Matthew Russo, trombonist & educator

Instructor of Trombone, University of Connecticut

The Measure of Our Reach

Con Sordino (1986) — Stephen M. Gryc (b. 1949)

Für Frankie (2020)* (8’) — Michael Denis Ó Callaghan (BA ’16) (b. 1994)

Mélange (2006) † (3’)  — Stefanie Acevedo (b. 1986)

Lament and Scherzo (2022) ‡ (7’)  — Emily DeNucci (b. 2006)

– Intermission – 

Air Varie on “The Measure of His Reach”* (2023) (5’) — Matthew Russo (b. 1987) — Theme by Masayoshi Soken (b. 1975)

Sonata Concisa (2013/2019) † (8’)  — Andrew Ardizzoia (b. 1979)

Life and Death on a Spinning Disk (2016) (8’)  — Ted King-Smith (b.1988)

Azteccia Sketches (2017) (17’)  — Julien Alexander Monick (BM ’16) (b. 1994)

  1. Banto; Teachings of Forbidden Love
  2. Raza; Debate with a Drunk” 
  3. Tsame; Teachings of Cognitive Dissonance 
  4. Giriyama; Dethroning a Tyrant

* world premiere | † Connecticut premiere | ‡ preview performance

About tonight’s collaborators

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

This program is a celebration of the friendship that we find through music and the wonderful connection we maintained and strengthened throughout the most isolating portions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Half of the repertoire selections on this concert were born out of the situations that could only have occurred during the pandemic.

Andrew Ardizzoia invited me to present a class to the low brass students at Muhlenberg via zoom which rekindled my interest in his Sonata Conciso. We maintained our connection and when I told him I was planning to play it during this year he invited me to Mulhenberg to present this recital in person. 

Stefanie Acevedo was hired at UCONN during the pandemic and I remember finding out that Stefanie was a trombonist (!) and had composed something for trombone when she was a student (!!). My very first email to Stefanie after she joined the faculty was “the trombonists are taking over UConn and also can I play your piece?”.

I already wrote a lot about the Final Fantasy XIV and XIVGM communities and the positive impact that has had on me throughout the pandemic. I always arrange tunes for my students but have never actually tried to create something that plays to my strengths as a soloist before and I owe a lot to the discussions we have in that community for equipping me with the confidence and determination to complete this arrangement. 

By far my favorite story to come from the pandemic is Michael’s Für Frankie. The best part about this is that Michael forgot that he wrote the piece and never sent it to me. (How typical of our collective mindset during that time!) He didn’t notice this oversight until November 2022 when I had reshared the incredible audio that is the basis of Michael’s composition and he sent me a message “Oh yeah I wrote a whole piece using this audio!”

Finally, I had the chance to record a student’s composition while I was still on faculty at the Hartt Community Division. Typically, Hartt would hire faculty or local players to present a recorded concert that the student would be able to save for their portfolio. Because of the pandemic the decision was made to studio record the works instead. I had been asked to record a trio for tuba, trombone, and piano by a young composer named Emily DeNucci. I had heard of Emily’s talents as a flutist prior to the pandemic and was stunned when I encountered Emily’s mature writing in the trio, especially in the movement for trombone and piano. I discussed with her teacher the possibility about setting up a commission and we went from there. In fact, I still haven’t met Emily in person! I’m extremely grateful to preview her new Lament and Scherzo tonight and am looking forward to finally meeting Emily in person next week when it is premiered at Muhlenberg College.  

