I cannot tell you how many pieces I’ve started writing for Alex Wilson over the years.
Granted, our journey together thus far hasn’t spanned eons and generations—I met him in the fall of 2014, when I was a sophomore and he was a first-year doctoral student and my trumpet TA—but since the very beginning, Alex has been a staunch believer in my composing and a fierce advocate for continuing my journey with my instrument. He was among the first of my teachers to tell me I could choose not to sound like everyone else (as long as I could play just as well). The imprints he’s left on my life, particularly my trumpet playing, have helped shape many of my artistic decisions and priorities. He’s the rare linchpin in my musical lineage that makes sure I remain whole; without his guidance at a critical time in my education, I’m not sure I’d still be playing the trumpet.
When people become that important in your life, and you’re a composer, you write them things. Or, at least, you try to. Alex has always been a bit of a special case. By the time I met him, he was already absolutely shredding the Paganini violin concerto, and as such, I spent bits and pieces of several years trying to write something that would be difficult enough to feel worth giving him. (He didn’t know this until reading these notes, but there are probably a half-dozen sketches and drafts floating around my apartment that have “for Alex” hastily scribbled at the top.) And although almost none of those scraps of music ever made it onto his music stand, he’s constantly encouraged and enabled me to write pieces that reveled in challenge. He commissioned Earthquake City and Storm Warning, both for his student ensembles, and he’s played on a healthy handful of my works at other points, so when we decided it was time to write him a solo piece, I knew I’d have to push myself. Hard.
Helios isn’t the end-all, be-all piece I’m going to write Alex someday, but it’s a significant step in that direction. The work charts the course of the day: the first two minutes or so chronicle the sleepy beginnings of the dawn; midday arrives with a chorus of shrill sounds; dusk is ushered in by a subtle chorus of synths. The piece circles back around, at the end, to material reminiscent once more of the dawn, and the cycle begins again. The trumpet lines emerge from and disappear back into the tape track, crafting a symbiosis between soloist and accompaniment I dearly love but so rarely get to see in performance. If you, dear reader, are taking this on and you’re anyone other than Alex, you’ve got big shoes to fill. There’s good news, though: I believe in you, and so does he. Take the reins and run with it.