in: Reviews

October 31, 2014

Sonorous Explorations

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Benjamin Wright communicates (file photo)

Benjamin Wright communicates (file photo)

After being assigned Benjamin Wright’s New England Conservatory faculty trumpet recital, I thought for sure that I was the wrong person for the job given my budding expertise in vocal music, more specifically choral music. Then as Wright’s performance (with many other talented musicians partnering) unfolded Wednesday at Jordan Hall, I thought the connection was not so far off. Vocalists are proud of the fact that they are “one with their instrument,” and to my surprise I sat in awe as I came to realize that so too was Benjamin Wright: there was never once a sense that the trumpet either left or approached Wright’s embouchure, feeling as though they were always connected. He sang with his instrument, exuding a familial connection through a calm and collected demeanor.

A gnarly fanfare for two trumpets written by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) for the opening of the New York State Theater (Fanfare for a New Theater, 1964) announced an evening bright and sonorous. This short fanfare lasted no more than 40 seconds and featured an intimate range of post-tonal sounds; the trumpets crawled, circled, and swooped around each other in relatively close proximity, the effect of which was quite engaging. (Though, I will bet not a single audience member left humming that piece…)

Written only five years earlier, Benjamin Britten’s (1913-1976) Fanfare for St. Edmundsbury (1959) offered another sort of exploration, a harkening back on the natural trumpet sound; just think of “Taps,” pitches within the trumpet’s natural harmonic series. The fanfare is written for three trumpets that are to be spread as far apart as possible. The geographical separation only heightens the contrasts among the individuals, revealing three quite different characters introduced as individual notions that are slowly layered and developed. The three trumpeters, Thomas Rolfs, Thomas Siders, and Wright, communicated well across the space, with a sense of disconnected ease; each individual path was graced by the others only at junctures.

Works like Johann Ernst Altenburg’s (1734-1801) Concerto for Seven Trumpets and Timpani in D Major are only performed at instrument specific recitals, a situation I know all too well as a former percussionist. If only just pleasant, perhaps rising to beautiful at times, it was certainly well executed by the seven students that joined Wright (including the timpanist). Aside from the enormous amount of sonic pressure in the room, this Altenurg was enjoyable, but merely so.

George Enescu’s (1881-1955) Legend for Trumpet and Piano (1906) was a highlight for reasons not least being the introduction of Yoko Hagino, a Boston pianist who practically stole the show; Hagino’s playing was some of the most engaged I have seen this past year. Hagino portrayed such intuitive understanding that one could have mistaken her for the composer, each decision grounded in connectivity and the broader narrative. The Enescu work was not half-bad either: a well-crafted and thoughtful journey.
The same duet continued with Paul Hindemith’s (1895-1963) rather jazzy Sonata for Trumpet and Piano (1939). A fine portrayal of this duo’s complete communicative qualities, it seems to begin with quick snappy rhythmic figures that propelled the space forward. At times it took on an athletic character, well crafted in its delivery, as though it were an exercise of fitness, as a means of cultivating physical (or musical) precision, both technically and gracefully.

Young conservatory students are continuously seeking free opportunities to hear the great university and conservatory faculty, as well as the giants of the Boston Symphony Orchestra—and this was one such case. With guest string players from the BSO, the second half opened with Camille Saint-Saëns’s Septet, Op. 65 (1880) for string quintet with piano and trumpet—a flavorful combination in which the trumpet took a position only slightly more prominent than the other voices in the ensemble. Exuding the sound one would expect from Saint-Saëns, this gorgeous arabesque provided melodic figures that seemed to ride confidently above a bubbling arpeggio texture.
The recital concluded with an “inside joke” of sorts, a selection of popular arias from operas by Puccini, Mozart, and Verdi, arranged by fellow BSO trumpeter Michael Martin. A satirical roast of Benjamin Wright, it joked about the fact that Wright likes to sing like an opera singer in his pedagogical. Given a largely familiarized audience, this roused laughter, though for this reviewer the humor only scratched at surface level, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt: I am sure it would have been funny had I known Benjamin Wright prior. But at least now I can say that I am among the familiar and I am all the better for it.

Samuel Kjellberg is a Minneapolis-Saint Paul native; conductor, percussionist, and vocalist, all with a dash of philosophy, he currently resides in Boston while pursuing a MM in Choral Conducting at Boston University

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