photo: Jonathan Whitaker
I’ve been devoted to fostering the creation of quality repertoire for the euphonium since the very beginning of my professional career. Soliloquies, my first solo album, was the result of four composers who were also great friends of mine deciding to write music for me. The great thing about having music written for me by people who know me well musically and personally is that there’s an extra emotional connection present that drives me to learn the piece at a high level technically and solve every single inherit musical mystery. This recording has a very similar feel but somehow seems more intimate. Maybe that stems from recording chamber music with piano, having children, the success of my students over my 22 year teaching career…. I’m not sure, but I’m in love with every note of this recording!
Barbara York was looking for inspiration to write a sonata for euphonium and piano. She found it in the birth of my son, Steffan. Doug Bristol and I have been friends since the beginning of my career. I’m his daughter’s Godfather. Anne Almeda has been listening to me play and talk about music in her country of Portugal for the last 5 years. We share a love of life and passion for non-western classical music. Patrick Schulz and I have been best friends since our time as students at the University of Wisconsin. He’s as familiar with my playing as anyone I know because he sat right next to me in the Sotto Voce Quartet for almost 10 years. Anthony Barfield is dear to me for so many reasons. We’ve been plotting to make music together since I met him in 2002. He and I come from very similar backgrounds and, because of that, he has the ability to write in a way that captures the struggle and optimism of being born Black in the United States.
I’m grateful that the euphonium doesn’t have a standard repertoire to potentially stand in the way of the creation of new and amazing music. That fact excites composers to want to write a piece that just might stick. I believe this album is full of pieces like that.
The Sonata for Euphonium and Piano (2013) is the culmination of the long-time friendship of Demondrae Thurman and Doug Bristol. The two were colleagues at Alabama State University for seven years. During that time, Bristol wrote a euphonium concerto as a part of his dissertation which Thurman premiered with the University of Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra. He later recorded it on his first solo album entitled, Soliloquies. Thurman asked Bristol to compose a piece for him with the only parameters being that it include piano and have multiple movements.
The first movement starts out with a jovial romp with euphonium and piano chasing one another around in contrary motion and using counterpoint. This action continues into a cadenza-like section where the two instruments continue their call and response but in a much calmer fashion. A galloping vamp serves as the accompaniment for a beautiful, quasi-improvisatory lyrical section. This is interrupted by the insistence of the euphonium to return to the chase which is ultimately granted but contained exclusively in the piano. The movement ends with the same energy with which it began.
The second movement further explores the idea of improvisatory-style writing. A somewhat unmeasured soliloquy played by the euphonium functions as the introduction. The material, lightly accompanied by the piano, settles into a melancholy groove with the feel of the triple meter from the first movement. The solo material is in direct conflict with the groove since it is clearly in duple. This simple melody gives way to a double-time feel that lends the movement a surprising sense of urgency. As the material evolves, it becomes more and more sinister until it finally wears itself down. The subsequent music serves as a transition to an exquisite coda section where the euphonium and the piano agree to play in triple meter. One interesting note about this movement is that Bristol utilizes aspects of the University of Alabama fight song because Thurman is a two-time alumnus of the school and is a huge fan of its sports, especially football.
Bristol chose the rondo form as the blueprint for the third movement. The opening material, which comes back two additional times, is riddled with excitement in its jagged nature. The second section, built on a groove in 5/4 time, is beautiful but ambiguous because there is a juxtaposition of meter and irregular phrase structure throughout. After the second occurrence of the opening material, the music gives way to the most ethereal music of the piece. The idea of measured time seems to vanish and the music in the piano searches for a place to settle. It finally does, on C major. The subsequent music is some of the most gorgeous writing in the piece, exploring the singing upper register of the euphonium. The final return of the opening material is more insistent, as the dynamics are louder. The material accelerates into the final coda which harkens back to the excitement of the first movement. The sonata was premiered in 2015 at the US Army Band Tuba Euphonium Workshop. — Demondrae Thurman
This piece was written for the very youngest of musicians – one so young that he has not yet chosen his own instrument. Steffan Michel Thurman was born in 2007, the product of a great love between two fine and gifted musicians, a French-Canadian mother and an African American father.
