The trumpet and the string quartet adorn the Grand Théâtre | daily city gate
A stunning performance graced the Keokuk Grand Theater on Friday evening, February 25, when Mary Elizabeth Bowden and the Kassia Ensemble performed works ranging from Bach to contemporary James Stephenson.
Bowden is an internationally renowned trumpet virtuoso who plays a variety of instruments in the trumpet family, which she did during the concert, from the deeper, softer sounds of the flugelhorn to those of the very high register heard from the trumpet piccolo.
She started with the flugelhorn performing an arrangement of Debussy’s “The Girl with Linen Hair” (roughly translated as “The Girl with Linen Hair”). It is the eighth piece in the composer’s first book of ‘Preludes’ for piano and holds a special place in Bowden’s heart, as it was the piece heard when his father walked him down the aisle at his wedding. .
Then she switches to the piccolo trumpet in a three-movement piece by Bach. Bowden is assistant professor of trumpet at the Shenandoah Conservatory and teaches while speaking to the public. She pointed out that her piccolo trumpet had rotary valves like a French horn, as opposed to the piston valves more commonly associated with a trumpet. With this academic introduction, she demonstrated that her use of this instrument is extraordinary, especially as she and the first violinist launched the melody into a musical conversation.
Then Bowden brought out an E-flat trumpet, rather than the usual B-flat key, as she performed three movements of Hayden’s “Trumpet Concerto in E-flat Major”, a well-known and often performed work. She pointed out that one of the early trumpet’s uses was in marching bands using the limited number of pitches available before valves were used. The piece demonstrated this, but also showed how the use of valves allowed the performer to take full advantage of the full chromatic range. Its cadenza, in fact, was brilliantly executed and demonstrated the versatility of the instrument as well as the skilful use of dynamics and range.
Switching to the B-flat trumpet, she performed a piece written by one of her colleagues, James Stephenson, entitled “Spitfire”. It turns out that he was aptly named. It started out as a high-energy piece that featured a musical discussion between trumpet and string quartet, until a sudden, dramatic change in mood made the mood darker – but not for long. The piece returned to spitfire tempo and mood and led to a dazzling conclusion.
Mozart’s famous “Alla Turca” for piano (also known as the “Turkish March”) showcased the dexterity of trumpet and strings. Dynamics added to the excitement of the arrangement, and the closing bars featured the brilliance of the trumpet in the upper register.
Bowden told the audience that the cornet she used in the concert was her first instrument, bought for her by her parents when she was just 10 years old. She used it to perform the “Variations sur la Norma de Bellini” by Jean Baptiste Arban, a cornetist, composer and teacher of the 1800s, who wrote the “bible” for students of the cornet or the trumpet (“Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method for Trumpets”). which is still used today.
Her performance demonstrated the use of triple tongue, a technique she said she practiced slowly for a year before she was convinced she had it right. The piece was indeed a showstopper.
Kassia Ensemble is a group of string players from the Pittsburgh area who have both performed works for string quartet and served as “orchestral” accompaniment for Bowden. The four members who were at the Grand Theater and are on a month-long tour of the Midwest with Bowden were violinists Dawn Posey and Seula Lee, violist Maija Anstine and cellist Nadine Sherman. They are all accomplished professionals who perform in a wide variety of venues and with a number of orchestras and other performing groups.
They performed two works as a string quartet. The first was a two-movement work by Gabriela Lena Frank, a composer of Chinese-Peruvian-Mexican descent, who was inspired by Peruvian folk music and instruments. The performers used various methods of producing sounds on their instruments to recall the sounds of instruments from Peru.
The second was “Adoration” by the very prolific African-American composer Florence Price, a piece she wrote as a gentle, spiritual reflection of her feelings for God.
Bowden told the audience that she felt right at home, growing up in a Chicago suburb and loving the Midwest. She also expressed her great pleasure at being invited to perform in “this beautiful theater. I love your theater with its Art Deco style. He seems warm and welcoming to me, like all of you.
According to the concert program, “The women of the Kassia Ensemble fight for a more inclusive representation of gender and race in the world of chamber music. They do this by promoting women’s entrepreneurship and leadership in the arts, collaborating with artists of all genres, and performing music by composers of all genres and ethnicities.