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"The President's Own"

United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
Unit News
Musical Firsts at New Venue

By Master Sgt. Kristin duBois | United States Marine Band | February 26, 2019

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The Marine Chamber Orchestra will make its debut at Ernst Theater at Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale campus at 2 p.m., Sunday, March 3. In honor of the occasion, Assistant Director Capt. Bryan P. Sherlock has programmed a concert of “musical firsts:” Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 in D, Opus 25, Classical; Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto in E-flat; and Georges Bizet’s Symphony No. 1 in C. The concert is free and tickets are not required.

 

From two different centuries and very different worlds, Prokofiev and Bizet both wrote their first symphonies while students, Prokofiev at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1917, and Bizet at the Conservatoire de Paris in 1855. Both symphonies were considered exercises at the time, but while Prokofiev’s became one of the most popular and frequently performed of all his works, Bizet’s was never performed during his lifetime. After its long awaited première and publication in 1935, Bizet’s Symphony No. 1 was cheerfully accepted into the repertoire, and there it has remained. It is a vibrant and masterful achievement by a young prodigy that overflows with moments that foreshadow the timeless themes of his masterpiece, Carmen, and reveals glimpses of what other brilliant music might have followed had Bizet lived beyond his thirties.

 

By the age of 26 many considered Prokofiev to be a promising young composer, but an equal number of observers would have replaced the word “promising” with “notorious.” Prokofiev was widely regarded as an incorrigible nonconformist who had squandered his valuable conservatory education at St. Petersburg by writing what many considered to be noisy, sarcastic, and abrasive music. The stalwarts of the Russian musical establishment did not understand what Prokofiev was trying to do and anticipated that each new work by the young renegade would simply up the ante on the last. So when Prokofiev introduced his first official symphony, imagine the surprise of the traditionalists when they discovered that the piece was modeled on the work of none other than Joseph Haydn. Prokofiev later explained the inspiration for the symphony in his autobiography:

 

I spent the summer of 1917 in the country near St. Petersburg all alone, reading Kant and working a great deal….I had been toying with the idea of writing an entire symphony…. It seemed to me that, had Haydn lived in our own day, he would have retained his own style, while accepting something of the new at the same time. That was the kind of symphony I wanted to write: a symphony in the classical style. When I saw that my idea was beginning to work, I began to call it the Classical Symphony—in the first place, because it was simpler, and secondly for the fun of it…and in the secret hope that I would prove to be right if the symphony really did turn out to be a “classic.”

Prokofiev’s symphony was an instant success and remains one of his best-loved pieces. The work was undeniable proof that the young rebel was indeed capable of embracing the revered traditions and models of the past, but it was also crystal clear that he was going to accept them on his own terms.

 

Nearly 150 years before Prokofiev, Hummel studied with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and in his career he followed closely in Joseph Haydn’s footsteps at the Esterházy Court before relocating to Stuttgart and Weimar, where he earned accolades as a notable composer. With an unmistakable nod to Viennese Classicism and the influence of Mozart and Haydn, Hummel composed a trumpet concerto for the keyed trumpet, an instrument that typically employed five keys rather than valves and had a smoother, more clarion tone than the modern trumpet. The concerto was designed to showcase the increased chromatic capabilities of the unique keyed trumpet as compared to other brass instruments of the time. After the keyed trumpet became obsolete, its repertoire, which included the Hummel concerto, also fell into obscurity. It was a century and a half before this concerto was rediscovered in 1958 by a Yale University student searching for a unique recital piece.

 

To facilitate its performance, the concerto is usually played on a modern trumpet and transposed down a semitone to E-flat major, which is how soloist Staff Sgt. Brandon Eubank will perform it. After last performing it in high school, he is taking a new look at the concerto. “Like most trumpeters, I’m very familiar with the piece, but on this occasion I want to breathe new life into my interpretation and not do it the same as in the past” he said. “Every day in my practice I am experimenting with different note shapes, tempi, and phrasing ideas so that I can fully realize my interpretation and create something fresh and new.”

 

Ernst Theater is located in the Richard J. Ernst Community Cultural Center on the campus of Northern Virginia Community College at 8333 Little River Turnpike in Annandale. Free parking is available in the B lots across from Ernst Community Cultural Center. The concert is free and no tickets are required.

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