Keith Benjamin, trumpet professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance (yes, that’s a mouthful) has a long history of bringing new music for trumpet before audiences. His faculty recital in White Recital Hall the evening of Nov. 7, continued this activity with works for solo trumpet and taped sounds: Greg Simon’s “The Way Through the Woods,” Amanda McCullough’s, “The Fifth Dimension,” David Z. Durant’s, “Choragus Revisited,” Brooke Joyce’s, “Flash!” and the afore-alluded James Mobberley’s, “Icarus Wept.”
The latter, commissioned by Dr. Benjamin for his long-running collaboration with organist, Melody Steed, can be presented with assorted effects and noises on recording with a live organ, or with the organ part on the recording, as well. Saturday was without live organ. One would hope, for personal respect, that no one was present who has any emotional connection with poor, condemned Icarus, as this piece was totally tongue-in-cheek; except for the trumpeter. The notes assured the audience that the original plans for full frontal nudity were modified due to the funding participation of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Fine comedy can make for good drama (i.e., Shakespeare) and good music (i.e., Camille Saint-Saëns, James Mobberley) as this piece demonstrates. When not bound by serious geometric boxes, the composer and sometimes the performer(s) have a blank sheet on which to create, and comedy provides that creative empty parchment.
There was some fine bluesy trumpet, a la Dizzy Gillespie, whale trumpeting, a whole flock of mutes, each with its own specific modification property, and a few vocal exclamations from the trumpeter (with trumpet removed from the mouth) which elicited only scattered mirth, rather than respectful awe. Recorded sounds also included ghoulish laughter, underwater drums, and, of course, a real or simulated pipe organ.
Some recordings from this work have been posted by Keith Benjamin:”Icarus Wept: I. Strap on Your Lobster,” “Icarus Wept: II. Climbing the Blue Staircase,” “Icarus Wept: IV. Intermizzoid No. 1: Getting Waxed.”
Just as great actors can pull off great comedy, Benjamin’s artistry was on full display in this skillfully composed, five movement, slapstick sonata. Various stylings, much of it blues and jazz based, fully phrased fortissimos and (probably more difficult) nearly inaudible pianissimos were included, as well as staccato notes placed on legato lines, and, well, call them bel canto melodies, as sweet as any tenor can pour forth. James Mobberley, also a professor at the conservatory, was present, and contributed to the afterglow conversation with recollections of previous outlandish performances of the piece.
The relaxed presentation of this recital made it seem almost a lively discussion in a man cave. No stiff academic gathering, but a fireplace musical chat, no stuffiness. A relaxed musical interlude, a time for reflections, and cookies. But, alas, there were no cookies.