Dive into Russian culture and let the music envelop you. Jason Adams plays the trumpet in the first ROCO quintet program of the season. Jason gives more detail on Böhme and the inspiration and meaning behind this ROCO performance.
“From Russia with Valves” takes place Oct. 14, at MATCH | Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston and Oct. 16, at The Woodlands United Methodist Church and explores early chamber music for brass, from composers active in St. Petersburg who were inspired by the string quartet tradition.
Q: Who on earth is Böhme and why haven’t we heard of him until now, at ROCO?
Jason Adams: Oskar Böhme is one of our favorites! He is well known among brass musicians and fans of brass music. He was a German-born trumpeter and composer who was based in St. Petersburg for most of his career in the first part of the twentieth century, playing cornet with the Mariinsky Theater and teaching at a music school there. He is probably most well known for his marvelous trumpet concerto and his sextet for brass instruments, which improves on the traditional brass quintet instrumentation by adding another trumpet.
Q: How did you come across the repertoire?
Jason Adams: Programming a concert starts with picking great music, and then looking for the common themes that run through the repertoire you’ve picked. There is a beautiful recording of this work and I’m sure we would have performed it at some point, even if it was on a recital called “Songs We Think Are Really Beautiful And Wanted To Perform”. The fact that it fits in so well with our Russian-themed program is just the icing on the cake.
Q: What’s remarkable about the work: Why is it on the ROCO program?
Jason Adams: This piece is a recent discovery (in the past twenty years or so) and has been recorded and published but not often performed. As a matter of fact, we are pretty sure this performance will be the Texas premiere, which is not something that happens very often with 100 year old music!
Q: Does the work sit well for brass instruments? Or is it awkward to play?
Jason Adams: The work is very well written for brass instruments, as is all of Böhme’s music because of his deep understanding of brass playing. I’m not sure of the circumstances of why he wrote this piece and who he wrote it for, but I like to imagine he probably wrote it as a teaching piece for some of his students, or perhaps as a ceremonial piece for an occasion like a friend’s wedding. The piece has a simple beauty to it which is somehow very personal.
Q: Nachtmusik means night music. What about the work earns that metaphor?
Jason Adams: Well, the piece does not sound like a scary suspenseful movie soundtrack, I can tell you that! To me it is almost the opposite, like something you would listen to before turning in for a peaceful night of sleep. The second movement in particular has a lilting quality that reminds me of a lullaby. I wouldn’t be surprised if the title is an homage to Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”, which was actually an untitled serenade for chamber ensemble that Mozart notated in his catalog as “a little night music”, and according to legend, wrote in the course of just one sleepless night. I can picture Böhme sitting by the fire and “tossing off” this little beauty over the course of a single evening.
As far as anything else to discuss, the end of Böhme’s life was rather tragic. He was forced to leave St. Petersburg during the Stalinist purges because of his German background, and not a lot is known about what happened to him after that, but his career as a musician was definitely over and he died in obscurity sometime in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s. Not exactly happy stuff, but interesting and probably worth mentioning somehow.
ROCO presents “From Russia with Valves” on Friday, Oct. 14, at Match | Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston and Sunday, Oct. 16, at the Woodlands Uniter Methodist Church.