Brass from the Past! American Composer William Perry Writes Major New Concerto for an Obsolete Instrument

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William Perry, who has written concertos for piano, violin, cello, trumpet and flute, has now completed a major concerto for the ophicleide, a forerunner of the modern tuba but an interesting hybrid with a mouthpiece like a trombone and keys like a saxophone. Perry wrote the concerto for Nick Byrne, a trombonist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia, who is a virtuoso on the instrument.

Nick Byrne with his ophicleide

Perry says, “Byrne is not just a player but a true virtuoso on the instrument, and when I heard his CD called “Back From Oblivion,” I knew that I wanted to write a concerto for him.

Heard any good ophicleide music lately? Not likely, since this curious brass instrument has been virtually extinct for over a hundred years.

But this may be changing. American composer William Perry, who has written concertos for piano, violin, cello, trumpet and flute, has now completed a major concerto for the ophicleide, a forerunner of the modern tuba but an interesting hybrid in that it has a mouthpiece like a trombone but uses keys like a saxophone. Perry's "Concerto for Ophicleide and Orchestra" will premiere this fall in the U.S. and will be recorded next year in Ireland.

The ophicleide was invented in 1817 and Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Wagner and Verdi all wrote for it. It was a prominent part of orchestra brass sections in the Romantic Era, but by 1900 it had become obsolete.

Today there are a few musicians with an interest in antique instruments who own and play ophicleides, and one of them caught William Perry’s interest. He is Nick Byrne, a trombonist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia. Perry says, “He is not just a player but a true virtuoso on the instrument, and when I heard his CD called “Back From Oblivion,” I knew that I wanted to write a concerto for him. His musicianship is extraordinary, and he can make the instrument sing with the natural sound of the finest operatic tenor or baritone.”

Perry’s concerto is in four movements, each reflecting the personality of the ophicleide brought into the modern era. The first movement, Blue Ophicleide, is jazz inflected and the second, Military Ophicleide, presents a chain of marches including a Bourbon Street cakewalk. A gentle Pastoral Ophicleide appears in the lyric third movement, but the finale features an all-out Latin Ophicleide with a climactic contest between the ophicleide and a marimba.

Of this unusual piece performer Nick Byrne says, “After relative obscurity of over 125 years, unjustly in my opinion, the ophicleide is making a comeback with a great new concerto being written for this much-maligned instrument, firmly thrusting it back into the public eye. This renaissance is really exciting for me as it brings this resonant and unique instrument out of the 19th century and into the modern era."

Perry's "Concerto for Ophicleide and Orchestra" will be premiered by Nick Byrne with the Brown University Orchestra in October 2013 with Paul Phillips conducting, and it will then be recorded in June 2014 by Byrne and Phillips with the RTÉ National Symphony of Ireland. The concerto will be published by Perry's company, Trobriand Music.

William Perry attended Harvard University and studied with Paul Hindemith, Walter Piston and Randall Thompson. In addition to his many compositions for stage and concert hall, he is internationally recognized for the more than one hundred scores he wrote for silent films when he was Music Director at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Trobriand is a music publishing company located in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It is principally engaged in the publication and distribution of the musical works of American composer, William P. Perry. Among the major works represented by Trobriand are Perry's "Trumpet Concerto," "Summer Nocturne for Flute and Orchestra," the "Jamestown Concerto for Cello and Orchestra," "Six Title Themes in Search of a Movie," the "Gemini Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra," the orchestral suite from "Life on the Mississippi" and the ballet "Wind in the Willows," based on the Broadway stage musical that starred Nathan Lane. Trobriand Music is also the publisher and licensor of the Mark Twain stage musical, "Mr. Mark Twain," for which Perry wrote the music and lyrics.

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