“As much as we are saddened by the loss of our colleague and friend Stephen Paulus, the most important thing to remember is that the music remains with us.”
And so, Stephen Culbertson — Subito Music Corporation Founder and CEO — reflects on Paulus’ music, as he prepares to conduct the Society for Musical Arts Orchestra (SOMA) (Maplewood, NJ) in a June 7th performance of Paulus’ Concerto for Two Trumpets and Orchestra. The concert features soloists Don Batchelder (Professor at Montclair State University and principal trumpet of the New York City Opera) and his graduate student Joseph Christianson. The three-movement, 23-minute concerto premiered in Minneapolis in 2003, and was written for famed trumpeter Doc Severinsen during his tenure as principal pops conductor with the Minnesota Orchestra. Severinsen was joined on stage by Minnesota Orchestra principal trumpet Manny Laureano as Osmo Vänskä led the world premiere.
Culbertson continues. “Stephen Paulus passed away in October 2014, but his music continues to be frequently performed and described by critics as rugged, angular, lyrical, lean, rhythmically aggressive, original, often gorgeous, moving, and uniquely American…Although perhaps best known for his choral works and operas, Paulus has a large orchestral catalog, written during various tenures as Composer-in-Residence with the Minnesota Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony and others…Audience response has been wildly enthusiastic in the concerto’s many [subsequent] performances…The relationship between the two trumpets is handled masterfully: sometimes the two act as one meta-instrument, blending in such a way that the listener can’t tell them apart, sometimes playing a continuation of the same melody. At other times, the two players bounce small ideas off one another, or play a harmonized melodic line. Their relationship to the orchestra is similar: making statements or responding by turns. Although Paulus’ musical language doesn’t really use much jazz, the energy and flow of his concerto relies on, and provides the soloists with great drive and swing. This all leads to a finale in which the trumpet section of the orchestra joins the fun.”
SOMA’s concert also features the work Remembrance, written by long-time Paulus friend and colleague Alex Shapiro. Originally composed in memory of her father’s passing, Shapiro shares some thoughts about her work. “If I were going to compose a tribute to reflect someone as vibrant, hilarious, and irreverent as Stephen Paulus, it wouldn’t sound like Remembrance. But were I to compose a reflection of a person who felt everything painfully deeply, who did his best to elicit profound emotion and thought in others, and who sought to improve the world around him, then the resulting piece might well have turned out to be this one…Stephen was a dear friend, colleague, and inspiration to all whose lives were brightened by his spark, and his humor and wisdom are sorely missed.” Culbertson adds, “It was ‘natural’ to pair Remembrance as an In Memoriam tribute with one of Stephen’s more celebratory works…The concert will indeed be a celebration of two great American composers!”