Articles by Carl Lenthe
This article appeared in the ITA Journal Vol.30 No.3, and is reproduced here with permission.
Copyright 1998 ITA Journal
In the trombone world, the world premiere of a concerto is a special event. In recent memory are the premieres of the Rouse Concerto with Joe Alessi and the New York Philharmonic, and the Berio with Christian Lindberg and the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra. In a historical context, one wonders about the premieres of the David Konzertino, the Albrechtsberger Concerto, Milhaud's Concertino d'Hiver, the Grondahl Concerto, and many others. What circumstances surrounded their being inspired, commissioned, composed, and performed?
In this case, the Minnesota Orchestra commissioned a work for trombone and orchestra with its principal trombonist R. Douglas Wright in mind. The commission is one of a large series of new works made possible through a NEA challenge grant, and spread out over the ten years surrounding the orchestra's 100th anniversary. Composers participating in this extensive project include the former Composers-in-Residence of the Minnesota Orchestra, Libby Larsen and Stephen Paulus, as well as other such notable composers as Dalbavie, Foss, Kernis, Rautavaara, Rouse, Taverner, Torke, and many others. Works have included, but not been limited to solo concertos for other principal players of the orchestra. In this manner, the Minnesota Orchestra continues to make extensive contributions to the orchestral repertoire, a fact honored by the numerous times they have received the Annual ASCAP Award for Contemporary Programming.
As substitute musician for the Minnesota Orchestra, Carl Lenthe, Professor at Indiana University's School of Music, had the opportunity to meet with trombonist Doug Wright, both in the months before the event, and also for the rehearsals and premiere performances of "Mixed Feelings". During the days of rehearsal leading up to the premiere, Lenthe was able to listen to this new piece of music being born, speak with the composer and soloist, gauge audience reaction, and simply enjoy the show. "Mixed Feelings" was premiered on Wednesday, January 30th, with repeat performances on the 31st and February 1st. The third performance was broadcast locally in the Twin Cities area. Syndicated stations throughout the US broadcast concerts by the Minnesota Orchestra, and interested listeners should check their local listings.
Kurt Schwertsik (born 1935 in Vienna) is one of the most renowned Austrian composers of our time. He was an orchestral hornist from 1955-1989, including 21 years with the Vienna Symphony. Together with Friedrich Cerha in 1958 he founded the renowned ensemble "die reihe", dedicated to the performance of new music. Though a student of Stockhausen, he favors new forms of tonality over serialism, using irony and humor as expressive tools. He has composed for the opera, symphony orchestra, voice, and a wide array of chamber ensembles in which he mixes winds, strings, guitar, and voice. His works for brass quartet, brass quintet, and horn quartet should be of particular interest and practical accessibility to brass players, but the works for more eclectically mixed groups should also prove highly rewarding for those able to organize and coordinate such ensembles.
R. Douglas Wright, principal trombonist of the Minnesota Orchestra since 1995, has appeared with the orchestra numerous times as featured soloist. Previously, he served as trombonist with the Empire Brass Quintet, Boston Pops Orchestra, the Boston Esplanade Orchestra, and the Rhode Island Philharmonic. He is active as chamber musician and clinician, presenting recitals and master classes throughout the nation. Through his visits to the Minnesota Orchestra, the author has enjoyed getting to know Doug and his artistry, and has since also had the pleasure of welcoming him to Bloomington, Indiana for a recital and master class in March.
Munich-born conductor Jun M?rkl made his first appearance as guest conductor with the Minnesota Orchestra for these concerts. Currently as principal guest conductor of the Bavarian State Opera, and recently as musical and artistic director the Mannheim National Theatre (1994-2001), he is well known as a young, already very successful conductor who consciously and conscientiously opted to earn his conducting spurs in the rigorous and demanding field of operatic conducting. Having followed his career in Germany, it was a pleasure for this author to see him be welcomed and gain respect with this top American orchestra.
The Minnesota Orchestra, formerly the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, will celebrate its 100th anniversary in the year 2003. It is the eighth major orchestra established the United States, and reached early fame through tours and by being the first American orchestra to be heard on disc (1924). Its illustrious music directors have included Ormandy, Mitropoulos, Dorati, and ? more recently ? Skrowaczewski, Marinner, and deWaart. In 2003, the current music director Eji Oue will turn the artistic reins of the orchestra over to Finnish-born conductor Osmo V?nsk?.
Saturday 11/3/01, 7:20pm: In Minnesota to complete the trombone section for performances of Mahler's 6th Symphony, I was paging randomly through the Minnesota Orchestra's special Season Companion issue of their publication Showcase, and there first learned of the pending world premiere of a trombone concerto, scheduled for January and February with Doug Wright as soloist! I took the opportunity to talk with Doug about the approaching premiere, and convinced him that such an event is worthy of an ITA write-up. Thus, before the final subscription concert in the Mahler series, we met in a small dressing room backstage and chatted.
CL: Doug, I think it is tremendous that we have a new trombone concerto in the making. The ten-year commissioning project that your orchestra is undertaking shows great vision, and featuring principal players form the orchestra in that context is a win-win situation. How often have the principal players of the orchestra been featured as soloists?
