Contemporary Music Festival premieres starring Matthew Russo, DMA

Muhlenberg's department of music invited Russo for a special solo trombone performance.

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Muhlenberg welcomed Matthew Russo, a guest trombonist that played in the chapel on March 3rd. Photo courtesy to Liam Skopal '26

On Friday Mar. 3, Muhlenberg’s department of music hosted the “Contemporary Music Festival” starring the University of Connecticut’s (UConn) trombonist Matthew Russo, DMA at Egner Memorial Chapel. Russo was asked to perform for this festival by his colleague and friend Andrew Ardizzoia, DMA., an assistant professor of music and the director of composition and instrumental studies at Muhlenberg. 

Ardizzoia describes the trombone as “something that typically isn’t known as a solo instrument. However, Russo constantly tries his best to show you all of the different things you can do with the Trombone.” Russo performed “Sonata Concisa,” a piece composed by Ardizzoia, along with other pieces composed by Russo’s colleagues and students. In addition, Russo was invited to instruct a master class to the low brass (baritone, euphonium, trombone and tuba) Muhlenberg students via Zoom. 

Russo holds a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) from The Hartt School, which is where he met Ardizzoia. He also holds a Master of Music from the Yale School of Music. He has been a part of UConn’s faculty since 2015 and teaches applied trombone lessons, brass techniques and leads the UConn Trombone choir. He aims to bring unknown works to audiences through innovative programs and culturally relevant themes, such as the Contemporary Music Festival. According to Russo, the objective of his performance was to “celebrate the friendship that we find through music and the wonderful connection we maintained and strengthened throughout the most isolating portions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Half of the repertoire selections in this concert were born out of the situations that could only have occurred during the pandemic.” 

the objective of his performance was to “celebrate the friendship that we find through music and the wonderful connection we maintained and strengthened throughout the most isolating portions of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Matthew Russo, DMA

During 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Russo started playing a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game “Final Fantasy XIV.” Russo’s piece, “Air Varie on ‘The Measure of His Reach,’” was described as being “based on the main theme of ‘Stormblood’ which is a content expansion that details the events of two occupied nations achieving independence from the evil Garlean empire.” Russo thought it would be fun to “write a theme and variation in the style of virtuoso trombonist Arthur Pryor who wrote similar variations on themes and folksongs when he toured with the Sousa band at the turn of the 20th century.” 

“Für Frankie” was inspired by Russo’s son’s snow globe/music box breaking. The tune in the music box was “Brother James’s Ayre.” Russo attempted to fix it, but was unable to do so and ended up buying a replica of the music box that had the tune of “Für Elise.” Russo tried to swap the drum in the new music box in an attempt to make it sound like “Brother James’s Ayre,” but this method did not work. The result of his trial and error led to the audio in “Für Frankie” which was created by Michael Denis Ò Callaghan. Callaghan created a sound with the rhythm from “Brother James’s Ayre” and the pitches of “Für Elise” to use as a “beautiful soundscape” that was perfect for the “sonorous trombone to play in and above.” 

“Sonata Concisa” is described by Ardizzoia as a “continuous movement comprised of three separate sonata forms that create an additional, overall ternary structure… The second section is slow and ethereal and was composed as an elegy for my friend and choral conductor Germán Aguilar who passed away suddenly while I was working on the sonata.” 

Ardizzoia edited the Sonata in 2019 and Russo wanted to perform Ardizoia’s piece. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Russo thought that he would only be able to do a virtual recording. Fortunately, Russo was invited at Muhlenberg to play the wonderful and concise sonata for a live audience. 

“All this is to show you the incredible ‘measure of reach’ as a music community. You can find your connection to anyone in six degrees… The connections between musicians are meaningful and as a result I find that there’s a little something for everyone in the works represented.” 

Matthew Russo DMA

Russo concluded the show by emphasizing the ways in which everyone is interconnected. “All this is to show you the incredible “measure of reach” as a music community. You can find your connection to anyone in six degrees… The connections between musicians are meaningful and as a result I find that there’s a little something for everyone in the works represented.” 

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Shaiyan Feisal '26 is a neuroscience major with a minor in public health. She enjoys writing news and arts & culture pieces to highlight the various voices among the student body and show the variety of commodities Muhlenberg has to offer. When she isn't writing, she enjoys reading murder mystery novels and painting.

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