Solo and Orchestral Trumpeter and Educator

Thoughts on music, trumpet playing, and education from Eric M. Berlin, Professor of Trumpet at the University of Massachusetts and Principal Trumpet of the Albany Symphony and Boston Philharmonic Orchestras.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reflections on 2010-11 season

After settling back in to my home routine after a fantastic summer in Boulder, I am beginning the annual process of documenting the past academic year, known here at UMASS as the Annual Faculty Report. Upon reflection, it really has been a banner year!

As the host of the 2007 International Trumpet Guild Conference, I infused it with my own personality by featuring new music of my favorite composers and commissioning new works specifically for the opening concert with the US Coast Guard Band. Composer James Stephenson and I both had the privilege to study with former BSO Principal Trumpet, Charles Schlueter at the New England Conservatory of Music. What better way to honor my musical father, than to ask Jim to write a piece for us. The resulting work, Duo Fantastique is colorful and flashy work that plays with the audience’s expectations (in particular an audience of all trumpeters!) while giving Charlie and me a chance to have a real ball!

Stephen Paulus wrote his Concerto for Two Trumpets and Orchestra for Doc Severinsen and Manny Laureano in 2003. Unique in its use of stereophonic phasing and composite lines which team the duo against the orchestra and a powerful Elegy in the middle, I was determined to find a way to perform it. For the opening concert at ITG, Stephen wrote a new orchestration for wind ensemble, which I premiered with former Boston Brass lead trumpet, Richard Kelley.

In December of 2010, with these two wonderful works, we began a new recording project with the UMASS Wind Ensemble. Thanks to Charlie and Rich as well as James Patrick Miller on the podium and the wonderful UMASS students for a job well done!

Also to be included on the disc is a new work to be written for the project by my UMASS colleague Jeffrey Holmes and Evan Hause’s Concerto for Trumpet The Hause Concerto was commissioned by the Albany Symphony Orchestra for me in 2001 and I performed its 2004 band orchestration at the 2004 ITG Conference at Denver University. I am really looking forward to getting these works out there!

Shortly on the heels of this performance, I was able to perform the Paulus Concerto again with my colleague Terry Everson with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Terry and I were delighted to be able move from the back of the orchestra where we normally reside and enjoy the unobstructed view of Jordan Hall from next to the conductor’s podium! What a real treat it was to play together up front and get a nice Boston Globe review in the process! Stephen was able to attend and it was a great opportunity to actually hang after so much contact on the telephone!

In addition to the Paulus, BMOP never fails to stimulate my hunger for new American Music. I eagerly await recordings of some smaller works which were all new to me by Milton Babbit, George Rochberg, George Pearl, and Wayne Peterson. One of the nicest works that we premiered was a delightful Puckish new work by Martin Brody. It has a great piccolo trumpet solo which I must put on a sightreading list some time!

The Albany Symphony Orchestra presented a wealth of new American music for an audience who must be applauded for their support of the adventurous programming that has brought us numerous ASCAP and other awards. We recorded magnificent works by our two resident composers, John Corigliano and George Tsontakis. For a disc featuring the music of John Corigliano, we recorded Conjurer, a truly magical journey with Dame Evelyn Glennie as percussion soloist and Vocalise where the breathtakingly beautiful voice of Hila Plitman melds with antiphonal trumpets and electronic effects to give us a glimpse into the future of classical music.

Of particular interest to me was the clarinet concerto written for David Krakauer by George Tsontakis. We recorded Anasa as the first work on a new disc of George’s music to which we will add a new trumpet concerto which we will premier and record in March 2012. David was simply spectacular and the piece was a deep and powerful work that was the perfect vehicle to show off his unmatched virtuosity. As George and I work on the trumpet concerto, I imagine that I will be begging for mercy!

