There’s something about Mary Elizabeth Bowden and her ability on the trumpet – a fluid sense of light and dark, of grace and power, and you can experience the work of the Chicago-raised, Naples, Florida–based and present Richmond Symphony member on Feb. 22 and 24 at free concerts. She’s here, too, in advance of her album on Summit Records. And next weekend (March 1), the Classical Revolution RVA returns Mozart to the boutiques and restaurants of Carytown.
For these Richmond shows, Bowden formed a trio with violinist Ellen Cockerham (of whom more anon), and pianist Charles Staples. Their repertoire includes Eric Ewazen's Trio for Trumpet, Violin and Piano and also the 7 Popular Spanish Songs by Manuel De Fella and selections from Porgy and Bess.
The performances are at 8 p.m. Sunday at Trinity Methodist Church, 903 Forest Ave., and 8 p.m., Tuesday at the Sonia Vlahcevic Concert Hall in the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts, 922 Park Ave.
Bowden, third child of an electrician father and graphic designer mother, grew up alongside two older brothers who played horn and trombone. “My first teacher would come and stay with us all day and then take us to concerts in Chicago,” Bowden recalls. “I was extremely fortunate in that regard — and it was fun, too.”
She heard her brothers practicing and that led her along the brass path and an academic career that began her college studies at age 14. “I wanted to have more time to practice,” she says. “We happened to know counselors who guided me toward starting with my associate’s degree and this allowed me to finish classes in a semester rather than a year. My brothers did the same thing.”
She started with the cornet, and her father didn’t just go and get a student model, but a grown-up version that she uses today. “It’s really hard to compensate when you start out on a bad instrument,” she says.
Her studies took her to the Curtis Institute of Music and a full scholarship to the Yale School of Music, where she earned a 2006 Master of Music degree. Bowden’s music took her on journeys, leading her to play in professional organizations from Arkansas to Switzerland, Korea and Auckland, New Zealand. Music also led her to Richmond, where she lived from 2006 to 2010. While here, she struck up a professional friendship with globe-traveling trumpeter Rex Richardson. “He’s a generous, kind person,” Bowden says. “When I was 24, he hired me to teach adjunct at Virginia Commonwealth University, and I learned to teach because of Rex. I enjoy teaching – it’s a big part of my life. He’s an inspirational player and I’m extremely lucky to have colleagues like him who are extraordinary talents, and giving people.”
She retains a position in the symphony here.
“Hollywood Cemetery is one of my favorite places on earth,” she says of the scene for her video performance of Samuel Barber’s Opus 10, Rain Has Fallen. She worked with Uruguayan filmmaker Pablo Camacho.
“It’s just him with Steadicam, and he’s kind of running around me. He really hears the music and spends days and weeks meshing together the mood of the piece and the visuals.”
She thought the Barber piece well-suited to Hollywood Cemetery, as it concerns the melancholy of lost love. She filmed more videos with Camacho, one for I Hear An Army by the Hollywood pyramid, and in the abandoned hydroelectric plant on Belle Isle. These will come out during the spring as the time nears for the April 14 album release.
Radiance is all American works, and except for the Barber piece, by living composers. “Many of them haven’t been recorded,” she says. She first heard Radiance, by David Ludwig, while working in the office at the Richmond Symphony in 2007; it was commissioned as a chamber piece for oboe and strings. “I always knew I wanted to record it, and it works for the piccolo trumpet, and so I’ve finally gotten the chance to do that.”
She chose to produce through Summit, “because I didn’t want anybody telling me what I could or could not record,” she says. The label has produced several excellent brass players and accepted her proposal — “which to me just shows if you stick to your artistic vision, somebody will eventually like it,” she says.
For more on Bowden, see here.
Next Sunday (March 1) from noon to midnight all up and down through the Carytown, Mozart will be in the house. And if it’s anything like last year, expect excited audiences filling every venue. It comes to you via Classical Revolution RVA.
The audiences loved it – but how about the musicians, who were often shoehorned into unusual places that didn’t have the acoustics of a concert hall. Violinist Ellen Cockerham, chief organizer of the event, says, “I think they were excited to be a part of something new and different, and the public response was incredible.”
Part of the attraction is the juxtaposition: “the name of a composer you know so well and the venues where maybe you’d never thought they’d have highbrow art. People seem to think, ‘Well, that’s got to be worth a trip to Carytown.’ I don’t think people would be flocking to a concert hall to hear 12 hours of Mozart.”
And there’s fun for the whole family. From 1 to 3 p.m., a Relay Foods truck will be parked in the Dixie Donuts parking lot, equipped with everything kids need to build a musical instrument out of food. “And then they’ll go up to Sweet Frog and play with us,” Cockerham says.
The festival culminates in an evening performance of orchestral and operatic hits by Mozart at Can Can. And there’s an after-party, organized by musician Prabir Mehta, “Rock Me Amadeus,” at Balliceaux in the Fan.
All events are free and open to the public; reservations are suggested at Can Can. See also Mehta’s site, My Glasses Rule.
photo by Todd Raviotta
Prabir Mehta and Ellen Cockerham celebrate the first Mozart festival's conclusion and the composer's birthday in 2014.