The Music

Notes on the music at “Bell Curve”

Posted by SoundBox

April 13, 2017

HANS KOOLMEES Allegro rigoroso, from Trotter
BERTALI Sonata à 3 in A minor
BEETHOVEN  Three Equali for Four Trombones
DAVID BIEDENBENDER “for me, time moves both more slowly and more quickly,” from Radiant Spheres
PIAZZOLLA (ARR. TIMOTHY HIGGINS)  Mon âme a son secret
FLORIAN MAIER  Slipstream for Trombone Solo and Loop Station


From the sacred to the contemporary, BELL CURVE is an exploration of trombone music through the ages.


HANS KOOLMEES  Allegro rigoroso, from Trotter  2001  |  2 mins
“Ultimately, the sole subject of music is time—not human misery or some such thing. The passage of time, all human misery lies concealed in it.” Composer, professor, and organist Hans Koolmees’s (b.1959) Trotter strikes this beguiling chord, and its Allegro rigoroso is at once unremitting and brief, linear and layered.

STUART DEMPSTER (ARR. TIMOTHY HIGGINS)  Standing Waves: 1976  1976  |  5 mins
Stuart Dempster's (b.1936) Standing Waves grew out of his studies on the architecture of sound and resonance. Originally recorded at the Great Abbey of Clement VI, part of the Papal Palace in Avignon, France, the piece marries a Minimalist atmosphere with massive sound landscapes. Part pure beauty, part mystery, and all trombone, Standing Waves serves up a simply extravagant sonic experience.

TIMOTHY HIGGINS  Altemusik  2014  |  10 mins
“Composed in 2014, this is a three-movement work for an unusual trio: alto trombone, marimba, and harpsichord. Altemusik is composed in a Baroque style using melodies and harmonies from J.S. Bach, Corelli, and Schein. The first movement is heavily Baroque while still maintaining a modern sound. The remaining movements are reconstructions of Baroque writing using borrowed and new material.”—Timothy Higgins

BERTALI  Sonata à 3 in A minor  17th century  |  6 mins
Antonio Bertali (1605-1669) was a hugely influential composer and violin virtuoso whose modern reputation pales in comparison to the fame he achieved in his own lifetime. He often wrote lavishly, and his virtuosic pieces showcase an incredible array of textures. Approximately half of his output is now lost—but lucky for us, not his Sonata à 3 in A minor.


BEETHOVEN  Three Equali for Four Trombones  1812  |  5 mins
Beethoven (1770-1826) holds a place of honor in the history of the trombone. He was the first major composer to use it in symphonies (in his Symphonies No. 5 and 6). A watercolor of Beethoven’s funeral, painted by Franz Stöber, even shows four trombonists leading the funeral procession. One of Beethoven’s contemporaries described exactly what it was about the trombone that was so effective: “Its full, solemn tone . . . exalts it to an especially useful musical tool. Its full, sonorous tone enables the player to express all noble and effective sentiments for the exhibition and maintenance of the most solemn states of mind.” Beethoven’s Three Equali seem custom-made to fit this description. They are short pieces. All are solemn and hymn-like, but the first is the most doleful. It is the only one that incorporates much in the way of independently flowing lines, and it is the most carefully crafted of the group, with carefully shaded dynamics and articulation. The second and third are almost entirely characterized by the main melodies being supported by the movement of accompanying parts in the same rhythm.

DAVID BIEDENBENDER  “for me, time moves both more slowly and more quickly,” from Radiant Spheres  2014  |  6 mins
David Beidenbender (b.1984) comments: “Radiant Spheres was commissioned by Timothy Higgins. The inspiration for Radiant Spheres centers around the second movement, for me, time moves both more slowly and more quickly, the idea for which came to me while on a flight over Lake Michigan in the Spring of 2014. As I boarded the plane, one passenger in particular caught my eye—a woman sitting directly behind me, looking barely strong enough to make the flight, who I quickly gleaned was with her husband on her way home to Michigan following treatment for cancer. My son Izaak, who was about ten months old at the time, sat on my lap during most of the flight, and he kept his eyes on her almost constantly, smiling and giggling at her as she smiled back at him. As we ascended to 35,000 feet, most of the passengers started to become quiet and sleepy, and I found Izaak smiling at her yet again. This time, I turned to find her smiling back but with tears running down her face. I remember looking into her eyes and thinking that, for her, time must move both so slowly and so quickly, as she felt the poignant juxtaposition of her impending departure from this earth alongside her extraordinary pain. She also seemed strangely at peace, and I remember thinking of the hymn ‘This is My Father’s World’ as we cruised above the earth:

This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

On our ascent, I remembered looking out the window at the shadows of the airplane and the clouds, seemingly dancing on the earth as they rushed over the surface of the uneven ground. As we began to descend, I looked again out the window. But this time, from a much higher vantage point, I saw the gentle glow of the earth, this radiant sphere, where the cerulean water meets the dark blue sky, separated by the reddish-orange glow of the evening sun moving behind the earth. And I felt small and I felt grateful.”—David Biedenbender

PIAZZOLLA (ARR. TIMOTHY HIGGINS)  Mon âme a son secret  2017 WORLD PREMIERE  |  8 mins
“This world premiere of Mon âme a son secret is particularly special for me, as I wrote it as a love song for my wife, Sharon. Sharon chose a set of French poems, which I then set to the irresistibly sultry tangos Soledad and Libertango by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). The result is a sultry duet for trombone and soprano with lush, romantic orchestral accompaniment.”—Timothy Higgins


FLORIAN MAIER  Slipstream for Trombone Solo and Loop Station  2012  |  8 mins
Florian Magnus Maier (b.1973) says: “Besides the advanced level of notes for the trombone, this piece requires a great deal of virtuosity and almost inhuman precision in recording and controlling the loops—the soloist is at the same time his own band and DJ. Any mistake or imprecision while recording will haunt the player till the end of the passage or piece. For this reason, the player has to make sure he's ready to start and play every new loop flawlessly. It is much preferred that the player wait one round of loops if necessary before continuing to the next passage, than rushing into something he's not ready for. The player has to make the piece his own in that sense, and every player has to find his own way in this. Of course, it is desired for the loops to succeed each other as seamlessly as possible, but the player should always keep a relaxed and balanced mind while at the helm of this unusual piece.”—Florian Maier

TIMOTHY HIGGINS  Café Velocio  2015  |  10 mins
“Commissioned by Sergio Carolino, this is a piece for tuba and piano in a quasi-Minimalist style. By using melodic material and Minimalist techniques from Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians and original material composed in a traditional style, Café Velocio juxtaposes the traditional idea of a musical interpreter with the modern idea of an improviser in a symphonic style.”—Timothy Higgins

STEPHEN RUSH  Rebellion  1998  |  5 mins
Stephen Rush’s (b.1958) “Rebellion is about an urge, not a cause. It is a small portrait of energy, a capsule of the feeling that an urgent need for change is felt or foreseen, and the beginnings of that change are even portrayed in the final bombast of this piece.”—Stephen Rush

Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.