The biggest event in the history of the Albany Symphony Orchestra happened on May 10, 2011. The ASO made its Carnegie Hall debut as part of the Spring for Music Festival. This festival showcased the innovative programming of the 7 winning orchestras. Our program was quintessentially ASO, titled "Spirituals Reimagined". Centered around the civil war and civil rights movement, it began with George Tsontakis’s 1994 “Let the River be Unbroken” and then to a series of contemporary settings of African American Spirituals with Nathan DeSchon Meyers, baritone. These settings were done by nine American composers including John Harbison and George Tsontakis, and several lesser known young composers who may become the recognized greats in the coming decades. I want to thank Stephen Dankner especially, for giving me the license to really take some liberty with his “Wade in de Water” as we closed the first half. The second half was devoted to the complete original version of Copland’s Appalachian Spring. This concert was a brilliant example of the dedication of the entire orchestra to the music of our time which makes me so proud to be a part of it.

NY Times Review

Streaming Audio - entire concert

Reading the above, one might assume that I never play anything but new music! However, the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra gives me a healthy dose of the meat and potatoes of the orchestral canon. The highlight of its season for me was the October concert. It was a program right out of an audition book with American in Paris, La Mer, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G and Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments. I cannot imagine much more variety for a principal trumpet to do! It was great to hear Stephen Drury play the Ravel (and to see him still wearing his youthful leather pants!) and as always, conductor Benjamin Zander delivered the program to the audience with his unmatched and infectious enthusiasm for these incredible works. Another highlight of the BPO’s season was a fantastic soloist, Ilya Kaler, presenting Szymanowsky’s Second Violin Concerto. This was a new work to me and Ilya gave an incredible performance.

Also a wonderful source of nourishment for my standard orchestra fare hunger is the Colorado Music Festival. It is also a great opportunity for me to switch roles and enjoy learning from my dear friend and colleague, Jeffrey Work and his wonderful synthesis of Charles Schlueter, Armando Ghitalla and Maurice Andre as he sits in the hot seat. This was my sixth season in Boulder where I often feel humbled to sit among my rockstar colleagues. I spend every moment that I am not immersed in warmth of the orchestra’s powerful and refined sound in the mountains. Aside from listening to Jeff on Mahler 6 and his perfect Arbanesque rendition off the cornet solo in the Bal of Berlioz’ Symphony Fantastique, may favorite concert was with Norwegian violinist Hennig Kraggerud. As I told him after the first concert, I have never been so interested in the Mendelssohn Concerto. This warhorse has been nearly played to death, but somehow his modest simplicity, attention to detail and absolute clarity made this a completely new experience for me. And then… he followed it up with the Sibelius Concerto. Amazing! I promptly logged onto Amazon, purchased every recording that he has made.

For my chamber music fix, I have a wonderful quintet, which although we play fewer concerts than in years past, still play some really wonderful stuff together. We work often at Marsh Chapel at Boston University which has the best choir in Boston under the direction of Scott Allen Jarrett. This past Christmas, we began a new relationship with Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City. Video The music director, Julian Wachner is the closest I have ever gotten to Leonard Bernstein. As very young men, we played various church services together, and I never tired of his improvisational talents on the organ. Julian is an incredible composer, organist, conductor and general musical genius, we had a great time playing his very difficult, but amazingly effective new hymn settings. We look forward to doing it again!

On top of my performing career, my life as an educator has been equally rich this year! Whether they are serving as leaders and ambassadors for arts organizations, educational groups, service fraternities and sororities, on a local or national level, I am extraordinarily proud of each of my students at UMASS. Solid as soloists and section players in our ensembles, they all bring their A game.

This year, quite a few have achieved national and international recognition. John Mange and Adam Mejeur won International Trumpet Guild Scholarships and 4 students made it through the rigorous first round to perform live in the semi-final round of the National Trumpet Competition. Andrew Stetson MM ’10, Nate Wilson – MM ’12, Micah Maurio – MM ’12, and Steven Felix BM ’12 all performed brilliantly. Steven Felix placed second in the Undergraduate Division and Micah Maurio placed third in the Jazz Competition. Congratulations to all of my students for a fabulous year!

Amazingly enough, the coming year looks as exciting, if not more so! So, with this inaugural post, I begin this blog. Thoughts about trumpet playing, new music, old music and more will appear here in the future. Thanks for reading and I look forward to seeing you soon.