Symphony Orchestra premiers “Cowiche: Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra”

The UConn Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Harvey Felder, performs their first concert of the spring semester in von der Mehden Recital Hall in Storrs, Conn. on Thursday, Mar. 8, 2017. They featured alongside trombonist Matthew Russo, and performed pieces by composers such as Tchaikovsky and Debussy. (Owen Bonaventura/The Daily Campus)

UConn Symphony Orchestra took the stage at von der Mehden Recital Hall for their first concert of the semester Thursday night.

The night began with a string suite of three smaller orchestras works, which featured the talents of the string section of the orchestra.  The first two pieces were lighter and evoked a dance-like feel.  The first piece was the Intermezzo from "A Little Suite, Op. 1" by Carl Nielsen.  The second was the Waltz from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings, Op. 48."  The suite closed with a piece in a different meter and different compositional feel.  "Dashing Away" from "Suite for Strings" by John Rutter builds off of a single melody. The fugal texture takes this melody, introduced in the first violins, and expanded to other sections of the orchestra in different rhythms or change from major to minor melodic lines.

At the end of the suite, UConn music theory professor, Dr. Peter Kaminsky, was welcomed to the stage to introduce the orchestra's next piece, "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" by Claude Debussy, a 19th century French composer considered to be "an impressionist painter…and symbolist poet to sound," according to Kaminsky. 

This was the first piece of the night that featured a full orchestra on stage, including strings, winds and percussion.  Composed in 1894, “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” was planned to be a stage work, but never made it that far. The piece was a musical response to a poem by Stephane Mallarme, which tells the story of a faun who plays his pan-pipe through the woods to seduce the nearby nymphs and naiads, but later abandons himself in the woods to dream. It contains musical textures influenced by major works, "Eroica Symphony" by Ludwig von Beethoven, "The Rite of Spring" by Igor Stravinsky, and "Tristan and Isolde" by Richard Wagner, which together evoke the conflict between reality versus illusion.  

After a brief intermission, the orchestra returned to the stage, welcoming Trombone professor, Dr. Matt Russo. Alongside maestro Harvey Felder and the UConn Symphony Orchestra, the ensemble premiered “Cowiche: Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra” by Ryan Jesperson.

As mentioned in the program notes, the piece was written “for the Cowiche Conservatory, a group that raises awareness and maintains the Cowiche Canyon, a desert landscape in in Yakima, Washington.” Originally written as a trombone and piano work, it was UConn Symphony Orchestra that brought to life Jesperson’s piece as a large ensemble work.

Most of the concerto portrayed a darker and ominous emotion, starting with the opening dense and dissonant chord played by the entire ensemble.  The piece continued to evoke these emotions as the ensemble engaged in musical conversation with the solo trombonist.  

As a professor, Russo mentions working on this piece brought a “different dynamic” between himself and his students. “It was interesting to watch my students rehearse in ensembles I don’t normally see.  We’re usually working one on one.”

Not only did Russo enjoy the unique experience of performing along side of his students, he was a part of the process of bringing Jesperson’s piece to the UConn stage.

“I wanted to bring a brand new piece to UConn. It’s always a unique experience to bring new music to life,” said Russo.

The piece finished with a final cadenza by Russo, and full and dark orchestral sound.

The last piece of the night was the overture to “The Judges of the Secret Court, Op. 3” by French composer Hector Berlioz. Written as part of a larger, unproduced, operatic work, Felder prefaced the performance by mentioning that audience members may “never hear this overture performed again,” because of how rare it is performed.

The piece opens with a slow melodic figure introduced by the first violins. The melody is spread throughout other sections of the orchestra throughout the piece. The piece contrasted between lyrical figures, as introduced in the beginning of the piece, with more intense and brassy fanfares at other points, reflecting the contrasting themes of innocence and aggression from the opera.  Through this alternation of lyrical versus fanfare themes, the piece continues to build in dynamics until its final finish, featuring the final fanfare in the low brass, and some dissonant figures through the rest of the ensemble.


Upon the ensemble’s final note, the orchestra immediately received the standing ovation they deserved, reflected in the group’s continued hard work and impressive musicality.


Lucille Littlefield is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lucille.littlefield@uconn.edu.