Matthew Russo, trombonist & educator

Instructor of Trombone, University of Connecticut


“Close your eyes. Picture a feather floating inside of you. See it? Okay. Your breathing keeps that feather floating. Just breathe slow and steady, in and out.” – Theo from Celeste (2017)

Tonight’s Program

Sonata for Trombone and Piano (1995) – Eric Ewazen (b. 1953)

  1. Allegro maestoso
  2. Adagio
  3. Allegro giocoso 

Eric Ewazen composed his Sonata for Trombone and Piano in 1993 for Michael Powell, tenor trombonist of the American Brass Quintet. The sonata quickly became a standard of the repertoire and was recorded by Powell as well as Joseph Alessi, Steve Witser, and Ko-ichiro Yamamato among others. About the work, Mr Ewazen writes “The trombone, with its golden resonant tone and beautiful baritone range, is an instrument which as always appealed to me. I sought to create a piece exploring all the many facets of its expression. The first movement is a clearly delineated sonata-allegro form, using carefully structured developmental procedures to shape a dramatic build up. The second movement is a melancholy pavane, with resonant piano chords underlying a soulful trombone aria. The last movement, a bravura rondo, is a joyous affirmation of life with energetic rhythms, tuneful melodies and colorful, virtuosic textures.” Ewazen has an enormous body of work for brass including solos for every brass instrument and many brass quintets. He has served on the faculty of The Juilliard School since 1980. 

Ages for Trombone and Piano (2008) (13’) – Susan Mutter (b. 1962)

  • Six
  • Fifteen
  • Thirty-Four 
  • Sixty-Six 
  • Ninety-Two 

Susan Mutter is a pianist and hornist based in Michigan. As hornist, Mutter has performed with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, Columbus Symphony, Detroit Symphony, and Michigan Opera Theater. She includes the following note about Ages for Trombone

“I was inspired to compose Ages when I contemplated how a man relates to the world around him so differently at various ages in his life. All six year old boys have something in common, as do all 92 year old men! It is what is in common, that I have tried to capture here. 

In “Six”, for example, I picture a boy wandering aimlessly around his neighborhood in days of yesteryear, imagining whatever comes to him as he encounters various items he finds. At a construction site he finds some boards, perhaps, and he creates a little “home”…or perhaps he finds some fresh mint and decides to try to make chewing gum! 

At “Fifteen”, he is the rebellious teen – not giving a care what his parents think – wanting to do everything HIS way, and at the same time, with so much energy, he just wants to grab the world in his hand – conquer all heights, and sing his heart out with abandon! 

At “Thirty-four”, monotony has set in…he’s stuck in a repetitive job that’s relentless. At the key change, a brighter time appears as he gets a chance to spend some time with his precious 3 year old daughter, but soon after – he must go back to work again. 

“Sixty-six” is probably one of the most satisfying times in the man’s life. He is a grandfather now, and is retired and can sit back and enjoy the family he has raised, and his grandchildren, too. His heart overflows with contentment and love. 

At “Ninety-two”, his health and strength are fading, and he is on his deathbed at a hospital. The single notes in the piano are like a morphine drip that is keeping pain at bay for him. As he drifts in and out of consciousness, glimpses of his beloved childhood come back to him, almost taking him completely back to his youth – but then life fades from him… 

The Many Adventures of Mr. Maverick! (2020) (12’) – Kincaid Rabb (b. 1993)

Kincaid Rabb, a self-proclaimed composer, storyteller, worldbuilder, and wizard, has established themselves as an innovative composer of narrative music. Each of Kincaid’s works endeavors to take the listener on a journey. The Many Adventures of Mr. Maverick was written for William Lang and a consortium of seventeen trombonists. Dr. Russo was a member of that consortium. About the work, Kincaid writes: 

“Meet Basil. He’s just like any other cat: enjoys lounging in the sun, hates baths, and appreciate one petting, no more, no less. But he’s also got a secret: after surviving the partial meltdown of a reactor at Three Mile Island that killed his mother and all his siblings, he gained superpowers and uses them to protect the neighborhood as Mr. Maverick. Join Mr. Maverick on his hero’s journey as you listen to The Many Adventures of Mr. Maverick, a daring story of tragedy, discovery, and overcoming the odds.” 

