22 Feb 2024

B. DESSNER: Tromp Miniature

by Jeff Counts

THE COMPOSER – BRYCE DESSNER (b. 1976) – As a member of The National, a band he helped his brother Aaron and others form in 1999, Bryce Dessner has enjoyed a lot of critical success. The Grammy nominations, the fans, the tours – it would be enough for most people. But Bryce Dessner happens to also have an incredibly dense catalogue of “classical” music and film scores in his portfolio. In addition to creating original music for The Revenant (in collaboration with Alva Noto and the recently departed Ryuichi Sakamoto), The Two Popes and C’mon C’mon (with his brother), Dessner has received commissions from wide ranging institutions like the New York Guitar Festival, the Kronos Quartet, eighth blackbird, Carnegie Hall and top orchestras from around the world.

Bryce Dessner
Bryce Dessner
Photo by Shervin Lainez

THE HISTORY – The TROMP Festival and International Percussion Competition began in 1971 to commemorate the arts advocacy of Dutch businessman Theo Tromp. The event, which in 2012 began to focus solely on percussion performance, is produced in Tromp’s home city of Eindhoven and has been a launching pad for many star careers in the field. The juries too are a who’s who of percussion elite that have included all the legends, including Colin Currie. In 2014, TROMP commissioned Bryce Dessner to write a work for the festival and he obliged with Tromp Miniature for solo marimba. Colin Currie recorded the work on his bespoke recording label, Colin Currie Records, which describes it as “soulful” and a “composition which brings to life the power and beauty” of the instrument. In preparation for the 2022 recording project, Currie played the piece often during the COVID-19 lockdown and an intense emotional connection resulted. Dessner commented on it himself, saying, “Colin’s performance captured on this recording is wonderfully expressive and soulful, he finds a depth and beauty in the piece that I didn’t imagine was possible when I composed it.” The flow of ideas in Tromp Miniature is subtle and, in the best possible way, soothing. It must have been a balm for Currie during those long months at home when, for artists accustomed to expressing themselves in front of attentive audiences, the word “solo” was just going to mean “alone” for a while. The introspective yet generous nature of Tromp Miniature is a fascinating way to open on orchestra concert but, when considering a non-traditional career like that of Bryce Dessner, it makes sense. Like a hidden bonus track on the album of a beloved band that you end up playing more than the other songs, this is 7 minutes that will stick with you.              

THE WORLD – Elsewhere in 2014, Narendra Modi was sworn in as Prime Minister of India, an Ebola outbreak tore through West Africa, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared without a trace and the European Space Agency successfully landed a robotic craft on a comet.   

THE CONNECTION – These performances represent the Utah Symphony premiere of Bryce Dessner’s Tromp Miniature.