It was such a pleasure to be writing this concerto with Henry Charles Smith, one of the great trombonists
and a wonderful human being, in mind as its dedicatee. As trombonist with the Philadelphia Orchestra,
and then conductor of ensembles at all levels from youth symphonies to the Minnesota Orchestra,
Mr. Smith touched the lives of thousands of musicians. In fact, I began gathering ideas for the work
by extracting the letters of his name that would fit the music scale:
H (the German letter for the pitch B) E C A E
The first two letters suggested the interval of a 5th (B down to E), which became the first main motive of
the piece (heard first in the piano) and then an important accompanying figure, sequenced several times.
The remaining letters of his name suggest a minor triad and become the opening chord (in the marimba)
and then the overall chord quality of the work.
It also came to my attention that, in addition to his many incredible accomplishments, Mr. Smith made a
recording with brass quintet members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, along with a rhythm section, of some
jazz standards. (He was “disguised” as Hank Smith on the recording.) When the orchestra's conductor,
Eugene Ormandy, heard about the recording, apparently he flew into a rage, saying his musicians could never,
ever be heard in this context, and pressured Columbia Records to pull all existing copies from store shelves,
which they did. So there are very few copies around, but apparently “Hank” still thinks it's a good recording.
In the spirit of Mr. Smith's defiance, then, this concerto also draws upon certain jazz styles.
It also calls upon jazz styles because of my own musical roots and those of trombonist Tom Ashworth, who gave the
first performance. The movement titles reflect this in that they each come from the poetry of Langston Hughes, an
African-American who was devoted to jazz in life and in his writings:
I. Sometimes goin' in the dark…still climbin'
(from the poem “Mother to Son”)
II. My soul has grown deep like the rivers
(from the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”)
III. Bright like the sun-my dream
(from the poem “As I Grew Older')
I am grateful to all of the consortium members, to Tom and conductor Craig Kirchhoff for initiating the commission, and to Craig for organizing the consortium.
I am also very pleased and honored that the premiere of this concerto could take place as part of the celebration honoring
Craig in his final concert before retirement from teaching at the University of Minnesota.