QUINN MASON: Trombone Concerto “Sonorous”
In 2020, the then-principal trombone of the Utah Symphony Mark Davidson commissioned me to compose my brass fanfare ‘Changes/Transitions’ to commemorate the protests of the summer of that year. Because it was so early in the pandemic, in person performances were suspended so Mr. Davidson took on the Herculean task of going to each brass player and percussionist individually to record their parts then enlisting an audio engineer to edit it all together. The video, a fantastic result even 4 years later, is still online available to view.
From there, a fruitful collaboration with the Utah Symphony started. Maestro Thierry Fischer ended up conducting the orchestra in the first live performances of the piece during the 2020-2021 season. Former associate conductor Conner Gray Covington (tonight’s Maestro) and I have a mutual friend in common who introduced Conner to my music. Mr. Covington subsequently performed two pieces of mine with the orchestra – ‘A Joyous Trilogy’ and ‘Toast of the Town Overture’. Last summer, the orchestra toured my ‘Toast of the Town’ again, this time under current associate conductor Ben Manis. And this season, everything comes full circle with the Trombone Concerto ‘Sonorous’ written for the very person who started my association with this fantastic orchestra – Mark Davidson.
When Mr. Davidson and I began talking about this piece nearly 3 years ago (over BBQ in Texas), the first thing he mentioned was that he desired a new piece of music in which the trombone’s singing quality was emphasized. The more expressive side of the trombone is something I’ve always been interested in and explored before; in my composition ‘A Joyous Trilogy’, composed in 2019, the second movement is a slow ballad-like showpiece featuring a trombone solo, who stands up from their seat to play it. Inspired by this, and his suggestion of the nickname ‘Sonorous’, I set off to work.
The concerto is set in three movements. The first, Rhapsodic, is primarily focused on this singing quality that Mr. Davidson requested. In it, a pastoral theme is introduced by the trombone which is played in dialogue with the orchestra. The middle theme is slower and more of flowing, sustained and expressive. Throughout this movement one will hear the orchestra and trombone in conversation, sometimes lively and spirted, other times serious or innocent.
The second movement, Mysterious, is intended to show off the mystical side of the trombone’s tone. As a result, I employ the use of mutes to alter the trombone’s sound. In this middle of this movement, the solo trombone and 3 trombones in orchestra perform a 4 voice chorale to signify Mr. Davidson’s never ending connection with his colleagues.
The finale, Awaken, finally gives us the virtuoso fire. Mr. Davidson is an artisan of the trombone and can literally do anything, so in this movement, the super cool technical side of the instrument’s capabilities is shown. A technique featured throughout this movement is double tonguing, in which the trombonist plays multiple fast notes in a row. In this sense, the trombonist is not really a trombone in this movement but more like a heavy metal guitarist.