In the first movement you will hear a blending of this heritage of musical styles and cultures. It is finally time for his birth and everyone is rushing around, trying to get to the hospital. His mother is shouting, “Now! Now! It’s time to go now!” and her excitement is mirrored in a musical style reminiscent of French-Canadian folk songs. (There is a little “musical joke” inserted here, but only those familiar with a certain French-Canadian folk song will be able to discern it.) As they prepare to rush out of the house, his father has a few more personal and probably masculine moments in the process. This is finally happening after all these months of preparation and he, like most expectant fathers, is finally faced with the reality of parenthood. If you notice a similarity between the next thematic material and the folk song, “Oh had I wings like Nora’s dove, I’d fly away to the one I love”, then you will not be totally mistaken. What expectant father has not felt both passionate love and also the immediate desire to run away at the same time? He later has an even more serious moment when he thinks about the hardship of life in general and of the world into which he is bringing his new son. Fortunately, the urgency of the moment far outweighs any time for contemplation, and they proceed on their hasty journey to the maternity ward without further distractions.
The second movement is a depiction of the quiet, wonder-filled and truly awe-inspiring moment of holding a newborn infant in one’s arms for the first time.
In the third movement, we finally see Steffan, his presence and his personality, really take over for the first time. The movement is somewhat jazzy and even unexpected, filled with multiple time signatures, rhythmic thrusts, laughter and even some flirtatiousness. No matter how pleasant the more tranquil and affectionate nature of the middle section might be, it cannot last too long before the twinkle in the eye and the energetic momentum returns.
The subtitle “Child’s Play” is a joke in itself, because anyone who thinks that having a child, raising one, being one or even playing music about one is as easy as we might expect, is invariably in for some surprises.
Many thanks to Demondrae Thurman and his family for sharing their inspiration, their warmth, and the joy and intimacy of their life with me in the writing of this piece.
— Barbara York, 2007
Insinuações was written specifically for Demondrae Thurman and was premiered at the 2018 Gravìssimo Festival in Alcòbaca, Portugal. The work begins with an exploration of song-like writing that makes particular use of large intervals long phrases. The contrasting faster section is written in a jazz-like manner including bebop figures and rhythmic energy. Both sections make a return as the work unfolds and the coda borrows elements from each to bring the work to a spirited close. — Demondrae Thurman
RoonSonata (2003) was commissioned by Michael R. Rooney, a lawyer who practices in the Phoenix area when I was pursuing my doctoral degree at Arizona State University. It was written for his son, Christopher Rooney, who, at the time, was a euphonium student at ASU. In addition to depicting the varying characteristics of Christopher’s personality, my intent was to write a somewhat challenging, yet diverse recital work for euphonium and piano. The brief opening movement, “Prelude,” mixes the blues with circus-like chromaticism, hinting at Christopher’s multi-faceted persona. “Main Course,” as the title suggests, is the longest movement. Written in a five-part rondo form, it combines an aggressive, energetic, and biting chromatic style with a strange, mix-metered waltz. Finally, with its shifting modality and subtle singing quality, the closing “Nocturne” conveys the introspective side of Christopher. I would like to thank Demondrae for championing this work and for his continual support of my music for low brass. — Patrick Schulz
Meditations of Sound and Light
I composed Meditations of Sound and Light during the spring of 2007. I wanted to create a piece that would emulate a person's mind during its meditative state. During this process of writing, I focused on trying to follow three different aspects of meditation. The first aspect I focused on was the mind being in a state of concentrated attention. As one would note, the mind must focus on one thing, centering its attention on one thought, to be able to reach a meditative state. The first movement “Sound” is used to signify this particular process.
The second aspect I focused on was the mind when it has reached total concentration. At this point the mind is relaxed and is able to let in (or out) good or bad vibes. This is the state that one can realize their true self or true essence. The second movement “Air” is used to emulate this aspect.
The third and final aspect I wanted to focus on was the person's journey after they have reached their enlightenment. Once a person has meditated, usually he/she has been elevated to a new level. The third movement “Light” is used to signify that person’s journey. I hope you enjoy it! — Anthony L. Barfield
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