International Trombone Festival 2016, New York City - Part 1
Phew! I just returned from a whirlwind trip to New York City where I attended the International Trombone Festival, hosted by Joseph Alessi at The Juilliard School. Joe did an amazing job as the organizer, and of course treated everyone to multiple fantastic performances over the course of the 4 day festival.
I arrived mid-day Thursday, so I missed a couple of fun events that happened Wednesday. First, Sarah Willis hosted one of her Horn Hangouts with members of the World Trombone Quartet. For the interview part, Joe and Jorgen van Rijen spoke about their careers and the quartet, and they were then joined by Hakan Bjorkman (Swedish Radio Symphony) and Denson Paul Pollard (bass trombonist of the Metropolitan Opera). If you haven’t seen one of Ms. Willis’ hangouts, I highly recommend you check them out! Then, a group (army?) of trombonists descended upon the plaza at Lincoln Center for a flashmob performance, and to break the Guiness record for the largest ever mass trombone ensemble.
On day 2, Jimmy Clark (my father) and I drove up to New York from Washington, DC, and arrived just in time to hear the “Women of Juilliard” recital. The recital featured three fantastic musicians, all of whom studied at Juilliard. Natalie Mannix opened the program with two very interesting pieces, Elegy by Anthony Barfield, and Two Latin Dances by Lauren Bernofsky. Natalie’s beautiful playing shows one reason she has had such a varied and successful career, and how she will be a great influence on students at her new position at University of North Texas. Vanessa Fralick, trombonist in the Toronto Symphony, performed a lengthy sonata (which I unfortunately did not keep a record of the composer’s name) which featured her beautiful playing and fantastic range. Finally, Abbie Conant performed two very interesting pieces of her own for solo trombone. Ms. Conant looks so at ease on stage, and her elegant playing and beautiful sound were very enjoyable to hear.
If I have one criticism of this year’s festival, it’s that printed programs were in short supply. The Festival made use of an app that contained access to the events each day, but at many of the venues, printed programs were either non-existent or few in number. This made it difficult to know exactly what you were hearing, and to recall it later if you didn’t write it down! I liked the use of an app and the paper-free workshop, but an updated web page, Facebook post, or even Twitter message containing a link to the program info at the time of the concert would have worked great. #justathought
Following the Women of Juilliard, a large trombone ensemble made up of many of the NYC’s finest trombonists took the stage for a tribute to the legendary Urbie Green. Following a touching introduction by Joe Alessi, bass trombonist Jack Schatz introduced a panel consisting of Bill Watrous, Jack Gale, and David Taylor, among others. All of these gentlemen have been colleagues of Urbie during his playing career, and they had some great stories about him to share with the crowd. After the panel discussion, the ensemble played some of the well known tunes from the 21 Trombones albums that Urbie recorded back in the day. The group sounded fantastic, especially soloists Marshall Gilkes, Tom Malone, and Bill Watrous. Many of the players took a chorus on the final tune, and the crowd really enjoyed it. I only wish we could have heard more!
I had a special treat on Thursday night, as my dad and I hung out with my good friend, Michael Boschen, at his current gig on Broadway, Matilda. Mike has been playing this show about 3 1/2 years, and I would say he’s got it pretty dialed in by now! It’s an interesting book… the show is about 2.5 hours in total, and the brass consists of just two trumpets and one trombone. The rest of the band has a string and reed section, plus two keyboardists, and a percussionist. I have to say, having never played a true Broadway show, it was fascinating to watch the guys at work. The trumpets and trombone have their own room, with a plexiglass window looking in to the rest of the orchestra and conductor. Everyone plays into an individual mic, and wear headphones to hear the click, which is somewhat intermittent. It kicks in for most tempo changes as well as the beginning of a lot of tunes. Mike sounds fantastic. He has always been one of those guys that can pretty much do anything, and he has taken up bass trombone with a vengeance since we left school years ago. The Matilda book is for tenor and bass trombone, and it’s really an honest to God bass trombone part! I don’t think I would have anything to do with that! Interestingly, Mike also plays a Bach Model 6 that belonged to Glenn Dodson… Mike and I both studied with Glenn, so it was really touching to get to hear him play that particular horn at the show. The whole band sounded great, very tight, and it was a highlight of our trip to see NYC freelancers in the wild!
On Friday, we headed down to Juilliard early to catch a 9AM recital by Michael Powell and John Rojak. First of all, anyone willing to pony up for a 9AM recital is a major stud in my book, and these guys never disappoint! As always, Mike and John played with such a beautiful display of musicianship, something we have all come to expect from them and the American Brass Quintet. Rojak has a new CD just out, which you can find here.
After the early recital, I joined David Taylor and Alan Carr in Morse Hall to judge the finals of the Yaxley bass trombone solo competition. The piece performed by the finalists was the Sub-Zero Concerto by Daniel Schnyder (pronounced Schneeder). This piece was written for Dave Taylor, and I think all three of us on the panel were damn glad to not have to play it! The finalists all sounded great, with some amazing bass trombone wizardry from the eventual winner, Adib Correa Vera. Dave Taylor sent the composer a text during the finals that pretty much summed it up… something to the effect of “….THESE KIDS!!!!!!” Alan Carr and I missed each other at Juilliard by a few years, but it was great to make his acquaintance and here about what he’s up to. Go here to see all the winners of the various competitions. Donny Pinson is the ITA’s director for the competitions, and seeing the work he does up close to make all the competitions happen is truly amazing. Donny put in a huge amount of work at the festival to see that the competitions were run efficiently and fairly - well done!
There’s one important point I’d like to make… It’s easy, especially with the availability of everyone’s recordings and projects on line, to put off actually attending an ITF in person. I was reminded how great it is to see people in person, reconnect, meet others for the first time, and just generally hang out with other trombonists. Of course you hear great concerts and get to try all kinds of cool gear, but the people are really what make these festivals fun. Just my two cents, you should go next year if you can!
Friday afternoon, I met about 20 or so other trombonists for a rehearsal of the Juilliard alumni trombone choir. Not knowing who would show up, it was great to meet so many Juilliard alumni, especially ones that had been at school before me and many of whom had studied with the conductor of the event, Per Brevig. Maestro Brevig immediately got everyone’s focus on the music and making the performance something special, not just a thrown-together affair. Kudos to Jack Schatz for his organizational powers putting this together. The concert on Saturday afternoon was a lot of fun, and came off great. It was amazing to hear so many fine musicians who share a musical heritage. It was especially fun to play with Mike Boschen and Tom Burge, both alums from my years at school.
Friday night, one of the highlights of the festival occurred, with Mr. Alessi performing a world premiere of a concerto written by American composer, William Bolcom. Joe performed with the New York Philharmonic, with Music Director Alan Gilbert, conducting. Joe is always an amazing performer, and this concert was no exception. Having heard Joe many times with the Philharmonic, both as soloist and as principal trombone, he sounds better than ever. One of the funniest occurrences of the week was when Maestro Gilbert asked all the trombone players in the audience to stand…. Probably about 1/4 of the crowd at the David Geffen Hall was trombonists, and watching the expression of the Phil’s string players was priceless! Needless to say, they were all quite shocked!
After the concert, Pop and I hit the town to catch up on some NYC nightlife, and then rest up for the last day of the Festival.
Thanks for reading! I will post more about the final day of the Festival in next week’s post. If you haven’t subscribed, scroll down to the bottom of the page (if you’re reading at my website) or sign up via the link on my Virtual Trombonist Facebook page (and like my page there too!). Thanks very much for reading!