, oboe, trumpet, and bassoon, 1982), also contributes to this repertoire.

The sheet music for my Three Psalms is available at present in a purely woodwind quartet version for flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon. Suite Arcata is currently published in its original version, but I expect soon to publish it for standard woodwind quintet, as well. [Update: Suite Arcata is now available for woodwind quintet.]

Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening and viewing. If you want to explore commissioning music for your ensemble, please write me at

Dr. Ray