Inside the Minds of Houston Symphony Musicians

It’s a new year and a time for new beginnings. In the spirit of newness, we thought we’d take a new approach for an interview with our featured soloists for next weekend’s performances of Copland’s Quiet City, on the same concert program as Dvořák’s New World Symphony. Read on as two of our own musicians Mark Hughes, principal trumpet, and Adam Dinitz, English horn, converse with each other about their parts in this beloved piece of music:

Mark Hughes, principal trumpet
Photo credit: Eric Arbiter

Adam Dinitz: Have you ever played the Copland Quiet City before?

Mark Hughes: Yes, but it was about a decade ago and was with a community orchestra.

AD: Which other concertos have you performed with the Houston Symphony?

MH: I have also performed the Haydn Trumpet Concerto and the Shostakovich Concerto #1 for Piano and Trumpet, along with several other solos with the Houston Symphony.

What about you- have you ever performed Quiet City before?

AD: I have played Quiet City once before when I was earning my masters of music at Rice University.

So, what do you think Copland wanted to convey to the listener in this piece?

MH: This piece was originally conceived as incidental music for a play by the same name. The play was about two Jewish brothers. One who set out to take the world by storm by selling out to the almighty dollar, the other brother was a jazz trumpeter who was content with being an artist. The play only lasted for two performances, but fortunately Copland was convinced by friends to score the music into a concert work. I think the story line holds up to some extent while listening to this work, but the piece stands alone nicely, however you choose to listen to it.

AD: Do you get nervous when you play concertos?

MH: Yes, I get nervous all the time, but especially when I’m placed in front of the orchestra. Coincidentally, my first entrance in this piece is marked to be played “nervous” how cool is that?

AD: How does that compare to when you have a solo in the orchestra?

MH: I do get nervous for solos in the orchestra, but I’m quite comfortable in my place in the orchestra, so that isn’t as difficult to prepare for.

How about you… Do you get nervous to play solos in the orchestra? Or do you find it more difficult to play out in front of the orchestra?

AD: I don’t usually get nervous playing solos in the orchestra until right after I finish. This will be my first time playing a solo in front of a major orchestra so I don’t know how I will react. Maybe I will get nervous a week after it’s over!

We each have our own preparation techniques, so how do you prepare for a concerto like the Quiet City?

MH: Honestly, there isn’t anything out of the ordinary demanded for the trumpeter in this piece. I’m approaching this like I would an extended orchestral solo. I try to play through it a few times each week, but more for familiarity than for learning how to play it.

But I’m curious about your preparations since English horn is a double reed instrument- when you prepare for a work like Copland’s Quiet City which involves playing along-side a trumpet, do you have to make different reeds or change your set up in any way?

Adam Dinitz, English horn
Photo credit: Leah Polkowske

AD: Making reeds on the English horn is both a blessing and a curse. It is exciting to be able to change my sound to fit the mood of the particular piece being performed. For example in the Quiet City, the English horn has to be present enough to stand up to the volume of the trumpet while at the same time keeping a warm and velvety sound to convey the atmospheric setting of the music. However, English horn reeds change on a daily basis due to humidity and other factors, so just because a reed is the perfect timbre the first night does not necessarily mean it will sound and feel the same on the second. I will have an arsenal of reeds ready to go for this weekend!

How is your process for this piece different from other concertos you have performed?

MH: Most concertos have something very demanding, a particular technical passage or cadenza or something to sweat over. This solo is more telling a story or just singing a song to me. It has more meaning and isn’t about me. I feel like an actor.

AD: What is your favorite part of the piece and why?

MH: After the opening “nervous” section, comes a lovely song or ballad. I just love playing it because it just sings. Rarely do composers write in this way for the trumpet. While this style doesn’t come easy for the instrument, it can be so beautiful and powerful.

I notice there is a lot of English horn featured on this particular concert. Is endurance a concern on a program like this?

AD: I think of the English horn like the placekicker of the orchestra: we don’t play every down, but when it is our turn, the pressure to deliver is on! This program is unique in that there is both the Copland concerto and Dvořák’s New World Symphony, which contains one of the most recognizable solos in the classical repertoire, played by the English horn. I don’t think endurance will be much of an issue as long as I stay true to my practice plan in preparing for this concert.

MH: Copland calls for the trumpet to play with a mute at the end of the piece. Are there tricks you can use to make your English horn sound more distant?

AD: The only trick for sounding distant I’ve got in my bag is turning around! (Not much of a trick, and it might look a little rude to the audience!) I work hard in my practice every day to be able to stretch the dynamic range and contrast of my instrument so that my performances can be effective.

So now that you’ve seen what two of our fine Houston Symphony musicians have to say, don’t miss the chance to hear what they have to play!

The Houston Symphony will perform *Copland’s Quiet City for English horn, trumpet and strings; Dutilleux’s Symphony No. 2, Le Double; and *Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, From the New World January 11*, 12, 13, 2013.
*Friday ACCESS concert only includes this work.

Preview Copland’s Quiet City for English horn, trumpet and strings

Preview Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, From the New World

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