UMass Wind Ensemble recording nominated for Grammy Award

By Anthony Rentsch

(Courtesy of Eric Berlin)
(Courtesy of Eric Berlin)

Visiting Assistant Professor Eric Berlin of the University of Massachusetts’ music and dance department has been nominated for a 2015 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. But when the UMass trumpet teacher heard these words, he was quick to shine the spotlight back on who, in his eyes, are the more deserving contributors – his students.

“I want it to read, ‘UMass Wind Ensemble recording gets Grammy nomination,’” said Berlin, a world-renowned trumpeter who is featured in the nominated piece, “Concerto for Two Trumpets and Band.”

“Everyone tries to put it on me. It’s really not about me but about the whole recording. I want the kids to share in it as much as they can.”

The nominated work is from Berlin’s album, “Fantastique – Premieres for Trumpet and Wind Ensemble,” according to a UMass press release. The piece was composed by Stephen Paulus and also features the UMass Wind Ensemble directed by James Patrick Miller and trumpeter Richard Kelley of the New England Conservatory of Music.

According to Berlin, Paulus, a composer whose illustrious career took him across the country, composed the piece a little more than 10 years ago for a different trumpeter.

“When I heard (the piece) for the first time, I was taken aback by the beauty of it,” Berlin said. “It’s not a typical trumpet concerto. It has more flash and acrobatics.”

Berlin cites one segment that requires two soloists to pass a single note back and forth across stage as telling of the unique, collaborative feel of the piece. It was one of the reasons he decided to commission the song.

In order to produce the desired sound, Berlin said, “The challenge (for the soloists) is how to make their egos subservient.”

This sequence, in which Berlin plays the trumpet solo, is a fitting metaphor for his reaction to the Grammy nomination. While Berlin has done his best to make his ego subservient by doling out the majority of the credit for the piece to the UMass Wind Ensemble and Paulus, his role in the concerto and in the disc that is featured on “Fantastique” cannot be understated.

In a November 2014 interview with fanfaremag.com, Berlin was described as the “featured attraction” on the disc. In addition to his work on this release and at UMass, he is the principal trumpet for the Albany Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic. Berlin’s resume also includes an impressive solo career that has seen him featured at several International Trumpet Guild Conferences, according to the release.

However, Berlin did not completely minimize his importance to the piece – he described his role in its creation as “everything.”

“All the pieces mean a lot to me and I had a hand in all of them,” he said.

In the grand scheme of things, however, Berlin understands that there are much larger dynamics at play with this nomination. Paulus died from stroke-related complications last year.

“He was one of the most incredibly kind and sensitive people in the music business,” Berlin said. “He was a selfless advocate of contemporary classical music.”

“I hope that the Academy sees fit to honor (him) on Feb. 8 with the actual Grammy Award,” Berlin wrote in a recent blog post.

As for his students at UMass, Berlin was thrilled over what he referred to as “global validation to what we do here.”

“We know what we are doing, what the kids are doing, what the faculty is doing,” he said. “But we do it in this cloistered little valley. Seeing this is validation. It shows that we are a force to be reckoned with.”

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Anthony_Rentsch.