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A Chamber Piece So Difficult, the Composer Says It's Too Hard for Him to Play

River Oaks Chamber Orchestra tackles James Stephenson's frenetic "Chase Sequence."

By Holly Beretto April 2, 2019

Composer James Stephenson wrote “Chase Sequence” for the United States Marine Band’s brass quintet about eight years ago. He had the idea that the piece would start out with an energetic start from a trumpet, with the other instruments following each other quickly through the music.

“I grew up as a brass player,” says Stephenson, who played trumpet for two decades before turning to composing. “So, I am familiar with the kinds of things we get to do—and sometimes don’t get to do. I wanted to highlight what I know we can do.”

River Oaks Chamber Orchestra's brass quintet presents the piece to cap off its Unchambered series. With "Chase Sequence," they’re highlighting a contemporary work, as well as classical jazz pieces.

Stephenson says people who only think about trumpeters or brass ensembles as the people who provide the fanfares and big blasts of music, should be pleasantly surprised.

“There are a lot of notes [in this],” he laughs. “It’s a virtuosic composition.”

It’s also, he emphasizes, too hard for him to play.

But he wanted to create that kind of a musical challenge for other players. In writing “Chase,” Stephenson was inspired by lengthy chase sequences in movies, the scenes that “keep going and going,” with lots of twists, turns, accelerations, and close calls. He envisioned a musical sequence that would not only capture that energy, but also be fun for the audience.

Technically, he recognizes he’s written a tough piece of music. But part of his approach to writing is to imagine what it’s like to be playing. He says he imagines himself back in an orchestra or an ensemble, then tries to picture the musicians being energized by what’s he written. That energy, he hopes, is something that gets translated to the audience.

In other words, exactly the sort of philosophy of approachable work and exciting music that ROCO strives to offer.

“I know ROCO’s playing very well,” he says, having worked with the orchestra in the past. “I am completely confident they are going to knock this out of the park.”

Chase Sequence, April 6. Tickets $25. MATCH, 3400 Main St. 713-665-2700. More info and tickets at roco.org

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