On Kootenay trombonist Gordon Wolfe’s debut album Reflections, there is a 15-minute commissioned piece called “Concertino” in which a cherub and an imp engage in a classic battle for supremacy.
The musical manifestation of this duel consists of Wolfe’s angry trombone-playing paired with Vanessa May-Lok Lee’s ethereal, lilting piano.
“The main theory behind that track is you have a battle between the angel and the devil, each trying to get their own way. It’s written so a lot of the angel music is lyrical and beautiful, patient and slow. The piano provides soft chords,” said the 43-year-old L.V Rogers alumni, who is currently the principal trombonist for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
The song, composed by Ian McDougall, then uses an ugly tri-tone to capture the devil’s voice.
“That interval is quite ugly, and it’s often called the devil in the music. Ian wrote this interval into the devil’s sections, so you have this ugly interval but somehow you need to make it work.”
The resulting piece is one of his favourites on Reflections, which is now available on iTunes.
Wolfe said by the end of the song, the audience is left to decide for themselves which side emerged victorious.
“We just premiered this piece live at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, and we really left it so the listener doesn’t know whether the devil won or not.”
At times, he said, the devil can be quite convincing.
“You see this sweet side of the devil, the slimy, smarmy care salesman kind of side, where he’s trying to convince you he’s not all that bad. But then he has these outbursts,” he said.
Wolfe said he was thrilled to work on Macdougall’s piece because it was written perfectly for the trombone.
“Because Ian is a trombonist, and a very good trombonist, you know everything he wrote he also played first. It’s a beautiful piece.”
(McDougall happens to be the father of Nelson singer Laura Landsberg.)
And it’s only one song in an album that features a wide variety of compelling compositions.
Wolfe said he would have never reached the music world heights he has were it not for the support of the Nelson community and of L.V. Rogers music teacher David Glackin, who passed away in 2014.
“He was an amazing man and an amazing teacher. When I was in Grade 9 I wanted to become just like him and become a band teacher. Well, that didn’t work out, but I did go all the way through UVic to become a band teacher before I changed my mind.”
Glackin continually checked in on Wolfe’s career until he passed away, and Wolfe’s last experience with him was a congratulatory phone call.
“I was able to thank him for everything he’d done to lead me,” he said.
Wolfe spent some time teaching at Mount Sentinel with fellow Kootenay musician Rick Lingard in the 90s, a memory he’s fond of. And though it’s been some time since he visited last, he said the community still figures prominently in his mental landscape.
For more information on Wolfe’s music, visit gordwolfe.com.