Stephen Lias
River Runner:
Trombone and piano

Nacogdoches, TX, United States
Publisher: Alias Press
Date of Publication: 2018

Score and solo part

Primary Genre: Solo Tenor Trombone - with piano

Stephen Lias holds degrees from Messiah College, Stephen F. Austin State University and Louisiana State University. His passion for wilderness and outdoor pursuits has led to a series of works about the national parks of the US and has included residencies at Glacier, Rocky Mountain, Denali, Glacier Bay, and Gates of the Arctic National Parks. He has written over a dozen park-related pieces that have been premiered in such far-flung places as Colorado, Washington D.C., Sydney, Alaska, and Taiwan. Numerous of his works have been recorded, published and are regularly performed throughout the United States and abroad by soloists and ensembles including the East Texas Symphony, the Oasis Quartet, the Louisiana Sinfonietta, the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival Orchestra, the Boulder Philharmonic, the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin, the Shreveport Symphony, the Fairbanks Symphony, the Rochester Philharmonic, and the Anchorage Symphony. He is the founder and leader of the Composing in the Wilderness field course offered jointly by Alaska Geographic and the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival.  He currently resides in Nacogdoches, Texas where he is Professor of Composition at Stephen F. Austin State University.

He has written a detailed description of the inspiration for this work: River Runner for trombone and piano is a musical representation of memories, landscapes, and emotions experienced during a kayaking trip through Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park. The three movements, named after landmarks encountered during the journey, each filter the subject matter through a different perceptual lens, thus providing different “angles” on the event. The first movement (Lajitas) focuses on eagerness and the mental chatter that anticipation inevitably creates. In an unusual move for me, I chose to write a complete text and set it to music. The second movement (The Sentinel) is visual and emotional – portraying both the stark shapes and stratification of the rock formations, as well as the foreboding emotional impact of their size and proximity. The last movement (Rock Slide) is entirely visceral and kinetic. I tried to capture the terrifying and exhilarating physical sensation of bumping into boulders, skittering over loose gravel, and being pulled into a dangerous current. My intent was to not be merely representational, but to provide layers of association and meaning in a manner that more closely represents the complexity of our own memories. Hopefully, others will hear echoes of their own river journeys in these notes and once again feel the call of adventure.

Dr. Deb Scott commissioned River Runner and premiered it in January 2010 at the Big Twelve Trombone Conference at Texas Tech University. There is a fine recording of the work by Dr. Scott available on her solo CD, Playing Favorites, on the Navona Label of Parma Recordings, available from Amazon. This is a substantial contribution to the trombone/piano repertoire. Its fairly traditional tonal and textural musical language, as well as its programmatic allusions will appeal to a wide variety of performers and listeners. It takes both a good pianist and trombonist to navigate the ensemble and rhythmic coordination between the parts. The trombone part requires a mature musician with good high range, dynamic control in all registers, flexibility and good double-tonguing skills. The music is beautifully printed with a full color glossy picture on the cover of a kayak running some rapids.

Reviewer: Karl Hinterbichler
Review Published June 20, 2023