Commissioned for Ensemble Three by the University of Melbourne
First performance by Ensemble Three, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, 10 July 2014
Slow Air (2014) for trumpet, trombone and guitar
I have had the title of this piece stashed away for future use for a few years. In traditional music – for some reason, I think especially of Scottish music – it means simply ‘slow song’. But in the context of this piece, is relates also to one of the main playing techniques of the brass players – producing long, quiet notes by expelling ‘slow air’ through their mouthpieces.
With a line up as odd as the one in this trio, the composer has two possible approaches. One is to attempt somehow to fuse the instruments’ sonorities and so produce a new composite instrument. The other is to allow them their own identities. In a sense, I’ve adopted both approaches, since the trumpet and trombone really do play as one instrument throughout (assisted by mutes and FX pedals), while the guitar does other things.
Slow Air was commissioned for Ensemble Three by the University of Melbourne, and composed in February and March 2014. The piece lasts a little under 10 minutes, and just before the end the advertised slow song emerges.
The most important composition on the program was also a premiere, Andrew Ford’s Slow Air (2014). This well thought out and concise work started in a very dramatic way with fortissimo playing from the trumpet and the trombone. Beautifully played by Brennan and Immel this fanfare like section paved the way for the entry of the guitar. Indeed, it was the guitar that Ford used to both propagate his musical argument and to create a substratum on which to lay rich brass sonorities. Ken Murray is a guitarist of rare musicianship. Ford’s skill in handling his material and the way he brought out so many colours was a sheer delight. It was obvious to all that the performers enjoyed this work and they brought a depth of understanding not always evident in a first performance. Slow Air deserves to be heard many more times.
Alan Holley, classikON