Today marks the beginning of International Trombone Week for 2011 (April 3-10), and there are many ways we can all celebrate: perform (or attend) a trombone recital, compose a piece for trombone, make a radio request for some trombone music, etc. etc. Use your imagination!
I started the week by performing a pretty heavy program with the Prince Edward Island Symphony Orchestra: Schubert’s “Great” Symphony in C Major, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, Canadian composer John Beckwith‘s transcriptions of several of Bach’s Figural Chorales, and the world premiere of Canadian composer Jim O’Leary‘s “Softly at Night the Stars are Shining” with soprano soloist Helen Pridmore.
When last I wrote about International Trombone Week, I was performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 with the PEISO and wrote about the importance of this work for trombonists. Schubert’s “Great” Symphony is also a landmark work, as Schubert took Beethoven’s idea a step further. Not only does Schubert use the trombones to reinforce the texture of the orchestral fortissimo, but he also gives us some wonderful soft chords to play, and even the MELODY!!! – and we play in all four movements! We are in fact quite a bit busier than the trumpets in this Symphony. Like many performers, I use the alto trombone on the 1st parts in Schubert’s works, not just because it is historically accurate to do so, but also because the alto has a brightness to its tone that blends well with the trumpets and creates a bridge between the upper and lower cylindrical brass. I think of this blend as a pyramid shape, where the tone broadens from high to low more evenly than it would with a tenor trombone on the 1st part – I think this is a very pleasing sound.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture is also quite an important work for trombonists, as it is one of the few orchestral pieces that contains a trombone solo. This one is a chant-like solo in the 2nd trombone part that can be played quite freely, and features the noble sound of the trombone to great effect. The fact that this solo is in the 2nd part leads me to wonder if Rimsky had the alto trombone in mind for the 1st part – this is definitely something to look into. Having said that, I do prefer to play this on the tenor…
Beckwith’s transcriptions of the Bach Chorales are interesting pieces, once again demonstrating how Bach’s music seems to lend itself quite well to being set in just about any possible style. These transcriptions call for a multi-tasking single trombone that must perform staccato bass lines, marcato tenor, and in the case of one of the chorales we played, a delicate and very high melody necessitating (for me, at least) a switch to the alto trombone. Did I mention how much I love the alto?
Jim O’Leary has been very much influenced by the Swedish composer Jan Sandström, best known outside his own country for his so-called “Motorbike Concerto” written for virtuoso trombonist Christian Lindberg. Jim is likewise no stranger to writing for the trombone (I premiered his Trombone Concerto with the PEISO in 2005), and his new piece calls for four: three tenors and a bass. I love getting to play a piece that explores the various colours of the trombone; in addition to passages using straight, cup, bucket and harmon mutes, there are soft and loud elements covering a range of over three octaves, and even some multiphonics (a technique whereby the trombonist sings one note while playing another) thrown in for good measure. Jim is the new composer-in-residence for the PEISO, so we can look forward to some more great trombone writing from him in the very near future.
All in all, a good start to the 2011 edition of International Trombone Week.
I’d love to hear what you are doing to celebrate ITW, and with that in mind, I do have a suggestion: if you are in PEI this Friday, come hear Romancing the Trombone, a recital featuring me with my sister Jacqueline Sorensen Young on piano, as we aim for nothing less than to put a spell on you that causes you to fall hopelessly in love with the sound of the trombone – just one of my many evil plans for the week…
A happy International Trombone Week to you all!