December 30, 2017
Since 1980, John McPherson has been the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Trombone. But he has also indulged in his love of composition when he could, so when he decided to take the 2016/17 season off to concentrate on composition, we MacGyvered a way to make John the orchestra’s Composer in Residence for the year.
One of the fruits of this labour will receive its world premiere at the Masters concert on Saturday, January 13 at 8 pm. It’s called Concerto for 2 Horns (Mountain Triptych), written for ESO musicians Allene Hackleman and Megan Evans.
I asked John if, being a brass player himself (a number of his previous compositions have been written, naturally enough, with a solo trombone part) made writing for other brass instruments easier. “Well it certainly didn’t make it harder,” he said with pragmatic humour. “There are physical limitations to brass playing, and I can, for example, viscerally appreciate the need to have enough recovery time built into the piece so that the soloists can play their best throughout.”
There are a lot of instruments to choose from, so why John chose two horns is a pretty obvious question, too. “There is something truly magical about the sound of two horns playing together and you can see that in the way composers have written for horns throughout the history of Western music,” John says. “It evokes the natural world and provides a rich, full, expansive, and soaring quality to the orchestral palette. In addition, the two people I wrote it for are great horn players, fabulous musicians, and very dear friends. All this combined yielded more than enough inspiration for the creation of this work. Well, that and the commissioning/funding for this project provided by the ESO, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and the Canada Council.”
ESO Music Director Emeritus Bill Eddins returns to conduct musicians he knows so well in the premiere of John’s concerto (read John’s notes about his work here). I couldn’t resist pointing out to John that, with 56 fulltime musicians in the ESO, and this double concerto written for two of them, he only needs to write 27 more double concertos. But he was ready for that one, too.
“Or I could just write one Concerto for Orchestra, as did Bartók and Lutosławski, which would speed things up immensely,” he countered. “However, I have written a concerto for myself that the ESO has performed twice, as well as a solo oboe work for Lidia Khaner which could easily be orchestrated. And after playing a solo violin piece of mine, Robert Uchida has shown interest in having me write a piece for him. So I may able to get a bit of the way through the band over the next little while.”
We’ll keep you posted on that. In the meantime, join us for the unveiling of the latest work by John McPherson January 13.