Localvore music

Chester composer’s ‘Concertino for Tuba’ gets world premiere at concerts in Putney, Brattleboro

BRATTLEBORO — A world premiere of a concertino by a Chester composer complements works by Beethoven in the final series of performances of this year's Windham Orchestra season.

“Beethoven in Vermont” will be performed in two concerts. The first is Thursday, May 16, at 7:30 p.m., in Calder Hall at the Currier Center at The Putney School. The second is the following Sunday, May 19, at 3 p.m., at the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro.

Under the direction of Hugh Keelan, the orchestra will feature works of Beethoven's middle period: his Egmont Overture and Symphony No. 7.

The orchestra will also present the Concertino for Tuba by James Adams, who also is the Windham Orchestra oboe and English horn player.

“Beethoven was pretty much unstoppable during this time, feeling the full force of his creative powers,” says Keelan. “In this middle period, Beethoven worked his Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh symphonies, his larger chamber works and his piano sonatas. All show muscle and power, and are a musical manifestation of complete confidence. His mastery of musical skills has no question marks. It's all there in the music in its self-contained fulfilling language.”

“Central to the Beethoven in Vermont concerts are his Egmont Overture, in which a slow dour introduction climbs inexorably to blazing victory.” Keelan says. “It is a substantial work, juicy and full.”

This is followed by what Keelan considers one of the most powerful and enduring masterpieces in any artistic medium, and a work Beethoven himself held in exceptionally high regard, his Symphony No. 7.

“It is a very substantial work in which Beethoven is guiding us to places that can be weird and wonderful,” says Keelan.

“The symphony is full of things we love about Beethoven: the intense pianissimo that refuses to grow until the last second, the howling jubilation of the french horns, the possibility for endlessly repetitive rhythms to fascinate rather than descend into banality, and the defining sound of the solo oboe, living in some wondrous world of subjective feeling and objective clarity. The most extraordinary moments of the symphony are where, after two centuries of familiarity, surprises are reliably delivered time after time,” says Keelan.

Alongside this masterwork, the Windham Orchestra is particularly proud to have local musicians of international caliber as collaborators as it premieres Adams' Concertino for Tuba, written for fellow Chester resident Sue Lemei.

“To have composers living alongside us and writing with such skill and originality, and instrumentalists of such caliber creating such challenging, rewarding and unusual opportunities is an extraordinary privilege,” said Keelan.

Adams holds a bachelor of music in performance in oboe from DePauw University, a masters of music in composition from the University of Redlands, and a doctor of musical arts in composition from the University of Texas at Austin.

Adams' dissertation was “For the Motherland,” a chamber opera set to an original text about the political-religious conflict in Northern Ireland. He has composed numerous pieces for a wide variety of ensembles including music for the theater, in particular scores for productions of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and All's Well That Ends Well.

Adams has lived in far-flung locales. His parents were in the military, so the family was constantly moving from base to base. He spent much time in Germany, where he got his early training in music. Lately, he has lived for six years in Italy, and before that he had spent a year in Austria.

“The big problem with living around the world was that I had no hometown,” Adams says. “I thought it was time for my wife and me to return to the the States. I had a few requirements: I wanted to live on the East Coast, I wanted someplace congenial with my politics, and I wanted somewhere beautiful. Vermont filled all these criteria.”

He moved to Chester in 2008 and met Lemei, the tubist for whom he has dedicated his concertino. Lemei lives in Andover, and maintains a private medical practice in Chester. Later this year, she will celebrate 10 years of breast cancer survivorship.

Through Lemai, Adams became part of the Windham Orchestra. Adams has also performed with the Keene Chamber Orchestra and Music from Guilford ensembles. He has also founded his own quintet, ButtonWood Winds.

“Three of the members of my quintet play with the Windham Symphony (on oboe, horn, and bassoon); two do not (flute and clarinet); all of us have played professionally with various orchestras,” says Adams. “Our repertory runs from Bach arrangements through traditional classical works by Haydn and Onslow to many modern masterpieces by Nielsen, Hindemith, Francaix, Barber, and Bernstein, among others.”

Adams has composed a substantial amount of chamber music, but has not written as much for full orchestra. Therefore, his Concertino for Tuba for Windham Orchestra is something of a departure of him.

The piece is structured in four sections. “But it is a continuous piece, with one section flowing without stopping into the the next,” says Keelan.

Adams asks, “Why compose a concertino for tuba? One reason is to write music for friends to enjoy. Another is that the tuba has more need of repertory than most instruments. Most musicians who are able to name a tuba concerto at all will only know the one composed by Vaughan-Williams. The tuba is the last instrument to join the orchestra, having only been invented in the mid-19th century.

“Most people do not know what a tuba can do. It is very agile for its size, has great tonal color, and has wide registers. It can play a three-octave melody. There is not a lot of solo music for the tuba. If I wrote another, say, piano concerto, there would be less chance of it being performed, with people muttering, Gee, not another piano concerto.”

This past April, musicians from the Windham Orchestra presented for the residents of Chester a preview in a simplified version of his Concertino for Tuba performed by only tuba and piano. “It was a reduction, just for the people to get a sense of the piece,” Adams says. “But the dramatic way Hugh Keelan accompanied the tuba on the piano, this version made a surprisingly striking effect on its own. The audience was more appreciative than I feared.”

Adams is now working on a third version of his Concertino for Tuba, this time for a chamber ensemble of six players. This would enable this new work to more easily get visibility, since there are so many more chamber ensembles than there are orchestras.

“It is difficult to arrange for a full-scale orchestra to perform one's work all the time, so I am searching for alternative avenues for my compositions to be heard,” he says. “But I am eager to see Concertino for Tuba for the first time in front of an audience in the manner that it was originally composed.”

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates