Season finale concert features SF Symphony trumpeter Mark Inouye performing Grace Williams concerto


At its final concert of the season on June 9, Symphony Parnassus will feature guest soloist Mark Inouye performing the Grace Williams Trumpet Concerto, a piece that was new to both him and to Maestro Stephen Paulson, who came across the “hauntingly beautiful concerto” on YouTube while he was searching for newer, or less-well-known works for the orchestra to perform.   

Once Paulson found the Williams’ concerto, he asked Inouye, his colleague at the San Francisco Symphony, to be the soloist. (Inouye is principal trumpet and Paulson is principal bassoon at the Symphony.)  

This is Inouye’s first performance with Parnassus, and he looks forward to working with  Paulson. “He’s a great colleague, and I’m more than happy to do this,” Inouye said. “I am flattered that he would ask me to play the concerto with his ensemble.”

Perhaps surprisingly, one of Inouye’s biggest challenges of performing the concerto is taking the center spotlight.

“I’m used to sitting in the back of the orchestra, rather than standing in front,” Inouye said. “I can play the exact same passage in the back of the orchestra. If I have to do it standing in front, well, that’s rarefied air up there.”

But he’s ready for the task at hand. “It’s always good to go outside of your box, or expand your box,” he said. “It’s a good musical challenge.”

The fact that the concerto was unknown to both Paulson and Inouye isn’t as uncommon as one might think.

It happens often, Inouye said, when conductors or other musicians at the symphony find lesser-known pieces and re-introduce them to the public. “It’s always an incredible discovery to find these gems,” he said, “and it’s a joy going through the process of learning the concerto.”

Written in 1963, the trumpet concerto has three movements; the first two are anxious in feeling, but also have a softer lyrical side that comes as somewhat of a surprise with a trumpet, not always the quietest instrument, Inouye said. The third movement is more dance-like and spirited.

“It’s accessible for an audience,” Inouye said, and said there’s even one part that sounds a bit like John Williams’ (no relation) “Star Wars” music.

Inouye has been familiarizing himself with other Grace Williams compositions (including symphonic works, film scores, choral and chamber pieces) by watching a YouTube channel devoted to her music. She is widely regarded as one of the most influential 20th century Welsh composers.

Williams (1906-1977), was born in the coastal town of Barry, Wales, to two schoolteachers. Her father, William, was a well-respected amateur choral director who encouraged his children’s music studies; Grace, who played piano and violin, was the oldest of three children. After graduating from University College, Cardiff, she went to London and studied composition with Ralph Vaughan Williams (no relation) at the Royal College of Music. Grace Williams’ first film score (“Blue Scar,” 1949) also marked the first time a British woman had scored a film.

She was known for her love of the sea, the theater and the trumpet, which figured prominently in several of her pieces. “I found it interesting that the trumpet keeps appearing in a lot of her works throughout her career,” Inouye said.

In addition to playing with the San Francisco Symphony, Inouye keeps busy as a member of the trumpet faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

A native of Davis, Calif., Inouye attended UC Davis for two years as a civil engineering major before transferring to the Juilliard School to study trumpet. He has also played with the New World Symphony and was principal trumpet with the Charleston Symphony before joining the San Francisco Symphony in 1999. When not performing classical music, he likes to play jazz, too.

His solo work with the San Francisco Symphony includes Copland’s Quiet City,  Bach’s Cantata No. 51 and the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, to name a few. He has performed his own jazz pieces with the SFS chamber music series. He has a debut jazz CD here,

In his free time, Inouye enjoys running and surfing, and says he likes to compete against himself to better his own performances. “The competition is always there, but it’s always internal,” he said in this video produced by the San Francisco Symphony. “I’m not necessarily trying to run faster or surf a bigger wave than the guy next to me. I’m trying to surf a bigger wave than I’ve ever done before.”

In the video, he also talks about the parallels between playing in the orchestra and catching waves on a surfboard. “The excitement of catching a wave is very similar to the adrenaline rush of playing a symphony or a climactic moment in the band,” he said.

“It’s awesome. I cannot think of doing anything else.”

Symphony Parnassus in concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 9 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Concert Hall, 50 Oak St., San Francisco, Calif. Also on the program is Shostakovich Symphony No. 6 and “Arthur Machen’s Childhood,” a world premiere from Symphony Parnassus resident composer Preben Antonsen.

Advance tickets are available from BrownPaper Tickets: Cost is $25 for adults; $20 for seniors and $10 for students & under 26.