Karl Henning | 15 MAY 2023
Retired music instructor Douglas Hedwig, professor emeritus at Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music, also serving on the faculty of The Juilliard School, was an active and highly esteemed trumpeter, playing with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 27 years. Since 2012 he has turned his full creative energies to composition. The present CD, Vibrant Colors, presents an hour and thirteen minutes of his music predominantly for brass, performed by the Lagniappe Brass of the University of Louisiana at Monroe, the Altus Trumpet Ensemble, Eric Siereveld (trumpet and flugelhorn), Adam Johnson (trombone), Claire Vangelisti (soprano), Mary Rudd (piano), Richard Seiler (piano and organ), and percussionists Mel Mobley and Joe Moore III.
Onyx (2007; rev. 2015) for brass quintet is a warm central chorale bookended by fanfare-ish material, the whole being short but sweet.
At the risk of mixing mineralogical metaphors, Heliodor (2022) for brass quintet is the cornerstone of the album’s opening “gemological” set, as the most developed composition of the three pieces, alternating rhythmic, declarative points of imitation, episodes of smooth parallel intervals and occasional breakout monodic interjections.
The sinuous, limber lines of Obsidian (2020) for solo trumpet demand skill to realize them as legato, and Eric Sievereld makes them sound easy.
The tuneful modality and chaste use of ornamental glissandi in the Trombone Sonata: Antarā (2020) for tenor trombone and piano call to my mind the music of Alan Hovhaness in an entirely welcome way.
In Uddmāya (2021) for six trumpets, Hedwig sought to fuse “traditional Indian and Western classical styles. Drawing upon Indian modes (scales) within the melodic construction, the trumpet ensemble at times imitates the complex rhythms and meters associated with Hindustani tabla (drum) accompaniment. Of particular note is the extensive use of various mutes which provide a wide range of color and texture, as well as the frequent doubling for piccolo trumpet and flugelhorn.” I can vouch that the musical result is entirely satisfactory.
New Worlds (2020) for soprano, trumpet, and piano commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing. The texts range from “Annus mirabilis” by the 17th-century poet John Dryden to a 1970 poem, “Our Moon,” uncertainly attributed to M.I.T. faculty member Peter Elias, a pioneer in Information Theory. The obvious challenge for a composer here is the disparity in power between the trumpet and the singer’s larynx. Hedwig’s writing makes for a balanced and musically effective collaboration between the single-line voices.
Mut(e)nt Colors (2021) for six trumpets revels in the at times deliciously subtle juxtaposition of open and muted tones.
The composer conducted the Brooklyn College Trumpet Ensemble in the première of his Brooklyn Fanfare (1998; rev. 2019) for four trumpets at London’s Royal College of Music.
Da Lontano (2022) for brass octet: three trumpets, trombone, three flugelhorns, and horn harkens back to the polychoral style of the Renaissance Venetian Giovanni Gabrieli.
Its Soul of Music Shed (2005, rev. 2016) is for solo flugelhorn and narration. The texts of the narration are “The Old Mail Horn” by Charles Thomas Samuel Birch Reynardson (1810-1889) of Howell Hall, Lincolnshire, and “Kurze Fahrt” (“Brief Journey”), a sacred poem by Joseph Karl Benedikt, Freiherr von Eichendorff (1788 – 1857) whose novella, “The Memoirs of a Good-For-Nothing” is regarded as a high point of Romantic fiction. The two poems (both nostalgic evocations of the mail coach) are bookended and punctuated by flugelhorn statements. The composer himself premiered the piece in Bangkok in 2005.
A Certain Slant of Light for brass quintet, organ, and percussion (2015) is a beautifully scored and evocative suite after an Emily Dickinson poem.
One expects this, given that Hedwig is himself a trumpeter, but all of the music is capably and reliably idiomatic and sounds as much a gratifying experience for the performers as for the listener. The music is well crafted, brilliantly and beautifully performed. To my ears, the disc is self-recommending. ■
- Douglas Hedwig: douglashedwig.com