This was a wonderful treat on a Sunday afternoon – all original music, none of it heard in a public setting, a premier. The artists, all accomplished professionals, were fabulous.
So who is Kent Trostel?
Kent began playing the piano at age 10. His first composition at age 12, prompted by the discovery of a harmonium pedal organ at his cousin’s house was awarded 2nd Place in the Arizona Youth Composition Contest. He later arranged the piece to be performed by his elementary school band. Early in high school, Kent composed music for many of the drama department productions, including The Miracle Worker, which was chosen as one of five plays to be presented at the National Thespian Festival in Muncie, Indiana, that year.
Kent earned a Bachelor’s of Music degree at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Maryland. Kent has been involved in several organizations, including Arizona Masterworks Chorale, West Valley Chorale, Arizona Broadway Theatre, and the Prescott Fine Arts Singers.
He studies composition with opera and musical theater composer Craig Bohmler.
Butterfly Struggling (Kristan Drathman, vocal / Kent Trostel, piano)
Two Studies for Piano:
I. Adagio assai
Your Touch (Kristan Drathman, Vocal / Kent Trostel, Piano)
Worm (Kristan Drathman, Vocal / Kent Trostel, Piano)
Riparian Variations for Violin and Piano ( Katrina Becker, violin / Kent Trostel, piano)
To Choose (Kristan Drathman, vocal / Kent Trostel, piano)
Beautiful, Beautiful Night (Kristan Drathman, vocal / Kent Trostel, piano)
Smile Variations for Clarinet and Piano (Audrey Miller, clarinet / Kent Trostel, piano)
Unconditionally (Kristan Drathman, vocal / Kent Trostel, piano)
This is the first time I’ve heard Kristan Drathman, but she is no stranger to the Phoenix music scene having performed for the last 17 years including solo appearances with the Phoenix Symphony, and on the road with the Portland, Maine Symphony, Yakima, Washington Symphony, the Brooklyn Conservatory Summer Opera Festival, and the Barcelona, Spain Olympics ceremony (!); among other engagements. She studied with the legendary Dr. Judith Cloud, and is a graduate of Arizona State University – and she’s an Arizona native. She was in fine form this afternoon.
Her voice welcomes you into the music more than an insistent projection common to many sopranos; and was perfectly suited to the suite of songs Kent Trostel presented. His vocal compositional style is accessible, with a flavor of American musical drama; or even contemporary gospel / folk. You got the feeling at times you were hearing a song extracted from a show, but you couldn’t quite place it! No. All were all original stand-alone compositions; and if there was a unifying theme it seemed to me to be a certain, distinctive sense of emergence – trust; hope in a future, a heart dependent on another’s heart.
Butterfly Struggling the opener, captured this spirit; but I think Kristan’s song of the afternoon was To Choose. She sounded simply magnificent here with phrase placement and intonation spot on. I think it would have been better, at least acoustically, in a smaller more intimate hall, but miking was apparently out of the question given the logistics of the concert set up. But really an exceptional, brilliant musical moment.
The hall, The Unitarian Universalist Church of Surprise, Arizona, was just a bit muffled for my liking as it was fully carpeted, the pews were upholstered, and the hall was well attended so there were plenty of bodies to soak up sound. This all can conspire to drown out acoustical highs and worse yet to damp out the mid-range. The result is that the piano projects above the vocalist unintentionally; and extreme care must be taken with dynamics. Think about this. In a setting like I have described – not a huge sanctuary mind you – how many services have you been to in a similar setting as I describe, where the pastor always uses a microphone? See what I mean! Anyhow, there were a few balance issues – but really, I’m nitpicking. The sound and acoustics were generally quite good.
Riparian Variations for violin and piano featured violinist Katrina Becker, the well-known radio personality and producer at 89.5 KBAQ Phoenix, writer, music critic, and reviewer. Besides these formidable talents and accomplishments, Katrina is an excellent violinist as well, playing in the MusicaNova orchestra (recent concert reviewed here: https://gregole.com/2014/10/27/musica-nova-review-of-their-opening-concert-for-the-2014-2015-season/), Ensemble Indigo, Symphony of the Southwest, the Flagstaff Symphony, and the Allegro quartet. Katrina is a graduate of Northern Arizona University.
This set of variations featured a statement of a broad flowing theme followed by treatments ranging from whimsical spiccato passages, to somber and sonorous. Lively conversations between violin and piano were frequent, and carefully constructed. There was clever part writing in the lighter moments. The last variation was almost lullaby-like and ended with an abrupt modulation – very witty – a sort of Darius Milhaud moment! Quite clever.
Balance and rapport between Katrina and Kent were excellent throughout. The Variations tightly couple violin and piano; there was no extended piano solo section for example; nor was there a prominently featured virtuoso violin section (think Beethoven Op. 47 Kreutzer Sonata variations at the end of Mvt 1). This provided a kind of intimacy, where the musical message was stressed above musical presentation.
Smile Variations for clarinet and piano is based on the timeless Charlie Chaplin song of the same title and opened with solo clarinet, simply and powerfully stating the melody. Audrey Miller, clarinet, is a doctoral student in clarinet performance at ASU studying with Dr. Robert Spring and Dr. Joshua Gardner. Ms. Miller performs throughout the Phoenix area as part of the Classical Revolution, the Kaleidoscope Reed Quintet, and is active with the group, Clarinet for Conservation.
Her clarinet “sound” is dark, yet penetrating with excellent focus – clearly an accomplished artist. Funny playing a melody everyone knows…you’d think it would be easy but not necessarily – you have to get it right, because everyone knows the tune! It’s a weird kind of challenge; because if you play it too straight, people think it’s “square” (ha! that song doesn’t really sound like that!) and if you loosen it up too much, it sounds affected and phony. Oh. And it opens the piece. She did a great job – just right!
From the intro, Kent takes us through some 30’s flavored jazzy sections and into the most abstract musical moments of the afternoon. A couple of the variations conjured up in my mind at least, the image of a comedy overlaid upon sadness – humor as brave optimism – very Charlie Chaplin! What I counted as Variation 8, clarinet and piano are in parallel intervals in a minor key version of the melody with rhythmic augmentation slowing it all down. I found this a very effective device; and also particularly enjoyed the following variation which switched to major with well place arpeggio figures for clarinet. (Clarinet? Arpeggios? What’s not to like!) The following variation, a sort of dead-march, ends the piece, deeply introspective; a powerful ending, yet hushed.
Kristan was back to finish the show with the song, Unconditionally, a dramatic ballad.
Image from: http://coryellekramer.com/