Chris Brubeck drew on eclectic roots in composing piece for Sharon Isbin
If you go
What: Guitar virtuoso Sharon Isbin performing with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra in the last Masterworks concert in the symphony's 33rd season
When: Performances at 8 p.m. April 11 and 3 p.m. April 12
Where: The Maryland Theater, 30 W. Washington St., Hagerstown, Md.
Admission: Tickets range from $15 to $50. Students up to grade 12 are admitted free. Tickets for college students at $5.
Details: For more information, or to order tickets, visit marylandsymphony.org or call 301-797-4000 during normal business hours.
There's a story Chris Brubeck likes to tell about his dad and his brief — very brief — stint studying with the great Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg.
Schoenberg was in residence at UCLA while Dave Brubeck — you might have heard of him — was studying composition. His teacher arranged an introduction to Schoenberg and Dave Brubeck took the opportunity to study with one of the great musical theorists of the 20th Century.
During their first meeting, Schoenberg asked Brubeck to write something and bring it back to him so he could assess it. Brubeck did, and during their second meeting, Schoenberg asked him to play the composition. Brubeck got a couple of bars into the pice when Schoenberg stopped him.
The composer asked Brubeck, Why did you write that?
Brubeck replied, "I thought it sounded good."
Wrong answer. Schoenberg, whose approach to composition was more technical and academic, asked him, What makes you think you know what sounds good?
And thus ended the elder Brubeck's studies with Schoenberg.
Dave Brubeck's biography posted on Wikipedia states he had two lessons with the great composer.
"It was more like one and a half," his son said, chuckling.
The lesson, though, stuck with the elder Brubeck and filtered down to his son — write music that sounds good, that sounds like something an audience would want to hear.
Those words would stay with Chris Brubeck as he forged his musical path — an eclectic path that guided him through rock bands, to playing jazz and, eventually, classical composition.
He brought those eclectic influences to bear when he wrote a new piece — "Affinity: Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra" — for guitar virtuoso Sharon Isbin, a piece that will premiere with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra this weekend.
The piece has been long in the works. Isbin first got in touch with Brubeck about a decade ago after seeing a performance on PBS of Brubeck's "Interplay for Three Violins and Orchestra" and admiring the way the piece fused classical, jazz and Celtic influences to match the styles of the three featured soloists.
Isbin herself is a kind of a genre bending musician. She has toured and recorded with a wide variety of musicians —including rock greats Steve Vai and Steve Morse — and has delved into a lot of different styles of music, from classical, to jazz, to rock, to folk, to Latin music.
The project was back-burned while both musicians kept busy touring and recording schedules. (Brubeck still plays and tours with at least three bands, including his own Chris Brubeck's Triple Play and the Brubeck Brothers Quartet.) Then, a couple of years ago, Isbin secured funding from the Betsy Russell Fund for New Music and the project was a go.
Brubeck met with Isbin several times to talk things over and discuss the piece. When he delivered it, he said, she had some suggestions and from there, the final 15-minutes piece was born.
It was interesting working on it, Brubeck said. He said he wrote some parts that he feared would be impossible to play on guitar. But Isbin took everything he threw at her. Brubeck, in his youth, played guitar — his main performance instruments now are bass and trombone — and he figured he knew a little about the instrument.
Isbin, though, is a master.
"I'm like a birthday candle," he said. "She is like a lighthouse."
The piece covers several different styles of music and time changes. It's fairly complex.
In the end, though, Brubeck was guided by one thing.
"I think it sounds good," he said. "Sharon thinks so too. It's 15 minutes long and she loves every second of it."