American Nomad, a new trumpet concerto by composer Steve Heitzeg, received its world premiere by Charles Lazarus, trumpet, with Mischa Santora conducting the Minnesota Orchestra, on Thursday, April 30, and Friday, May 1, 2015 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. The 22-minute concerto—described by the composer as a “sonic meditation across the nation”—evokes distinct American landscapes, incorporates jazz improvisation into the concerto format and showcases percussion instruments including an iron armature bar from the Statue of Liberty, New York subway spikes and fallen branches from a Joshua tree.
“I wanted to create a series of soundscapes across America, moving from Manhattan to the Great Plains to the High Desert, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Pacific,” said Heitzeg. “The soloist becomes a sort of troubadour, reporting to us sonically about his travels, the people and the land. The word ‘nomad’ resonated with me because we are all travelers on this beautiful planet.”
The work—which was commissioned by Minnesota Orchestra Board Member Paul Grangaard—was written in close collaboration with Charles Lazarus, a member of the Minnesota Orchestra as well as a gifted jazz musician. “Chuck’s hope was to premiere a concerto that would organically merge jazz and classical elements, and I wanted to write a piece that would showcase his versatility,” said Heitzeg.
The resulting work unfolds in three movements. The first is Avenue of the Americas (for those who are without a home), an exploration around immigration: what is your avenue to America? Percussionists in this movement play New York City subway spikes and an original iron armature bar from the Statue of Liberty—as a riff on Gershwin’s An American in Paris in which percussionists play Parisian taxi horns. (The armature bar from the Statue of Liberty was removed during the restoration of the Statue in 1984 and is on loan from the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Ambassadors.)
The second movement, Little Hymn to the Fields, is an elegy for solo trumpet and strings, paying tribute to the beauty of wild and farm fields and honoring those who have toiled or lost their lives in other fields across America. The final movement, Trip (Where the Chords Have No Name), includes passages in which the Orchestra plays undertones evoking the moody vibe of the High Desert while the trumpet soloist improvises.
“There are very few classical trumpet concertos that incorporate jazz improvisation as an integral part of the work,” says Charles Lazarus. “American Nomad melds cool jazz and a contemporary cinematic flair. I hear it as a hipster’s coast to coast journey that captures elements of many American musical styles.”
Heitzeg and Lazarus have been involved in previous collaborations. In 2004, Lazarus performed the solo trumpet part in Heitzeg’s Nobel Symphony performed by Philip Brunelle and VocalEssence. Those performances subsequently led to Lazarus recording the trumpet fanfares from that work on his debut solo album, Solo Settings.
The April 30-May 1 Minnesota Orchestra performances also include Bernstein’s Divertimento, Copland’s Clarinet Concerto (with Burt Hara) and Greenstein’s Acadia.
Charles Lazarus is known for a distinctive blend of lounge/exotica and funk fired jazz.
He made his mainstage Carnegie Hall solo debut with the New York String Orchestra at the age of 19 while still a student at the Juilliard School. He has subsequently been a member of Canadian Brass, Dallas Brass, the Meridian Arts Ensemble and, currently, the Minnesota Orchestra. Lazarus, who has performed his own compositions for the Montreal and Ottawa international jazz festivals, has also created and premiered three original orchestra pops programs in recent years: A Night in the Tropics, American Riffs and Fly Me to the Moon: Big Band Love Songs. He has served on the trumpet faculties of Princeton University and St. Olaf College.
Emmy Award-winning composer Steve Heitzeg is recognized for his orchestral, choral and chamber music written in celebration of the natural world. His music has been performed by orchestras and ensembles from the Atlanta Symphony and Chanticleer to the Minnesota Chorale and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Addressing social and environmental justice issues, Heitzeg’s music includes Nobel Symphony, Voice of the Everglades, Wounded Fields, I Pray to the Birds, Wild Songs, and World Piece. In 2008 the James Sewell Ballet debuted his Social Movements and the Daedalus Quartet premiered his Song Without Borders at the United Nations in New York. The Minnesota Orchestra commissioned and premiered his Now We Start the Great Round in 2014 and the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra premiered his Symphony In Sculpture (commissioned in honor of the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park) in 2012 and released it as a DVD in 2013. He is the recipient of both Bush and McKnight Foundation fellowships.
AMERICAN VOICES: MADE IN AMERICA
Thursday, April 30, 2015, 11 a.m. / Orchestra Hall
Friday, May 1, 2015, 8 p.m. / Orchestra Hall
Mischa Santora, conductor
Charles Lazarus, trumpet
Burt Hara, clarinet
HEITZEG American Nomad [World Premiere]
COPLAND Clarinet Concerto