Prof. Richard Stoelzel, Professor of Trumpet and Brass Area Chair at the Schulich School of Music, recently released his latest record – Horizon. This newest release features many works for trumpet and orchestra that Stoelzel commissioned specifically for the release, and sees him joined by the Polish Camerata Chamber Orchestra. In light of this exciting new disc, we spoke to Prof. Stoelzel about the album, performing as a soloist and more in a recent email exchange.
Your latest release, Horizon, features the premiere of commissioned works for chamber orchestra. As this is a theme throughout your discs, what attracts you to playing commissioned pieces?
A career and life ambition of mine has been to add to the repertoire of the trumpet through commissioning works from talented new composers. It so happens that one such talented composer is a former student of mine – Erik Morales. Erik has composed new works for me for trumpet ensemble, solo trumpet and piano, solo trumpet and orchestra, and solo trumpet with wind ensemble. My previous Schulich student trumpet ensemble won the National Trumpet Competition (NTC) twice with works I commissioned from Erik, and this started a trend at the NTC of premiering new works in the competition!
Another composer I commissioned was James Stephenson, whom I had the pleasure of working with as a student while playing at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute and later in the section of the Naples Philharmonic. I commissioned him to write his first-ever trumpet sonata for me, which I recorded on my first CD, Born to Be Mild. Since then, this work has been recorded a half-dozen times by famous trumpet players around the world.
All in all, I have commissioned close to 40 new arrangements or compositions so far. I always wanted to leave behind a legacy for the trumpet world and this is one of the most gratifying ways and long-lasting ways to do so.
What challenges does playing as a soloist with a chamber orchestra offer compared to playing in orchestra, duo or trio settings?
There are a number of different challenges in each of these settings. In the orchestra you are a part of a well-oiled machine, and as such, you can't act as an individual and you’re required to play as the conductor instructs. While there is certainly some room for individualism in solo passages, your job is teamwork.
As a soloist, you have the freedom to be your own musical director – you need to know the score and be able to make your own decisions on how to play. The orchestra and conductor follow you, instead of vice-versa. This artistic freedom is terrific, as you are able to freely speak through your art! However, with this comes a tremendous responsibility to know the score and to interpret the composer’s desires while also maintaining your own expression.
With duo or trio settings, while you still have a voice in the interpretation, you are still part of a team. Chamber music and being a soloist both allow for much more freedom of expression.
As a fairly new member of the Schulich community, what attracted you to come to the school?
This is a very easy question to answer – the wonderful reputation of McGill University and the Schulich School of Music. I am extremely proud to be on the faculty of such an esteemed institution, and my colleagues here are some of the best in the business. The students are also terrific and Montreal is a world-class city. No matter where I go in the world, from North America to Europe to Asia, everyone knows of McGill University and for good reason. It’s an amazing place to make music!
What advice would you have for students aspiring to make music their career?
Practice! Listen to great artists, be well-rounded and get all the experience you can. Be ready for any opportunity that comes your way. Most importantly in this day and age, "think outside of the box." Be an entrepreneur and love what you do! Being in music is not an occupation, but a life style – you have to immerse yourself in music of all styles and genres.
I am thankful every day for what music has brought me, as I have been able to travel the world and work with amazing people. Because of music I have friends on every continent. It’s so interesting to find that we’re so much the same everywhere and we can all communicate through the universal language of music despite language barriers.
Lastly, never give up. If you are truly ready, opportunities will present themselves to you. Your path may not always be what you originally intended, but it will be a wonderful and fulfilling journey. Attack it with aplomb!