ESO’s John McPherson retires after 44 seasons

ESO’s John McPherson retires after 44 seasons

By Rudy Howell

After 44 magnificent seasons as the Principal Trombone of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, John McPherson is stepping down off his stage riser for the last time.

A native of Edmonton, McPherson mastered his craft under the guidance of his teacher, mentor, and predecessor, Malcolm Forsyth. In 1980, Forsyth left the ESO to pursue composition, ultimately passing the Principal Trombone torch on to his young protégé.

“The timing was fortuitous for me as I was just returning to Edmonton after three years in Toronto and Kitchener and was lucky enough to win the job here,” said McPherson.

In addition to Forsyth, McPherson drew formative inspiration and influence from musicians such as Tommy Banks, Duke Ellington, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Frank Zappa, Beethoven, Mozart, and Messiaen.

Before joining the ESO, McPherson played with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, National Ballet of Canada Orchestra, and the Canadian Chamber Ensemble.

His now long and storied career at the ESO has seen him serve as a soloist, arranger, and the orchestra’s fourth Composer-in-Residence. The ESO has performed eight of his compositions and at least 50 of his arrangements. In November 2020, McPherson had his ESO conducting debut, leading a small ensemble in a COVID-sized version of his “Concerto for Two Horns.”

In addition to the works he has composed for the ESO, he has been commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, I Musici de Montréal, Edmonton Recital Society, Debut String Quartet, and Northwestern Polytechnic (formerly Grande Prairie Regional College).

His works have been performed by the ESO, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, I Musici de Montréal, Victoria Symphony Orchestra, Mark Fewer, Robert Uchida, Caroline Stinson, William Eddins, Lidia Khaner, Hammerhead Consort, NOWAge Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Edmonton, and the Debut, Beau, Polyphonie, and XIA string quartets.

In support of the ESO’s Tommy Banks Centre for Musical Creativity, McPherson designed an educational and performance program for students in Fort McMurray. He has continued to generously donate his time to the ESO’s Young Composers Project, Adopt-a-Player program, and YONA-Sistema.

His broad range of experiences has made him believe that “music of profound depth, humanity, beauty, and intelligence comes in a myriad of styles.”

A three-night run of Marvelous Melodies: Dvořák’s Cello Concerto from June 13-15 will conclude McPherson’s storied tenure as Principal Trombone with the ESO. These concerts will include a performance of McPherson’s composition “Triune (Grief/Peace/Liberation).” This piece, which thematically explores life changes, was composed during his time as the ESO’s Composer-in-Residence and made its world premiere at the Winspear Centre in 2017.

“The piece of mine we are performing in my final Winspear concert takes on new personal meaning as I transition from one stage of life to another and find peace and liberation in what comes next,” said McPherson.

Fellow trombonist Alain Trudel, whose professional relationship with McPherson dates back over thirty years, will conduct the Marvelous Melodies concerts. Each performance will open with McPherson’s “Triune” and close with Schumann’s “Rhenish” Symphony No. 3. The latter features a moving trombone choral in the fourth movement and ends with thrilling brass writing, creating a poetic end to McPherson’s one-of-a-kind career.

“Now, after 44 seasons and some 4,000 performances, along with composing and arranging music for the ESO, I am happy to step aside for the next generation to take over. It certainly does feel like a full-circle moment,” said McPherson.