Mark Gresham | 21 NOV 2023
On Friday at noon, as part of its Cooke Noontime Series, the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta (ECMSA) presented euphonium player Adam Frey in a concert at the Michael C. Carlos Museum’s Ackerman Hall on the Emory University campus.
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Adam Frey received his musical training at the University of Georgia, the Royal Northern College of Music (Manchester, England), and the University of Salford (Salford, England). He is an Associate Professor and Director of Instrumental Studies at the University of North Georgia and teaches graduate students at Georgia State University.
Frey is also an Artist Affiliate at Emory University. For two decades, he has hosted the week-long International Euphonium Tuba (IET) Festival at Emory University each June, which hosts more than 125 high school and college students, teachers, and adult amateurs annually.
As a performer, teacher, and ambassador advocate of the euphonium, Frey travels the globe soloing with orchestras, bands, and festivals. More than one hundred and twenty works have been composed or arranged explicitly for him.
Frey and pianist William Ransom opened the concert with an arrangement of the song “Sin tu amor” (“Without your Love”) by Miguel Sandoval (1903-1953), a Guatemalan-born American pianist, conductor, and composer, then A Walk in the Woods (2004) by Japanese composer Jiro Censhu, intended to evoke a mental image of a personal peaceful forest where “calmness reigns as our mind contemplates the good times that have passed.”
These first impressions of Frey’s performance showed an overall approach to euphonium playing that emulates a warm human baritone voice in color and phrasing but leaves plenty of conspicuous room for occasional displays of skill in executing technically acrobatic passages — somewhat like the nominal tenants of bel canto singing (without getting into too much detail of that comparison). It also felt generally extroverted, even in softer passages. This general impression would continue throughout the program.
Then came the central body of the intermissionless program: four new 5 to 7-minute works for euphonium and string quartet, the result of the Euphonium Foundation’s 2023-2024 Consortium Project, co-sponsored by ECMSA. The Vega Quartet (violinists Emily Daggett Smith & Jessica Shuang Wu, violist Joseph Skerik, and cellist Guang Wang) joined Frey in performing these works, two original compositions and two new arrangements.
First up among them was Fragments and Figments by Frank Gulino, who was present for the performance, followed by Vise (Simple Song) by Erlend Skomsvoll, originally for tuba and piano, arranged by Øystein Baadsvik, which also included Ransom on piano. Then came another original work, Fantasia VI, by Kevin Day. Franz Joseph Haydn’s Gypsy Rondo, arranged by Patrick Hoffman, rounded out the Consortium Project works.
A natural problem with the combination of euphonium and string quartet is that modern brass instruments are considerably more powerful than any of the four individual strings, calling for meticulous attention to balance by both the composer/arranger and the performers.
Generally speaking, Frey’s euphonium part stood out against the quartet in terms of power or dynamic volume, a challenge exacerbated simply by its difference in sonic timbre, which makes it stand out (just as other instruments such as clarinet do against strings). Given that caution, it is an attractive combination, as witnessed by these new works’ best passages.
There was one more work on the program for euphonium and piano: the Neapolitan tune, The Carnival of Venice, arranged by Charles Delaware (“Del”) Staigers (1899-1950), a famed American cornetist who played in the bands of Patrick Conway, John Philip Sousa, and Edwin Goldman. Staigers recorded his arrangement of The Carnival Of Venice in 1929 as cornet soloist with the Goldman Band at Liederkranz Hall in New York City (Victor 21191-A). It amiably succeeds played on the euphonium with piano accompaniment.
Frankly, this was not a weighty program in terms of repertoire; instead, it leaned more toward highlighting Frey and his instrument than the specific compositions performed. But that is also appropriate for a noontime concert with an audience like the largely graying crowd assembled in Ackerman Hall. Suitably attractive and fit for the occasion. ■