Not your Papa's Haydn

Bernhard Heiden’s Concerto for Trumpet and Wind Orchestra
Performed by the San Antonio Wind Symphony
7:30pm Sun, Feb 25
University United Methodist Church
5084 De Zavala
Think of all the popular music out there with smooth rhythms and bland melodies, rocking along to an utterly predictable finish.

Compare that to the atonal discord of avant-garde compositions that, to the untrained ear at least, sound like the random noise generated as the orchestra is warming up.

Bernhard Heiden’s “Concerto for Trumpet and Wind Orchestra,” to be performed by the San Antonio Wind Symphony on February 25, promises a happy compromise: a sort of finely construed, delicately balanced series of clashing tones and mutating tempos.

“It’s a brilliant composition — very melodic, very technical,” says John Carroll, principal trumpet player for the San Antonio Symphony, who will be leading the San Antonio Wind Symphony through the complex and fast-paced piece.

“This ain’t your ‘Papa’s Haydn,’” Carroll says, noting that Heiden’s concerto, penned in 1981, is a “colorful work with a biting hard dissonance,” far removed from the trumpet concertos composed by Franz Joseph “Papa” Haydn back in 1796. “The sounds come together in ways that clash,” Carroll says of Heiden’s compositions. Both may allow for a “virtuosic display of trumpet technique,” but he calls Heiden’s music “modern” and “edgy” — even “spiky.”

Performing it is no breeze, either, Carroll says, even for accomplished trumpet players. “I have to kind of memorize it in my fingers, to be able to make these lines the way Heiden’s written them,” he says.

Trumpeter John Carroll. Courtesy photo.

Heiden’s work is also testing the talents of the Wind Symphony’s two-dozen-plus players. The group met UTSA February 5 to rehearse Heiden’s dizzying array of changes in intensity, tempo, and tone. Robert Rustowicz conducted as Carroll led them in a nip-and-tuck chase through the frenetic first portion of the piece. Carroll managed a casually virtuoso performance, but a few players in the wind ensemble fell short.

“What happened?” Rustowicz asked, quizzically, after a pause. “You’ve got to stay on time. There’s a lot of interplay here. You can’t be late.” The players tried again, with improved results. On the third attempt, they nailed it.

Heiden’s composition is so full of twists and turns, it’s surprising that Rustowicz could zero in and work on the symphony’s flaws during rehearsal. Rustowicz explained that by now he is so familiar with Heiden’s work, he has a “very detailed idea of how it should sound,” and knows when performers are off.

On the 25th, Carroll and the symphony will also be performing two other works written specifically for wind orchestras: Morton Gould’s “Symphony for Band” and Vincent Persichetti’s “Masquerade for Band.”

With the exception of a little percussion and occasional piano, the Wind Symphony stays true to its name. “This is a little hidden community here,” Carroll notes. “This group gives just three concerts a year.”

Carroll, who is also an experienced conductor and music educator, is currently working toward a Master’s Degree in conducting under Rustowicz’s tutelage at UTSA. Carroll received his undergraduate degree from the University of Indiana at Bloomington, where Heiden taught for years, but Carroll says he opted against taking Heiden’s courses, even if he admired his work, because it might compromise his ability to develop a style of performing that he could call his own.

Carroll will be performing his Graduate Conducting Recital at UTSA on March 20. As with the February 25 performance, there’s no charge for admission, and anyone looking for a challenging but interesting listening experience is welcome to attend.