An extreme solo

In 2012, one of my big projects was to work on and perform the Luciano Berio Sequenza X for trumpet and piano resonance. It’s basically an unaccompanied, avant-garde trumpet solo, but there is a piano to help resonate what the trumpet is doing. The piano uses various combinations of pedaling and depressing keys (but never sounding notes with the hammers).

Meg Owens, who ran the contemporary music ensemble at George Mason University, invited me to perform this piece on one of their concerts. I prepared for about six months, which, in my opinion, is not enough. I believe the piece probably needs about nine to 12 months of solid practice to start really sounding good.

One of the features of the Sequenza X is its use of “doodle tongue.” ¬†Berio was inspired by jazz trumpeter Clark Terry’s doodle tonguing. In order to successfully play the doodle passages in the Berio, however, the performer has to get the doodle tongue a lot crisper.

Some notable performers of this piece have been Thomas Stevens, the former principal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who commissioned and premiered it. As to premiering it, Gabriele Cassone, famed Italian soloist, also makes this claim. As I understand it, Cassone actually worked with Berio to help shape the composition of the piece. William Forman, an American-born trumpeter teaching in Berlin, made a notable recording. Chris Gekker told me that he performed the East Coast premier of the Berio. He also related to me that the piece benefits from using a microphone to pick up the delicate resonation of the piano. When I performed it at GMU, this is what I did also, and I heartily recommend it for anyone else.

Unfortunately, I cannot find a recording of this performance, but I encourage you to listen to one of the commercial recordings this extreme piece of our literature.

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