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Thinking - VN/VC/CL/BSN/TPT/PN

Composer: Stephenson, James

Publisher: Stephenson (United States)

Edition: 54296


for violin, cello, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet and piano
by James Stephenson - American composer, and trumpeter

duration: 18.5 minutes

I. Outside the Box – II. It Over – III. About What Was – IV. Twice – V. Out Loud

Written for Laura Garwin and the Salmagundi Ensemble Made possible by a generous gift from the Charles Schlueter Foundation.


In the fall of 2007, I was contacted by Laura Garwin about composing a new piece for her chamber group, the Salmagundi Ensemble, at the Royal College of Music in London. There have been few pieces written for the instrumentation of their group (Martinu’s La Revue de Cuisine being the best-known) and the idea was to add to the repertoire. Laura, also a trumpet player, was a student of Jeff Work’s when I wrote the trumpet concerto for him, and we met a few years later at a trumpet conference outside Boston.

The piece began with the last movement, as many of my compositions do. I needed to just get some ideas down on paper, and so I began to “think out loud” – not withholding any ideas that popped into my head. These ideas soon began to gel into cohesive phrases, and the movement took shape. It then occurred to me to keep the “Thinking” theme going, and soon titles for the rest of the movements began to creep in and stimulate compositional ideas.

The first movement – Outside the Box – represents a compositional stretch for me. My music generally comes out pretty tonal (with added spice) – but in this case, I decided to go ‘outside’ my comfort zone and write something without a defined tonal center. The movement then relies on rhythmic pulses and a “cool” jazz groove in the middle.

The three middle movements feature the sextet in pairs. “It Over” showcases mainly the clarinet and piano. The main theme gets repeated over and over, as the title would suggest – but gets a little more frantic upon each repetition. “About What Was” is a trumpet/cello feature, and anchors the five- movement work. I wanted to make sure to feature Laura on trumpet, as she is the sole reason this piece exists! The movement is decidedly reflective, depicting sorrowful thoughts about a time gone by. (The sorrow has nothing to do with my thoughts about Laura!). The last of this middle triplet is a quirky take on thinking twice. I often have been amused at the sound of a skipping record, or even CD. The skip sometime sounds more interesting than the original – and so I have composed an intended “skip” in the music. This may cause the listener to think “twice” as they try to determine where the beat falls in the music. The melody, here featuring the bassoon and violin, is played exactly twice.

The last movement puts the entire group on display, with rhythmic vitality and technical virtuosity. The commission for this work came from a generous grant from the Charles Schlueter Foundation, and the premiere took place at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on July 4, 2008.