concerto grosso for brass, and orchestra — (2(afl).eh.2(b.cl,bs.cl).1 – 2.3.3(btbn).1. – perc(3) – hp – pno – str[184.108.40.206.3.])
Commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra with generous support from Ann and Harry Santen.
Premiered on April 9, 10, and 11, 2021 by the Cincinnati Symphony, with Louis Langrée, conductor, featuring Christopher Olka, tuba, and Robert Sullivan, trumpet.
My new concerto, A Body, Moving, draws its title from an epistolary poem written by the poet Natalie Diaz to her friend and fellow poet Ada Limón. Her whole title, “Isn’t the air also a body, moving?” beautifully summed up my approach to this piece, which is a celebration of brass, but perhaps more than anything else a celebration of the movement of air through the room.
In the era of Covid-19, we’ve all suddenly become acutely aware of the air’s flow and its ability to make one another ill; I sought to create a piece, instead, that celebrates the air, the thing that animates so much making of music, be it singing or playing of brass and wind instruments. I am delighted that we can share this piece in front of real live audiences—something I truly took for granted until it was gone.
The opening movement starts with the air sounds of the solo trumpet and tuba, which are imitated and passed around the orchestra by a multitude of percussionists and brass players until the whole band becomes a rhythmic machine.
The second movement features what Diaz calls “envelope[s] of air.” I imagined the sound of the tuba played in reverse (a quick swell from nothing to “ff”) and I orchestrated a slow-moving passacaglia that trades these swells between the tuba and the trombones.
The final movement brings back the rhythmic air sounds from the first movement and is gradually joined by a slowly moving tuba line that moves ever downward towards the lowest A it can play, closing the work.
“A Body, Moving,” featuring tuba, trumpet and a percussionist who uses a bike pump — saves its most emotive material for its closing minutes.Seth Colter Walls, NY Times
Scored for a large orchestra, “A Body, Moving” is actually a concerto grosso, which gives prominent roles to trumpet and tuba. The 18-minute piece was about rhythm and color. In the first movement, repeating motives, or “air sounds,” reverberated throughout the orchestra, creating a glowing canvas. The texture was punctuated by accents that seemed to punch the air and then evaporate quickly. Despite the difficulty of playing these figures, they were seamlessly executed by principal trumpet Robert Sullivan and principal tuba Christopher Olka.
At the work’s center was a slow-motion haze, where long tones swelled and suddenly disappeared. Here, the blowing of air through instruments – including not only the brass, but also the flutes – was most apparent to the listener. The composer’s inventive percussion section included a bicycle pump and sandpaper blocks, which, at one point, evoked a kind of chugging train.
Langrée and the orchestra gave it a colorful reading, and the audience responded with a standing ovation.Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati Business Courier