Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lost & Found & Lost Again

After I posted my last item, in which I mentioned the composer Gladys Nordenstrom, I realized I just didn't know enough about her or her music. I had met her once, aorund 1980, as she accompanied her husband (Ernst Krenek) to a talk at my college*, but I have only heard two or three pieces. My curiosity piqued, I ended up, as so often, in the archives at, a project of Otherminds. There, I found a only short taped interview with Nordenstrom**, but once inside the archives you naturally start to wander. Soon, I located a performance of Barney Child's Sonata for Solo Trombone, played by its commissioner, Stuart Dempster. (One thing that younger composers might emulate from Child's catalog was the fact that he composed a series of significant solo pieces for a diversity of instruments, the kind of pieces which "useful baggage" as Aaron Copland is said to have put it, simply because good solo pieces are likely to find players.)

And then I did a search on the name of one of my favorite composers, Douglas Leedy, only to discover a newly-listed recording of a piece which was not listed in Leedy's catalog, a 1962 Trio for trumpet, horn and trombone. The performance recorded was a concert recording by KPFA played by a student group, rough edges in, but the contours of the piece were evident and attractive, especially the very long tones, the microtonality, and the bits of quasi-harmonic ornamental flourish. It struck me immediately as part and parcel of the West Coast radical moment, alongside the music of his comillitones like Young, Riley, Byrd, Oliveros, Rush or Moran. Since I publish, through Material Press, a number of Leedy's pieces, I immediately wanted to verify the piece and beg to carry the score in the Material Press catalog. So I called the composer ASAP and learned that it was, in fact, his piece, that he was unaware of the recording of what was probably the first and only performance, that the score had some interesting details — the staves were clefless (players chose their own clefs as appropriate), the loose pages were not in a fixed sequence, but some pages had indications affecting the tempo of the following page, and that the microtones were specified as slightly or more sharp or flat than the notated tone. Mr Leedy also indicated that he did not have access to the score. So that single recording is all the record we have of the piece. Lost, found, lost again. Here, a recording is clearly valuable, but frustratingly not enough to recover the piece for new performances.


* For a previous account of an afternoon in Santa Cruz with Krenek, read here. Composer and UCSC Professor David Cope, in his memoir, Tin Man, also recalls the day.

** Later, I found a lengthy video documentary about Krenek with extended interviews with Nordenstrom, online here.


Charles Shere said...

Thanks for bringing Leedy's Trio to my attention. I didn't know of it at all, and I was familiar with him and his music from 1964 to 1967 or so. Yes: this must be an early piece; it looks forward to both the Quintet 1965 (a masterpiece) and the trumpet voluntary of (I think) the following year, I forget its name. But if the musicians are a ”student group“ — and in 1962 they would have been, I believe — all three went on to union-member professional status. I don't recall the trombonist beyond that: but Laurie McGaw went on to play for years with the San Francisco Symphony — before that, with the University Symphony in Berkeley, where his high A in the Mahler Tenth was unforgettable. And Nelson Green played with the Oakland Symphony and the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, where Leedy was among his section-mates, before emigrating to Australia.

Charles Shere said...

Having spoken with Leedy, and having given the matter further thought, I'm certain this recording was made shortly after the composition of the Trio in1962, and certainly not as late as 1967.

The “trumpet voluntary” was, of course, Antifonia II, for two trumpets and two trombones.