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Steven Mackey’s lexicon-inspired trumpet concerto uses unusual words sourced from Dictionary.com as a jumping off point for musical exploration. Shivaree premieres in October with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel, featuring soloist Thomas Hooten.

On October 21-24, Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic give the world premiere of Steven Mackey’s new trumpet fantasy, Shivaree, featuring principal trumpet Thomas Hooten as soloist. Shivaree revels in the joy of discovery, using 11 unusual words sourced from Dictionary.com’s “Word of the Day” feature as inspiration for individual movements.

> October 21-24: Steven Mackey, Shivaree (World Premiere)

Mackey’s imaginative approach was inspired by conversations with Hooten, who said he was particularly interested in exploring “fringe modes of expression.” This led Mackey to imagine a piece comprising many vividly characterized miniatures, bagatelles, fragments, and interludes that traverse a wide range of emotions, from light and whimsical to dark and profound.

The piece took on a playful new direction when Mackey was inspired by another source: his daughter. He explains:
“I was getting notifications on my phone every morning with the “Word of the Day” from Dictionary.com, and my 10-year-old daughter would wander into my study, sit down at the piano and say, “Give me a word.” She would play an improvisation inspired by those words that led me to decide to take some of the more unusual and evocative “words of the day” as points of departure for my Trumpet Fantasy.

The 12 movements of Shivaree are as follows:

  1. Shivaree: a mock serenade with kettles, pans, horns and other noisemakers
  2. Chthonian: relating to deities, spirits and other beings dwelling under the earth
  3. Erumpent: bursting forth
  4. Tintinnabulation: the ringing of bells
  5. Exonumia: items that resemble money but are not intended to circulate as money
  6. Requiescat: a prayer for the dead
  7. Deipnosophist: a person who is an adept conversationalist at table
  8. Omphaloskepsis: the contemplation of one’s naval as part of a mystical exercise
  9. Horripilation: goose bumps
  10. Deliquesce: melt away
  11. Apopemptic (in memoriam Louis Andriessen): pertaining to leave taking or departing
  12. Shivaree (slight return)

The demands of depicting such a wide range of colorful words led Mackey to employ several extended techniques for the trumpet soloist: half-valve technique (which he likens to a New Year’s Eve noise maker), tongue ram, and multiple mutes that create different effects.

Mackey, whose robust orchestral catalog includes a whopping 15 concertos for different instruments, explains that when he composes for the trumpet, he thinks about the instrument’s particular “vocal quality.” By applying the extended techniques to the instrument, the score produces different voices but always retains its singing quality.

Mackey is a frequent collaborator of the LA Phil and Gustavo Dudamel, who most recently premiered his acclaimed Mnemosyne's Pool in 2015, in addition to performances of Beautiful Passing, Four Iconoclastic Episodes, and Stumble to Grace.

National Dictionary Day is on October 16, 2022.

>  Further information on Work: Shivaree: Fantasy for Trumpet and Orchestra

Photo: Kah Poon

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