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Every note counts

On Sunday, November 7, I’m giving my first recital since the spring of 1996.  It’s at 3 pm at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY (near Utica), in Wellin Hall.  It’s my first recital since changing careers from orchestral playing to conducting, since going back to school and working with some wonderful teachers but also going through a very challenging transition.  Perhaps oddly, it only recently occurred to me that I could still do recitals, and that this was a kind of performing in which I felt most at ease and in which I could most directly express myself.  So this performance is about the joy of rediscovering my trombone voice and sharing that again.

I decided to begin this project by selecting music I’ve performed in the past with which I could begin to rebuild my musical identity and chops as a soloist.  So fittingly, I’m beginning with a set of Mahler Lieder aus der Jugendzeit, which he composed in his twenties – these were on my last recital, when I was almost still in mine (give or take a year).

Next – the Prelude, Allemande, Bourées, and Gigue (!) from the Bach 3rd Suite in C Major.  I’ve always been struck by how cellists have this repertoire as a touchstone – when I was at Eastman one grad student did a marathon of all the suites in one afternoon on two back-to-back recitals.  Another cellist I went to Aspen with played Bach every morning as her ritual of starting the day.  The idea of just you, your instrument, and unaccompanied Bach is such a marvelous ideal: grappling daily – physically, mentally, and spiritually – with the greatest musical mind of all time.  I find I can’t play Bach every day, at least on the trombone – this writing induces too much wear and tear.  But I like the idea of working regularly with the music of a touchstone figure like Bach.  And when you know you have only so many notes in you to play, it makes sense to focus on the greatest music ever written.  Every note counts.

Next I’m reaffirming my affinity for the alto trombone with a transcription I made of Domenico Scarlatti’s Piano Sonata in E Major, L. 23.  Vladimir Horowitz performed this sonata in Moscow in 1986:

When I heard this utterly delightful piece, performed with such a delicate touch, the ghostly little fanfares seemed perfect for the lightness, clarity, and charm of the alto trombone.  So I hope that realizing the subtle brass suggestions in Scarlatti’s sonata shines a new light on this wonderful miniature by another Baroque master.

We follow immediately with a more modern take on Scarlatti – Marcel Bitsch’s Quatre variations sur un thème de D. Scarlatti, originally for trumpet.  Hakan Hardenberger’s recording of this on cornet has such a wonderful round sonority, and I resolved to achieve the clarity, lightness, and agility this piece requires on the tenor trombone.  The angularity of this music is also very reminiscent of Stravinsky, one of my favorite composers.  So this piece represents another facet of what I want to be able to communicate on the trombone – agility, finesse, and spark.  The demands of this piece rise to a level of virtuosity, something I am once again cultivating in my playing.

Finally the program closes with three Brahms vocal duets which Eastman horn teacher (and my quintet coach) Verne Reynolds arranged for horn and trombone under the title Brahms Horn Songs.  Syracuse hornist Ilze Brink-Button did me the tremendous favor of inviting me to record these with her last April, which helped me realize solo playing was something I wanted to continue to do.  So it’s my great pleasure to perform these with her to conclude this program.  Since playing in brass quintet in college I’ve always been fascinated by the blend of horn and trombone: though the sonorities are distinct, they complement each other in a way that’s almost magical.  These songs have the relatively simple character of the folksong settings which Brahms resorted to on occasion.  So they are just straightforward, noble, and beautiful – especially on brass.

We are repeating most of this program at theEverson Museumin Syracuse on Wednesday, November 10 at noon on their Civic Morning Musicale series.  Thanks especially to pianist Sar-Shalom Strong, my collaborative pianist, and to Ilze for playing with me and for helping to get the ball rolling!

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