“Those instruments sound beautiful!”

I didn’t mean to turn this ‘blogging’ into a regular thing, but it’s starting to become that way.  We just finished three world-premiere performances of Eric Ewazen’s “Triple Concerto for Trombones and Orchestra”, and I had to take a few minutes to sit and organize my thoughts.  This is probably more a self-serving exercise than a publicity generator, as I’ve always found it helpful to write out my thoughts following a monumental experience — I’ve just never shared them before!  This may be completely futile, as there really are no words to describe the feeling of this past weekend.  But, I’ll give it a shot anyway.

First of all, we in Buffalo are exceptionally fortunate to have the people supporting us that we do: the community, patrons, board members, Marketing and Development teams, JoAnn Falletta, Eric Ewazen, and my orchestra colleagues.  I can’t imagine many, if any, other orchestras where the trombone section could say, “Hey, how about a triple trombone concerto?” and have it taken seriously.  Not only was it taken seriously, but people made it happen!  We pitched the idea once, and from there it took off.  The bulk of that credit goes to JoAnn Falletta, who’s passion for new American music and pride in showcasing individual members of the BPO was the driving force.   Eric Ewazen was so enthusiastic about this project that he gifted the concerto to the orchestra — no small gesture in these tough times, or any times.  Our Marketing team, most notably Kate Mockler, reached out to just about every media source in WNY and beyond to create publicity.  We had radio interviews, newspaper and journal interviews, a TV interview and performance, and I had the whole front page of the Lifestyle section in my hometown newspaper — all thanks to Kate’s tireless efforts and ingenuity.  The whole Marketing team is to credit for the shear number of audience we had the whole weekend.  I had heard from one executive that this was our highest selling weekend of the season so far.  Add to that a celebratory Martini Mingle thrown by our Development team after Saturday night’s concert, and you can see that it was a complete team effort.  I find it to be incredibly inspiring, and also a tremendous honor to have been in the middle of it all.

There were many moments on stage that I had to choke back tears of joy and emotion – I’m not ashamed to say it.  Walking out on to the stage, first noticing the approval of your colleagues and JoAnn’s welcoming smile, then turning to see a very full Kleinhans Music Hall, is quite an encouraging and humbling experience.  Hearing the first notes of the piece was surreal each time, as they had only lived in MIDI file format previously, and the realization that this reality was almost too much to keep my embouchure focused.  Eric gave us so many wonderful opportunities to sing with our instruments; as a trio, duettists, and soloists, that any apprehension I may have had in preparation simply melted away when given the chance to show the audience what the trombone can do.  Sure, I was nervous, but I’d be worried if I wasn’t!  One of the greatest validations came at the end of the first concert, when Eric rushed backstage to tell us that between each movement, he could hear audience members whispering, “Those instruments sound beautiful!” or “I didn’t know the trombone could do that!”.

Of particular note in this concerto is the second movement, which is a pastorale dedicated to the memory of Scott Parkinson.  I never had the chance to meet Scott, but I now feel like I know him through his friends, family, and archive recordings I have heard.  His family was in attendance the entire weekend, and that certainly made it all the more special.  This movement is exceptionally powerful, and I know there were many teary eyes in the hall — including my own.  Even if you didn’t know what the music was about, you can feel it.  I believe this is some of Eric’s most beautiful writing, and I can’t wait for more people to hear it.  The way he employs the colors of the orchestra, and brings the trombones in and out of the texture is quite breathtaking.  On more than one occasion I had to remind myself that I had a job to do and refocus on the music in front of me.

It’s odd to be sitting here Monday morning, and not have this piece on my agenda for the day.  It’s been a 2 1/2 year anticipation, and a few months of regimented individual and trio practice, but I’m looking forward to letting it sit for a few weeks.  That’s not to say that I’m tired of the piece, no no, but I’m looking forward to rediscovering it when we begin preparations for our performance at the Eastern Trombone Workshop in March.  I’m sure we’ll find new things in the piece, or simply come back with an even more mature approach.  There has been talk of a few more projects and guest solo (trio?) opportunities, so we look forward to playing this piece many more times.

And to answer what has been the most popular question this week, yes, this piece is being recorded with the BPO and should *hopefully* be released sometime next year.  If you check this site, or if we’re Facebook friends, trust me, you won’t miss it!

Lastly, but closest to my heart, is my appreciation, admiration, respect, and gratitude to my colleagues and friends Jonathan Lombardo and Jeff Dee.  It is a pure joy going to work with these gentlemen everyday, and I am constantly impressed and inspired by their musicianship, dedication, and desire to improve on a daily basis.  I never lose sight of how fortunate I am to be here, and if I did, they would remind me!  They know me well enough to anticipate this question, but what’s our next project, guys!?

 

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One week ’til concerto premiere!!!

The thought of the Ewazen triple concerto premiere being only a week away has been a very sobering one, and a very exciting one.  It’s hard to believe that a project we initiated 2 1/2 years ago is about to come full circle, but it’s real!  My colleagues and I have been working intensely on the piece, which we’ve had in-hand, in it’s entirety, from the beginning of September.  Suffice it to say that it has dominated our practice rooms and our social time together.  I’ve realized many things about my own playing while working on this piece, and the three of us together have learned much about how we function as a unit, as well.  I’d like to expand on this last point a bit, and please keep in mind I write from my own perspective!

One of the biggest issues – and I use ‘issues’ as a neutral word – we have realized is that we definitely have a default mode of playing together.  It took a few run-throughs for this to be obvious, but taking a section that is used to sitting in the back of the orchestra — playing chorales, background chords, or short bursts of fiery ‘licks’ — and transposing them to the front of the stage as soloists, has created its own set of challenges.  All of us – Jonathan, Jeff, and myself – have experience as soloists in front of ensembles, but to do so in the concerto grosso format is a unique experience.  One of the happenings we notice is our tendency to fill out the sound as if setting the foundation for the entire orchestra to sit on, which we are very accustomed to doing as low brass players.  As soloists, this simply does not work!  Our job at the front of the stage is to be light, clear, buoyant, and sing; often times employing a less-dense, more transparent tone quality.  From my perspective, this has been the greatest challenge as a trio: to play as soloists while playing as an ensemble.

Another challenge involves making the artistic decisions regarding the direction and nuances of the piece.  When working on solo repertoire, the composer gives you most of the directions you need to play the piece effectively, then you can put your own personal touch on it once observing the composer’s wishes.  In this case, we have three people who all play with individual nuance and style, and have their own beliefs of how any given passage should be phrased, articulated, spun, etc.  Add to that the fact that Eric Ewazen does not grossly delineate his styles and nuances (ie. little to no articulation markings).  As you can imagine, there has been much discussion and reasoning (sometimes heated!) amongst the three of us to decide how each phrase, and in some cases, each note, should be approached and executed.  Fortunately, we all have the ability to check our egos at the door and are open to peer critique.  This project would have never been feasible if we couldn’t do that.  In fact, I think that’s one of the things that makes our section so special.  Approaching the piece democratically is a tremendous reward, as often, playing in an orchestra is NOT a democracy – especially as a section player.  Having the opportunity to sculpt something of our own, with each person able to state their case for how it should go, is a truly wonderful opportunity for which I will be forever grateful.

I’d like to write more about my experience working on this piece, so I’ll follow-up on this hopefully before the premiere.  I should also note that a fine gentlemen from Texas (who’s name I’ll withhold until he gives me permission) will be writing an article on this project and will also be using it for his DMA project.  That should bring more in-depth research and interviews to light, and I can’t wait to see/read his final product.