All of this is paired with deeply personal works for me. As I return to play them again I’m reminded of the wonderful composers who wrote them and the time we shared together. Ted King-Smith and I were college classmates and I had been planning to return to his excellent piece for trombone and fixed media in 2020. Julien Monick wrote his Azteccia Sketches for me after I heard one of his pieces performed on the same program at UConn where I was playing a concerto with the wind ensemble. In fact, it was on that concert that I played Steve Gryc’s Passagi for Trombone and Wind Ensemble. Steve’s concerto was also the first trombone concerto I ever heard performed live (by Scott Hartman with whom I would eventually study at Yale). And to bring it all full-circle Ted (and Andrew Ardizzoia) studied composition with Steve when we were at Hartt. All this is to show you the incredible “measure of our reach” as a music community. You can find your connection to anyone in six degrees – although rarely does it take six! The connections between musicians are meaningful and as a result I think there’s a little something for everyone in the works represented. I hope you enjoy tonight’s program.

Program Notes

Stephen M. Gryc wrote Con Sordino in 1986 for trombonist Glenn Smith. Smith was the longtime Professor of Trombone at the University of Michigan where Gryc studied composition and trombone. Subtitled “Three Concert Etudes,” Con Sordino is a tour de force for the trombonist, utilizing five different mutes commonly used in trombone repertoire: plunger,  cup,  hat, harmon, and straight mute. The second movement is reminiscent of Leonard Bernstein’s Elegy for Mippy II, which notably requires the trombonist to tap their foot audibly with the music. The final movement is a blistering frenzy in the straight mute, the most common of all the mutes.

Mélange was written by trombonist Stefanie Acevedo and premiered by John Jenkins at the University of Florida in March 2006 while Acevedo was an undergraduate composition major. Dr. Acevedo would go on to perform the international premiere the next year in June 2007 in Salzburg, Austria. A mélange is a mixture and is a word used in a variety of settings, most familiar to me in food. I see this short work as having a little bit of everything and, like its use in food, combines seemingly odd ingredients to create a satisfying cohesive whole in the end. Dr. Acevedo completed her Master of Music at Bowling Green University and a Master of Arts in Psychology at the University of Buffalo. A fellow Yalie, Dr. Acevedo completed her Ph.D in Music Theory in 2020. Dr. Acevedo is now Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Connecticut and is a member of the UConn Trombone Choir.

In late 2020, my son’s beloved combination snow globe/music box stopped working. The cheap music box became overwound and then would no longer turn the drum and play the song. The song, Brother James’s Ayre, was a gift from his godmother and we played it every night before he went to bed since the day he received it. It being the height of the pandemic I became completely obsessed with trying to repair it.The music box itself was simple, removable, and inexpensive so I tried to find a supplier who sold a similar unit but I couldn’t find one with the same tune. I spent hours combing websites in different languages and listening to different sample recordings from the suppliers – I think any halfway decent therapist could easily deduce what was going on with this pursuit. I decided to buy an exact replica of the music box with the tune Für Elise and then would try to replace the small parts to repair it fully. Of course, I didn’t know a single thing about music boxes or how they worked. 

My first attempt at a repair was to swap the drum, the notched cylinder in the music box that would pluck the pitched tines to create sound. I don’t know why I did this because obviously it wasn’t going to sound right. The result of that experiment is the audio you’re going to hear in für Frankie by Michael Denis Ò Callaghan. In replacing the drum in the donor unit I was rewarded with the rhythm from Brother James’s Ayre but the pitches from Für Elise. It was a magical sound that I immediately posted it to social media. Michael heard the audio and commented (in 2020) asking if he could use the audio. Fast forward to 2022 when I re-shared the 2020 post and he realized that he hadn’t sent me his piece of music. Michael takes the audio and reshapes, twists, and interpolates it to create a beautiful soundscape perfect for the sonorous trombone to play in and above.

Lament and Scherzo was written in 2022 by Emily DeNucci during her sophomore year in high school. Over the course of writing this commission, Emily moved to Philadelphia, PA to attend the Curtis School. Lament and Scherzo was commissioned by Dr. Matthew Russo. 

