CD Spotlight: Storyteller by Justin Benavidez
As 2022 folds into 2023, we shine our spotlight on the lowest member of the brass family: the tuba. Tubist Justin Benavidez wears many musical hats: professor at Florida State University, principal tuba for the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, and faculty member of the Round Top Music Festival in Texas during the summer…he’s even taken a turn or two with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
Benavidez’s new CD, Storyteller, is a tuba showcase, reminding us that the instrument is wonderfully versatile, capable of playing even the most sensitive of melodies. It’s quite the collection of music: his take on Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” is in turns sensitive and melancholy, his renditions of Debussy and Whitacre are flowing and delicate, and the three pieces for tuba and wind ensemble by Viet Cuong, Todd Goodman, and Eastman School of Music graduate Allen Vizzutti are tuneful and upbeat, giving Benavidez a real chance to shred and shine. Anna Baadsvik’s “New Kid” is a standout. Baadsvik likens the piece to a river, saying, “Sometimes the river is strong and powerful or sparkling and beautiful, sometimes bright and playful and other times dark and quiet, but it never stops.” All those attributes are evident, not just in “New Kid,” but throughout Storyteller as well.
So forget about the oom-pah-pah and embrace Justin Benavidez’s exploration of the tuba’s power and beauty.