Exhale (2018) (4’) – Lena Raine (b. 1984) Arr. Trevor Alan Gomes (b. 1994)

*Warning: Some light spoilers for the 2018 video game, Celeste, are included in the following program note

Celeste is devilishly difficult platformer that counts the number of times your character Madeline fails (or dies) as they climb the mysterious Mount Celeste. Along her journey, Madeline encounters her own insecurities which manifest as Badeline, a sarcastic and pragmatic part of Madeline that separates from herself and tortures and taunts Madeline along her journey. The game, a landmark title that addressed anxiety, mental health, depression, and loneliness, received near universal acclaim upon its release in 2018. Exhale, composed by Lena Raine, is heard during the epilogue chapter. Legendary video game composer Lena Raine enjoyed breakout success for the score and was nominated for many awards after the release of the game including the ASCAP Video Game Score of the Year award in 2019. The version heard tonight was arranged by Trevor Alan Gomes for his album Celeste: Piano Collections and was originally composed for piano and violin.

About the Performers

Trombonist Matthew Russo enjoys a varied career throughout Connecticut as an educator and performer. Dr. Russo has served on the faculty at The University of Connecticut since 2015 where he teaches applied trombone lessons, teaches brass techniques, and leads the UConn Trombone Choir. He is also on faculty at Wesleyan University, Choate Rosemary Hall, and The Hartt School Community Division. He is a regular trombonist at the Goodspeed Opera House and has played at the Hartford Stage, Monomoy, Ivoryton, and Playhouse on Park theaters. Russo is principal trombonist of the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra, and appears regularly with the New Haven, Hartford, Waterbury, New Britain, Wallingford, and Greater Bridgeport Symphonies.

A frequent recitalist and advocate of new music, Dr. Russo endeavors to bring unknown works to new audiences through innovative programs and themes. He recently performed Ted King-Smith’s Life and Death on a Spinning Disk at the 2018 International Trombone Festival. 

Dr. Russo holds a Doctor of Musical Arts from The Hartt School and a Master of Music from the Yale School of Music. His primary area of research is the collegiate trombone ensemble. His doctoral essay, Transcribing the Fourth Movement of Brahms’s Symphony No. 4, discusses the compositional techniques used by transcribers and arrangers when writing for the trombone ensemble. His principal teachers include Dr. Ronald A. Borror, Scott Hartman, and John D. Rojak. Dr. Russo is an S.E. Shires artist and plays Hartman mouthpieces. He lives in West Hartford with his wife, Katie, and two children Frankie and Maggie.

Gaylien Chun is a staff pianist and coordinator of accompanying at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School. She has also been affiliated with the Connecticut Opera, the Manchester Chorale, and the University of Connecticut. She spent a year teaching and performing at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. A graduate of The Hartt School, she studied with the noted Brazilian pianist Luiz de Moura Castro. She also studied chamber music with David Wells, Renato Bonacini, Eric Rosenblith and members of the Emerson String Quartet, and she has been a participant at the Yellow Barn Music Festival in Putney, Vermont. As a collaborative pianist, Ms. Chun has performed in numerous recitals and competitions with singers and instrumentalists. She has appeared as a soloist with the Hartt Symphony, the Connecticut String Orchestra, and the Connecticut Valley Chamber Orchestra.

Gay is also an amateur violinist who performs with the Connecticut Valley Symphony Orchestra.

In February of 2003, Gay appeared on the television game show JEOPARDY!, where her years of education and experience were finally put to good use when she correctly defined the British musical term “semiquaver.”

About tonight’s program

As I’m sure you can all relate, I feel like an entire lifetime has passed in the 21 months since that last concert. I think we each have our own variations on this shared traumatic experience, and I offer the music on this program as a glimpse into some of the nuances of my life during this time. (A new daughter, endless video games, baking, separation from my family and friends, staring contests with my cat, hundreds of zoom trombone lessons, way too much introspection…) I think more than ever, music gives us a wonderful tool to share stories when words do not feel like enough.

As a performer whose whole profession revolves around the concept of air and breath, I felt that the title “exhale” was fitting for both the literal exhale that comes with finally making music again publicly, as well as the spiritual exhale after holding my breath through a period of such intense fear, anxiety, and doubt. I hope you enjoy this music and find comfort in their hopeful resolution.