Composers Datebook®

Music for Two Big Instruments

Alex Shapiro (b. 1962) Music for Two Big Instruments Alan Baer, tuba; Bradley Haag, p. innova 683

Composers Datebook for February 11, 2017


February 11, 2017


If the bassoon is rather unkindly known as the “clown” of the orchestra, what does that make the poor tuba?

Just say “tuba” to someone, and they turn into a mime – at least that was the experience of American composer Alex Shapiro when she mentioned that she was writing a new work for tuba and piano.

“The response was usually one of surprised and barely muffled laughter,” said Shapiro. “The exclamation ‘Tuba, eh? What a funny instrument!’ was often accompanied by exaggerated hand and mouth gestures that somewhat resembled a trout attempting to inflate a balloon.”

Shapiro wanted to show how nimble and lyrical a tuba could be. She gave her finished piece – for tuba and piano -- a punning title: “Music for Two Big Instruments.” And that’s spelled “T-W-O” -- not “T-O-O,” folks!

The new work was commissioned by Norman Pearson, Principal tubist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who premiered the work with wife, pianist Cynthia Bauhof-Williams, on today’s date in 2001 at Alfred Newman Hall on the campus of University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Grateful tubists have taken up Shapiro’s piece since then, and this West Coast commission’s first recording was made by New York Philharmonic Principal tubist Alan Baer, so one could say – with a bit of a stretch – “Music for Two Big Instruments” has been a coast to coast success!

Music Played in Today's Program

Alex Shapiro (b. 1962) Music for Two Big Instruments Alan Baer, tuba; Bradley Haag, p. innova 683

On This Day


  • 1795 - Swedish song composer Carl Mikael Bellman, age 55, in Stockholm;

  • 1939 - Austrian composer Franz Schmidt, age 72, in Perchtoldsdorf;


  • 1725 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 127 ("Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott") performed on Estomihi Sunday as part of Bach's second annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1724/25);

  • 1727 - Handel: opera “Admeto” in London (Julian date: Jan. 31);

  • 1785 - Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in d, in Vienna, with the composer as soloist;

  • 1840 - Donizetti: opera "La fille du régiment" (The Daughter of the Regiment), at the Opéra-Comique in Paris;

  • 1843 - Verdi: opera "I Lombardi" (The Lombards) in Milan at the Teatro alla Scala;

  • 1883 - Bruckner: Symphony No. 6 (2nd and 3rd movements only), by Vienna Philharmonic, with Wilhelm Jahn conducting; Gustav Mahler led the Vienna Philharmonic on February 26, 1899, in the first, heavily cut, performance of the complete work;

  • 1892 - Rachmaninoff: “Trio élégiaque” (Elegiac Trio) No. 1 in G minor, for violin, cello, and piano, in Moscow, with David Kreyn (violin), Anatoly Brandukov (cello), and the composer at the piano (Julian date: Jan. 30);

  • 1903 - Bruckner: Symphony No. 9 in a version prepared by Ferdinand Löwe, by the Vienna Symphony, with Löwe conducting; The original version of Bruckner's Ninth was first performed at a private concert in Munich on April 2, 1932, and then at a public Vienna Philharmonic concert conducted by Clemens Krauss on October 23, 1932;

  • 1938 - Ernest Bloch: "Evocations" for orchestra, by the San Francisco Symphony, Pierre Monteux conducting;

  • 1949 - Stravinsky: "Orpheus" ballet (as a concert work), by the Boston Symphony, Serge Koussevitzky conducting; The staged ballet had premiere in New York on April 28, 1948;

  • 1952 - Hugo Weisgall: opera 'The Tenor," in Baltimore;

  • 1953 - Chávez: Symphony No. 4 ("Sinfonía romantica") by the Louisville Orchestra, with the composer conducting;

  • 1971 - Henze: "Compases para Preguntas ensimismandes" in Basel, Switzerland;

  • 1973 - Feldman: "Voices and Instruments II," in Buffalo, N.Y.;


  • 1841 - First documented American performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 at the New York's Broadway Tabernacle, by the German Society of New York, Uri Corelli Hill conducting; Three movements of Beethoven's symphony (excluding the third) were given in April 3, 1841, at Boston's Odeon by the Academy of Music, Henry Schmidt conducting; The complete symphony was included on the first program given by the New York Philharmonic on December 7, 1842; The Symphony was presented next in Philadelphia (April 3, 1848), Baltimore (March 9, 1849), Louisville (May 14, 1853), St. Louis (May 17, 1853), and Milwaukee (April 27, 1855); On March 28, 1856, 30 players of the San Francisco German Society performed Beethoven's Fifth at the Music Hall in that city, with Rudolf Herold conducting (The San Francisco Chronicle review the following day noted: "The pieces in the program are very beautiful, but it must be said that some of them appeared to be considered very tedious by the greater number of the audience. The Adagio, Scherzo and Finale of Beethoven's Symphony in C Minor, for instance, are portions of a very grand and celebrated composition, but they caused many to yawn."); The first public performance of this symphony had occurred in Vienna, with the composer conducting, on Dec. 22, 1808;

  • 1847 - American inventor Thomas A. Edison, the developer of the phonograph, is born in Milan, Ohio;

  • 1907 - Italian composer Giacomo Puccini attends the American premiere of his opera "Madama Butterfly," conducted by Arturo Toscanini at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.