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cindy mctee

for Trombone and Orchestra

19 minutes

Commissioned by the Houston Symphony, Allen Barnhill, soloist,
Hans Graf, conductor
. Premièred January 10, 12 & 13, 2008, in Houston, TX. Support also provided by the University of North Texas.


4 Horns
3 Trumpets in C
3 Trombones
3 Percussion
Solo Trombone

Percussion 1
Splash Cymbal
Large Suspended Cymbal
Mark Tree
2 Medium Brake Drums

Percussion 2
Medium Suspended Cymbal
Large Suspended Cymbal
Bass Drum

Percussion 3
2 Large Brake Drums
Crash Cymbals

score & audio examples

for Trombone and Orchestra

(Audio created with virtual instruments.)

first mvmt.
second mvmt.
third mvmt. ex. 1
third mvmt. ex. 2
third mvmt. ex. 3


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program notes

Solstice for Trombone and Orchestra was commissioned by the Houston Symphony and premièred on January 10, 2008 with Hans Graf, conductor, and Allen Barnhill, trombone soloist.

During the summer of 2007, I was talking with a friend about the various ways in which “shadow” might be expressed musically in my new trombone concerto. She reminded me that it was June 21st that day - the day of summer solstice when shadows are at their shortest.

Derived from the Latin “sol” (sun) and “sistere” (to stand still), the word “solstice” seemed an apt title for my new piece as I contemplated writing music that would represent “shadow” through rhythmic stasis and the dark interval of the minor third, while associating “light” with quick tempos and the consonant interval of the major third.

Like most art in my experience, Solstice for Trombone and Orchestra embodies a conjunction between tension and release, subjectivity and objectivity, light and shadow. According to author, Anthony Storr, Carl Jung believed “that artists are more divided in nature than most people, and that one force which drives them to be productive is the need to heal the split.” Perhaps Jung was right. Composing could not be more therapeutic for me, and I am very motivated by the compulsion to resolve opposites. Solstice therefore both dances and sings, celebrates and mourns, illuminates and darkens.

Cast in three movements without pause between the first and second, Solstice opens with a dramatic leap in the solo trombone beginning on the note B followed by Bb and G. This major/minor-third melodic unit is supported harmonically in the strings by a transposed version of the same structure, G#, G, and E, which returns at the end for resolution as the G disappears and shadow gives way to light.

I am forever indebted to the Houston Symphony, music director, Hans Graf, and trombonist, Allen Barnhill for the opportunity to write this piece, and I also wish to thank the University of North Texas for its invaluable support.


Cindy McTee’s Solstice (completed on that day in 2007) is for trombone and an orchestra of strings, brass and percussion. This is ambient and active music, the trombonist requiring agility, but no mutes of any kind, the rhythmically engaging first movement leading to an intense Adagio, trombone as yearning tunesmith and private muse, also a little filmic, and then to a rumbustious finale, the soloist issuing a wake-up call after the previous lonely night. Here the music is industrially coloured, syncopating into big-band territory as this capricious 20-minute score strides confidently to a grandstand finish ... but no, McTee has a rug to pull from under the listener’s ears, for the music dissolves to musing again and fades to nothing. Good piece, superbly played by Kenneth Thompkins (principal since 1997) and backed to the hilt by his DSO colleagues.

Colin Anderson
Classical Source


Charles Ives' brief "Yale-Princeton Football Game" (1898) raised the curtain . . . Then came McTee's "Solstice for Trombone and Orchestra" (2007) — a fitting sequel since the shadow of Ives' "The Unanswered Question" seemed to hover in the theatrical, large melodic leaps of a major 7th in the solo trombone and the striking feeling of deep-space mystery in the central slow movement.

It's a strong, if sometimes repetitive, work and principal trombonist Ken Thompkins was a charismatic soloist; he handled the difficult, athletic writing with a broad range of tonal colors and vibrato and a smooth way of phrasing that connected the music in long arcs of legato melody.

Mark Stryker
Detroit Free Press



A Trombonist Takes the Spotlight
By Charles Ward
Published by the Houston Chronicle, January 2008

McTee . . . writes music that an audience can like. After the [Houston Symphony] played her Circuits (1990) at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in 2000, I noted that the piece was a "charging, churning celebration of the musical and cultural energy of modern-day America. ... (It) aptly illustrated the electric, almost convulsive nature of American society near the start of the 21st century." After listening to her . . . Solstice, I think it's more winning music.


Symphony trombonist gets a musical treat

Though the Houston Symphony's marketing folks labeled the weekend's program Graf's Mozart and Haydn, the meat lay elsewhere in works for trombone and mezzo-soprano soloists.

Thursday's first performance featured the premiere of Solstice for trombone and orchestra by Cindy McTee as well as Gustav Mahler's Rueckert Lieder. Principal trombonist Allen Barnhill and Rice University opera star Susanne Mentzer were splendid in the two very different types of music.

Solstice is the latest piece commissioned by the Houston Symphony for its principal players. Barnhill and the artistic staff chose McTee, a professor at the University of North Texas. She produced a three-movement piece teeming with a musical language that is distinctly and refreshingly American.

One principal McTee used in the work was the notion of stasis, a term from the sciences that, among other things, can describe a state where things are static or motionless, even if there seems to be a frenzy of activity on the surface. McTee used the idea in all three movements but many times, especially in the first, the result was distinctly similar to the vamping an accompanying ensemble uses for a soloist in popular music and jazz.

Many allusions to jazz dotted the work, products of a musical mind that has absorbed defining styles of American music and turned elements into its own, distinctive voice. Many times Barnhill's solo could be heard as the output of a master wailing away in free jazz. Lots of the chords in the middle movement were straight from the world of jazz ballads (though, again, McTee was exploring other technical elements of style).

Solstice was vibrant and high-charged in the outer movements (notwithstanding the stasis) and evocatively sober in the elegiac middle movement. The only thing I would have liked was an additional segment of music in the first movement to ratchet the tension and energy up even further before going, without pause, into the middle movement.

Barnhill played with masterful control. His tone was burnished, his legato a pleasure for its seamlessness, and the power and agility impressive.

Charles Ward
The Houston Chronicle