A perfect concerto for a now perfect instrument

The Chilliwack Metropolitan Orchestra performs the work of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven on Nov. 7. Ed Lewis is the trumpet soloist.

Ed Lewis is the soloist for the Chilliwack Metropolitan Orchestra's Salute to Papa Haydn on Nov. 7.

The Chilliwack Metropolitan Orchestra (the Met) will premiere their 2015-16 concert season with a classical treat for all.

A Salute to Papa Haydn on Nov. 7 will pay tribute to the three most important composers from the Classical period, Hadyn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Taking the stage as the concerto trumpet soloist is Dr. Edward Lewis. While waiting for an oil change, Lewis sat down with The Progress to share his excitement for the upcoming performance.

Lewis taught music at the University of Regina for 33 years before retiring as a Professor Emeritus. He achieved his Master’s from Juilliard School of Music in 1966 and completed his Ph.D. at New York University in 1985.

In addition to teaching, Lewis has toured extensively as a soloist or principal trumpet in such well known orchestras as the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, Radio City Music Hall Orchestra, and Rochester Philharmonic. Since his move to B.C. in 2006, he’s played with the Vancouver Philharmonic, the New Westminster Symphony and more.

Following the passing of his late wife after a happy 40 year marriage, Lewis relocated to Abbotsford in 2012 with his current wife, Sharalee. Eager to continue playing, Lewis initially joined the Fraser Valley Symphony where he met trombonist Bob Dyck, who informed him of the principal trumpet opening with the Met.

There were only two trumpet concertos written during the classical era. On Nov. 7, lead by conductor Greg Johnson, the Met will perform Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E Flat Major, preceded by Beethoven’s 1810 Egmont Overture, and followed with Mozart’s Symphony No. 40.

The trumpets in 1796, when Haydn wrote the concerto, didn’t have valves. They were played like a bugle, and could only be used to play diatonic scales if you had an incredibly high register, but were unable to play chromatic scales.

Joseph Haydn, the Kapellmeister (composer) for the court of Prince Esterházy in Vienna, was good friends with Anton Weidinger, the court trumpet virtuoso. Weidinger had invented a “spectacular,” new keyed trumpet. Without ever playing the instrument for Haydn, Weidinger excitedly convinced him to write this “earth-shattering, incredible trumpet concerto, filled with chromatic scales,” Lewis explained.

If the Chilliwack audience were to mentally transport themselves back 200 years, they would better understand the shock that Weidinger’s audience must have gone through upon hearing these incredible chromatic scales and modulations for the first time on a trumpet.

If only they had the trumpets then that we do now.

Unfortunately, the concert was a dismal failure. “The trumpet sounded horrible, like a saxophone with a trumpet mouthpiece,” Lewis explained. Haydn stomped out of the theatre and said, “I’ve written my most perfect concerto for an imperfect instrument.”

It was still an astounding performance, because the trumpet was playing notes and scales that it never had before. But, even as one of Haydn’s greatest pieces, it wasn’t played again for over 150 years.

Rediscovered in the 1950s, the manuscript has been performed and recorded thousands of times since. Lewis first played it in grade seven. “The only reason I could play it was because nobody told me it was hard,” he laughed.

Today, played on a modern trumpet with valves, it is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.

“I love playing Haydn. He’s a challenge,” Lewis revealed. “People often don’t realize how inventive, creative and world-changing his music was.”

Lewis’ passion for the concerto is remarkably palpable, even at a casual meeting in a car dealership showroom. He vividly described what it’s like to perform the chromatic scales in various passages of the concerto.

“[Haydn] has these intense tension chords. It feels like I’m a serpent snaking through the grass. Then, all of a sudden, you reach C Flat Major. It’s like the sky opens up, the sun comes out, and it’s so beautiful.”

With any great art, whether it be a painting, a play, or Haydn’s trumpet concerto, if you invest the time to learn about it, you will enjoy and take away much more from it.

The show takes place at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre on Saturday, Nov. 7 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 or $15 for students, on sale at the Centre Box Office (9201 Corbould St.) or by phone at 604-391-SHOW.

Read more: CMO Fantasia

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