Art of the Sonata

For fans of great trumpet playing, the curious about contributions of 20th-century American composers, and enthusiasts of superb music-making, last night’s concert at Boston University’s Tsai Performance Center offered a real treat.  The concert was performed by BU Trumpet professor Terry Everson and Sheila Kibbe, Chair of the Collaborative Piano Department at BU.  For me, the concert underscored the richness of 20th-century American music and the need to hear it live.

The program included four works from the trumpet sonata repertoire.  The composers were Harold Shapero, George Antheil, Halsey Stevens, and Kent Kennan.

George Antheil’s (1900-1959) story is probably the most known, with his splashy European debuts and scandals and then return to America and Hollywood.

Harold Shapero (b. 1920) was a student of Krenek, Piston, Hindemith, and Boulanger, and was one of the first students at Tanglewood.  He joined the music faculty of Brandeis in 1951 and was the founder of that institution’s electronic music studio.  Born in Lynn, MA and raised in Newton, he was in the Boston circle that included Arthur Berger, Irving Fine, Leonard Bernstein, and Lukas Foss.

Halsey Stevens’ (1908-1989) Trumpet Sonata is a standard in the trumpet world, but outside of that his name is rarely heard.  He was on the faculty of several different schools, the longest being at USC in Los Angeles.  In addition to being a revered Bartok scholar and musicologist, he wrote substantial music for orchestra and choir.

Kent Kennan (1913-2003), won the Prix de Rome at the age of 23.  He was one of the original faculty members of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas, Austin, and remained on the faculty there until his retirement in 1983.  His trumpet sonata – another standard for that instrument – dates from 1956.  Confounding everyone, he abandoned composition after this to focus on teaching and educational writing.  His two books, “Counterpoint” and “The Technique of Orchestration,” are required reading for students of music.  A modest and unassuming man, he died in 2003 in Austin.

I was engaged by the strength and quality of these four works (and, as I mentioned above, the superb performances of them).  There’s drama in these pieces, with evocative colors and sheer technical fireworks.  There’s also sincere quiet and space for contemplation, too.  My curiosity in these composers and their catalogues was certainly piqued.

An enormous thank you to Terry and Sheila for giving such dedicated performances to these deserving works.

 

– Scott Parkman

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