Every branch of music has its deities, and for classical trumpet players, one of the members of the pantheon was the Franco-American trumpeter, educator and conductor Roger Voisin.
Voisin, who died in 2008 at 89, was born in France and moved to the U.S. as a boy when his father René joined the trumpet section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1928. His son became the youngest person ever to join the orchestra in 1935, when he was just 17. He was the BSO’s principal trumpeter from 1950 to 1965; after he retired in 1973, he taught at the New England Conservatory and then Boston University, where he also conducted the student orchestra.
One of the many trumpet students he had was Marc Reese, a New Yorker who studied with Voisin for four years at BU before joining the Empire Brass Quintet and teaching at Lynn University, where he has been for two decades.
This weekend, Reese presents the first Roger Voisin Memorial Trumpet Competition, a contest that will be held every three years at Lynn, and aims to showcase talented young trumpeters while giving them the chance to earn prize money: First prize is $5,000, second is $2,500 and third prize is $1,500.
A total of eight trumpeters — restricted to full-time college students, maximum age 27 — will be on campus this weekend for the contest, which will include a semifinals round Saturday and a finals round Sunday with the Lynn Philharmonia. The eight musicians were winnowed from a pool of more than 40 who applied to be in the competition, and were selected through online submissions.
Reese said the competition is his way of honoring a teacher and performer who did more than anyone else to set him on his career path.
“I went to Juilliard pre-college and saw all those New York guys and girls who played so well, and I thought I had heard it all,” Reese, 47, said. “And then one summer I went to Tanglewood and started in the Empire Brass seminar, and of course that blew my mind when I heard those guys. And then the following year I went to the Young Artists Orchestra, where I met Roger.
“And it was just the most incredible experience. It was so incredible that I literally went to Boston University for the next four years because of him,” he said. “He was my teacher for five years … He was an incredible teacher, unlike any I’d ever had. I used to love that he could tell you any specific detail about orchestral playing. You’d see ‘piano’ marked in a certain piece, and he’d say, ‘That’s not a piano piano. There’s a lot of string noise, so you can play that a little louder. But this one, that one’s got to be soft. You’re going to need to kill yourself playing soft on this one.’
“He just had this experience and knowledge that no one else had,” Reese said. Voisin would throw post-recital parties for his students for which his wife, Martha, would lay out a big spread, and Reese would be able to stay at Voisin’s house if he wasn’t able to make it home for the holidays.
“After I graduated from Boston University, we stayed in touch,” he said, and Reese would come back and play with Voisin and a BU brass quintet for an annual Symphony Hall fundraiser at which Voisin would play things like Trumpeter’s Lullaby, which composer Leroy Anderson had written for him. “We were very close until he passed.”
The trumpeters will be judged by Reese and three other eminent trumpet players: Eric Aubier, who became the Paris Opera Orchestra’s trumpet soloist at 19; Tim Morrison, principal trumpet of the Boston Pops; and Jens Lindemann, former member of the Canadian Brass. The four will also be heard in a judges’ recital Saturday night. All the events and concerts in the competition are free and open to the public.
“Everything is free. Just as I wanted to encourage people to apply, I want to encourage them to come. So come, it’s free, pick any seat you want,” Reese said, adding that in future years he might offer an audience favorite ballot, a popular feature of some contests, including the now-suspended Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition.
The judges’ recital will feature the world premiere of a work for trumpet and piano composed specifically for the contest by composer James Stephenson. Now based in the Chicago area, Stephenson is a former resident of Naples and a longtime friend of Reese and his wife, pianist and Lynn teacher Lisa Leonard. They will play the piece, which is called Kindred Sol, a punning reference to solfège and the fifth degree of the scale.
“The piece is great. It’s about 5 minutes long, and it’s a tribute to Roger, of course, and in typical Jim Stephenson style it has a couple Roger references in there, things he was famous for such as soft playing,” Reese said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Semifinalists are allowed in the Saturday competition to perform up to 15 minutes of music from at least two periods in history, plus one accompanied solo from a list of five works by Henze, Persichetti, Plog, Takemitsu or Stanley Friedman. Finalists will play two pieces with orchestra: the first movement of either the Haydn or Hummel concertos, and either the first movement of the concerto by Henri Tomasi or the complete Concertino of André Jolivet.
The opportunity to establish the competition came from Douglass and Susan Kay, whose daughter attended Lynn and who wanted to express their gratitude to the school for the many musical performances they have attended. Reese said Douglass Kay, a retired psychiatrist and professor at Georgetown University, originally wanted to make a donation to the brass department for the purchase of new trumpets and repair work, having been a trumpet player in his youth.
But Reese said he suggested his long-planned idea to establish a living monument for his teacher instead, and Kay agreed. News of the contest also earned it a donation from the Voisin Family Trust, and Roger Voisin’s son Peter also will be on hand for the competition this weekend.
Reese said four of the eight semifinalists are from overseas, and all the players represent the leading music schools in the country, including Juilliard and Curtis, as well as music schools known for their excellence in brass pedagogy, such as Rice and Butler universities. The level of talent that applied to be in the contest was impressive, he said, but judges will be looking for more than technical wizardry when choosing the winners.
“The main characteristic that they (should) have is that they own the pieces that they’re playing,” Reese said. “You own it, which doesn’t mean that you can’t miss notes, or that you can’t have issues here and there … You need a nice sound and technical proficiency that you won’t own the piece without, but I think it’s the ownership (that counts) … the person who comes out and plays well and beautifully, but who really owns and says something musically is going to be the winner.”
And that, too, says something about Roger Voisin.
“He used to use the catchphrase ‘serve music’ all the time — someone who is serving the composer’s needs and being respectful of the music and of the trumpet itself. Serving the music, not someone who comes out and plays the last note up the octave, trumpet-player style, and plays so loud it’s ridiculous, and starts lip trilling — that person is not going to win, no matter how great they sound,” he said.
Voisin considered himself a “worker,” Reese said, a person who was there to do a job in the orchestra without any ego. And it’s that kind of player who would most honor Voisin’s legacy.
“It’s hard to find a trumpet player without a big ego, but I think the person who serves the music most is the person who ends up winning,” he said.
The Roger Voisin Memorial Trumpet Competition launches its inaugural event at 2 p.m. Saturday with semifinalist recitals at the Wold Performing Arts Center on the Lynn campus. The judges recital will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, while a master class with Reese and the three other judges will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday. The final round begins at 4 p.m., and will be followed immediately by an announcement of the winners. All events are free and open to the public. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 561-237-9006 for more information.