Anderson's Arizona Originals

Where Composing Is A Passion... Not A Pastime

Barton Cummings’ Review OF THE world premiere of Eugene Anderson’s TUBA CONCERTO

On September 26, 1997, the dream of a life-time came true for composer Eugene Anderson. On this date, tuba virtuoso, Sam Pilafian, accompanied by an outstanding Arizona State University Orchestra under the direction of Timothy Russell, presented the first full length performance of Tuba Concerto No. 1 in B minor by Mr. Anderson. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to attend this performance, but through the magic of modern technology, I have been able to experience the entire evening and what an evening it was!!!

 

The concert opened with The Perception of War, dating from 1973. This is a thirteen minute symphonic tone poem complete with a slide show. It depicts, musically, the “final war of all times” as seen through the eyes of one man, acting as Everyman. This is strong and powerful music and one of the finest pieces to be heard by this reviewer in a long, long time. Make no mistake, this is not a demonstration piece of extended performance practices, but a piece of real music written in such a way that even without the slide show, would still evoke an emotional response.

Barton Cummings

The ending is not a happy one. Indeed, life on earth ebbs away, the spirit of life leaves the earth and man finally succeeds in destroying himself.  The performance was superb and both the conductor and orchestra were completely committed to the music.

 

Next, we come to the real reason why this evening was put together. For nearly three decades, the tuba concerto of Eugene Anderson languished in obscurity and unperformed in its entirety. Lots of rumors were generated for many years about the composition, most of them untrue and unfair. For in truth, the Eugene Anderson concerto is a true master-work for the instrument and the accompanying orchestra and should have long ago become a staple of the repertoire. Perhaps this is a good lesson that we can all learn from. The lesson is that “hearing” a piece on paper and/or judging a work based on composer name and hearing it in real time can often be a completely different exercise and we should never give short shrift to any piece without giving it a fair hearing.

 

True, the concerto doesn’t require any extended techniques from either the soloist or orchestra, it doesn’t have any strange and atonal harmonies, nor does it have odd-metered sections, nor any of the concepts often found in twentieth century music for tuba and orchestra. It is indeed, a very straight forward piece of music that features beautiful melodies, lush, rich 19th century harmonies and rhythmic structures.

 

In his program notes, the composer informs us that the first movement is in sonata-allegro form, using four related themes instead of the conventional two and that these melodies are developed through counterpoint techniques leading to the end through a variation on the opening theme.

 

The second movement is a theme and variations based on a Swedish lullaby that was sung to composer’s daughter to lull her to sleep. After introducing the lullaby, the movement proceeds into a set of fifteen variations featuring a variety of moods and reworking of the theme. The movement ends quietly.

 

Movement three is a rondo and “literally bursts forth at a fast, driving pace.” A unique feature of this movement is that by the end of movement the tuba will have played a duet with every instrument in the orchestra and will have demonstrated the technical abilities of the tuba and its most beautiful singing qualities. The movement ends in a blaze of sound and fury with the tuba ending on a high G# above the staff.

 

Tubist Sam Pilafian, a founding member of the Empire Brass Quintet, and one of the most important virtuosos of the day, turned in a performance of utter brilliance. He is possessed of a strong and powerful tone, that is dark, rich and carries from the softest notes to the loudest. His technique is flawless and his range from top to bottom secure and equally secure. In each movement Mr. Pilafian never let down for a second, even in the most lyric of passages. His excitement, enthusiasm and dedication the music was evident with every note he played.

 

The orchestra, made up of one hundred and twenty players specifically chosen for this performance, was magnificent. Conductor Timothy Russell was in complete command and knew the score. While this may be normal under ordinary circumstances, performances of tuba music are so rare, that most conductors rarely study the score and simply wing it, both in rehearsal and performance. It is a rare treat for this kind of commitment from such a master musician.

 

One could feel the excitement of the evening, even through the electronic medium through which I viewed the concert, and this performance was the highlight of the evening. After hearing the full concert several times, it could have ended with the playing of the concerto and everyone would have left with a feeling of great fulfillment and satisfaction. This is an achievement, because the last number on the concert was the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4!

 

Not only was this a historic event for the tuba world, but the outcome of this entire project will be a professionally engineered recording by a well known recording company. Not only will the recording of the concerto be by the performers already mentioned, but will feature several other compositions by Mr. Anderson as well as The Perceptions of War. This will be a landmark recording that every tubist and brass player will have to collect.

 

Bravo to Eugene Anderson for not only his music, but for his never-ending patience and perseverance for thirty years and to all of the performers. September 26, 1997 will indeed go down in tuba history as one of the most important events ever to take place.