Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/1/2009 (3443 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Spawn a tubist, and your pride and joy is forced to perform pieces meant for cello or French horn in recitals and competitions.
That's how Seattle's Chip Sherman recalls the years when his son J.C. was growing up and earning a degree in tuba performance at Ohio's Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
"There is very little good music for tuba out there," Sherman says by phone from Seattle.
With its beefy, bossy tones and back-of-the-band position, the lowest-pitched member of the brass family is often regarded as a musical buffoon.
It's associated with the children's story Tubby the Tuba, the lumbering A & W Root Bear and the oom-pah role in polka music. Composers seem to avoid it like they would a boorish uncle at an elegant wedding.
Sherman, a retired U.S. naval commander, and his wife Pennie decided about two years ago to do something about the dearth of tuba showpieces and salute their son, now a 38-year-old freelance tubist with the Cleveland Pops Orchestra, Opera Cleveland and other ensembles.
"The world needs a tuba concerto," the arts-loving Sherman declares. "Concertos are written to showcase an instrument and a player. The music is supposed to be written so it is difficult to play, but shows range and versatility."
Needing a composer for the private commission, Sherman immediately thought of Winnipeg-bred Victor Davies. More than 15 years ago, while on a business trip to Alaska, Sherman had heard Davies' Mennonite Piano Concerto on the radio and liked it so much that he sought out the CD.
That concerto, incidentally, is one of the 100 nominees in CBC Radio 2's current Obama's Playlist project. Sherman describes it as "well done, very accessible and easy on the ear."
Sherman located the Toronto-based Davies through his website and ordered up the tuba vehicle.
The resulting 20-minute Concerto for Tubameister and Orchestra will have its world orchestral premiere Friday and Saturday, performed by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and principal tubist Chris Lee. (The Masterworks concert also includes Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 and works by John Estacio and Giovanni Bottesini.)
The concerto had a smaller premiere in Vancouver in September, when J.C. performed it with piano accompaniment. He can't make it to Winnipeg, but his excited parents will be here. ("It's only 30 below — not a problem!" the jovial Sherman says about the cold.)
Davies, a veteran composer who wrote Transit of Venus for Manitoba Opera, says most people think hiring a composer is intimidating, but it's as straightforward as ordering lumber.
The client pays by the minute of finished music. A composer's rate per minute will vary according to how many instrumental parts are needed.
When Davies was in Winnipeg last season for Transit of Venus, he showed the WSO's Lee the tuba piece in progress. It just happened that Lee was already slated to perform a concerto this season, and the plan for the premiere fell into place.
A few tuba concertos do exist. Lee had been planning to perform the most famous, written in 1954 by England's Ralph Vaughan Williams.
The elder Sherman dislikes that work and despises other tuba-highlighting music for being too modern and dissonant.
"It's horrible. It sounds like an airplane crash. If you've ever heard the Hindemith Tuba Sonata, you'll know what I'm talking about."
So his main instruction to Davies was that the work had to be melodic and ear-friendly.
"I want the audience to rise as one and shout 'Huzzah!' at the end," he wrote to Davies.
To prepare, Davies went to Cleveland and met J.C. He ended up writing three highly contrasting movements: a theme and variations, a lyrical waltz marking the birth of J.C.'s first son, and a bravura Latin finale conjuring up a bullfight.
It's hoped that J.C. will have the chance to perform it soon with an orchestra, and that other professional tubists will embrace it.
Sherman says the composer didn't necessarily write what he was expecting. "He surprised the hell out of me many times in it."
And what was it like to hear J.C. bring it to life?
"It was fabulous. My son is a virtuoso tubist. I didn't have this commissioned for a shlub."
Beethoven's Symphony No. 8, with three other works including Concerto for Tubameister and Orchestra
Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.