In mid-2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, I started playing the critically acclaimed MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Onine Role Playing Game) Final Fantasy XIV like millions of others throughout the world. With an expanded free trial which you can play through the entirety of A Realm Reborn and the award-winning Heavensward expansion up to level 60 for free with no restrictions on playtime, it was easy to team up to play with my brother, my old roommate from college, and my brother’s brother-in-law. My character, Grahf Walker, with the three others, Setzer Lighting, Sullan Datoon, formed a light party and played nearly every night. I’ll confess that I don’t remember a whole lot about the beginning of the first bit of the story called A Realm Reborn on account of my newborn daughter and my ensuing sleep deprivation… I would eventually connect with more friends IRL (in real life) and online who shared not only my love of this game but especially my passion for music and video game music: the XIVGM community. To them I owe a great debt of friendship and to whom this arrangement is dedicated.

Like all Final Fantasy games, the soundtracks are incredible and Final Fantasy XIV has an immense amount of music as the game comprises hundreds of hours of content. The bulk of that music has been composed by Masayoshi Soken, who is also the composer for the upcoming Final Fantasy XVI. The Measure of His Reach can be described as one of the main themes of Stormblood, a content expansion that details the events of two occupied nations achieving independence from the (evil) Garlean empire. The Measure of His Reach theme is introduced as the national anthem for an occupied territory and is used throughout the score as a unifying theme and is even featured as the main fanfare for when your player achieves success in a quest. This arrangement was written as a result of one of XIVGM’s semi-regular composition festivals called “Song Rotation.” I thought it would be fun to write a Theme and Variations in the style of virtuoso trombonist Arthur Pryor who wrote similar variations on themes and folksongs when he toured with the Sousa band at the turn of the 20th century. 

The Sonata Concisa is one continuous movement comprised of three separate sonata forms that create an additional, overall ternary structure.

The first section presents several contrasting ideas: an arching maestoso idea in F followed by scherzando and cantabile passages in C. The maestoso idea then returns to close clearly in F.

The second section is slow and ethereal. This new material, contrasting as it does with the surrounding music, serves as a large-scale digression within the overall form. It was composed as an elegy for my friend, the choral conductor Germán Aguilar, who passed away suddenly and far too young while I was working on the sonata.

The materials from the first section then return, now restructured and entirely in F, to conclude the work.

The Sonata Concisa was commissioned in 2013 by trombonist Matthew Lennex. It was completed the following summer, and Matthew played the first two performances in Arizona shortly thereafter.

I made some small revisions to the piece prior to its publication with the American Composers Alliance in 2019.

– Andrew Ardizzoia

About Life and Death on a Spinning Disk, the composer writes: 

“A record player is called to life to tell its pre-recorded story of a computer’s rebellion against its creator, and how it destroys the world.”

– Ted King-Smith

The lore of Azteccia comes from a series of recurring dreams. This dreamscape is divided into four quadrants, each with its own animalistic rulers. 

The south is a massive rainforest with swamps and lush foliage. Banto, a gorilla who rules from an overgrown medieval-style castle, values love above all else, believing it can conquer even what nature might try to forbid. 

The north is mountainous, scattered with crag rock and tall slender white firs. Raza, the lioness of this region, lives in a stone house on the edge of a steep cliff, living most of her days in a drunken stupor. She values the blissful pleasures the world has to offer as well as the authenticity of self-expression. 

The east is a desert land, filled with dry shrubs and red mountains. Tsame, a tiger who lives in a blue and green oasis, values an appreciation for the complexity of the world as well as one’s own personal beliefs. 

In the dream, the composer would take the role of a fox, travelling to meet and learn from these three rulers. Each warns him of the tyrant bear of the west, Giriyama, a conqueror who lives in an ancient pyramid surrounded by forest and vines. He values strength and knowledge above all else, and offers to share his mystic power to the fox (in exchange for blind servitude). The fox refuses the bear’s offer, and instead seeks to dethrone the tyrant of the west.

The music was written to encapsulate these characters, and to provide sketches of an overall larger story. 

– Julien Monick