DW: Well, there are usually about 3 or 4 weeks each year in which members of the orchestra are featured as soloists. Appropriately, our concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis is featured almost each season in some context or other.
CL: This isn?t your first time to be featured as soloist here in Minnesota, is it?
DW: No, it's not. In past years I've performed the Serocki Concerto, also some lighter pieces such as Czardas or Blue Bells of Scotland. I also got to do a jazz number with Doc Severinson, our Principal Pops Conductor. Next season I'm scheduled to play the Jim Pugh Concerto, with Henry Smith conducting.
CL: How was the composer chosen for this commission?
DW: I worked together with our former Artistic Director Asadour Santourian on that. He had many suggestions, and presented me with recordings of various composers' music. Among these was Kurt Schwertsik, and I could sense that Mr. Santourian was a big fan of his work, so I listened to quite a few recordings of his music. Schwertsik's compositions encompass a broad range of styles, and he has written for many different settings. He is well recorded, and Boosey & Hawkes publishes his works. I remember listening to two violin concertos, an opera, some chamber music, songs, and much more.
CL: Can you describe his style?
DW: Since his writing is so varied and diverse, it is hard to categorize him. His music can range from very intense to quite satirical or comical, from very tonal to incredibly modern. Running through it all, however, I find a beautiful melodic thread. He has melodies that really speak to me.
CL: What kind of input did you have in the process? Have you met him in person?
DW: We did have the opportunity to meet while the orchestra was on tour in Europe a couple of years back. We had lunch together, and have since talked quite a few times by phone.
CL: Did you express any specific wishes concerning the style, format, techniques, or direction that you wanted the piece to take?
DW: Not really. I didn't want to tell him what to write. I told him which pieces of his that I liked. Using examples, I would tell him that I liked the intensity of one, the flow of another. We talked a lot about what I like in music and how that correlates with what he does. I didn't want the "standard" trombone concerto, which so often has a delightful slow movement, decent first movement, and a schlocky last movement. Beneath a certain humorous, even irreverent exterior, Schwertsik is a very serious person, so I knew that wouldn't be the case. He's told me the last movement is more lighthearted, and I can already hear that in my preparations. This and more will become clearer as I hear the accompaniment.
CL: Are you working with a piano reduction?
DW: No. There isn't one yet. Lauri (Doug's wife, Laurinda Sager Wright) is helping me by playing from the orchestral score. I think there will be a piano reduction at some point, but not before the premiere. The piece will be played more if it can also be done with piano. Just think of all the recitals!
CL: How about your upcoming recital in Bloomington? (Note: By the time this article appears, the Indiana University chapter of the ITA will have hosted Doug in March for a recital and master class weekend.)
DW: I'm not sure we'll have a piano reduction by then.
CL: So, what can you tell us about the piece? What is the title?
DW: The piece is titled, "Mixed Feelings", A Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra. It is for full orchestra as far as strings and woodwinds go, but uses a small brass section: four horns, tuba, and flugelhorn. This seems to make for some luscious dark sounds. There is also a lot of percussion, but it is used rather lightly.
CL: How is the piece structured? What is the solo part like? Are there a lot of rests for the soloist? What key is it in? How long is it?
DW: Rests, you ask? Not enough! It will be challenging, but playable. I'm glad I won't have to do it twice in one day. The part goes pretty high. It rides around up there, but it should be fun to play, I think. It is a little over 20 minutes in length, and there is no overriding key or tonality to it, but it does end on a glorious B-flat major chord.
CL: My ? that is a happy ending! In some of our solo repertoire, the opening of the Martin Ballade, or parts of the Tomasi Concerto for example, it seems apparent that the solistic inspiration came from Tommy Dorsey, and other greats of his genre. Can you identify any specific instrumental inspiration in "Mixed Feelings"?
DW: Not yet. I do hope to talk to the composer about that, and also his broader musical inspirations, ask his feelings about "Mixed Feelings", if you will. He will be here for the performance.
CL: Unlike violin, cello, or flute, the trombone is not yet an entirely front-line solo instrument. We trombone players usually need a "trombone day job" in order to pursue our various solo opportunities as they arise. What has your solo experience been to date? I would think that your time with the Empire Brass Quintet adds up to some serious solo-type chops.
DW: My solo experience is limited but growing. I mentioned some of the ways I've been featured here already, and I am working on further opportunities with other ensembles as well. I still remember my very first solo appearance.
DW: Yes, I played Lionel Ritchie's "Still" with my 8th grade jazz band.
CL: How did you feel doing that? Was it a good or nervous experience? Did you have mixed feelings?
DW: I felt amazingly comfortable, actually. You know, up until then I had always wanted to be a heart surgeon, but when I heard the applause and everything, I thought, "hmmm, this is pretty cool?" My mother was in the audience, and noticed me really getting into this. I'm sure she was thinking, "Well, there goes our surgeon!"
CL: So instead of studying pre-med, you?
DW: ? went to New England Conservatory and studied with Norman Bolter. We had a trombone quartet there, with Julie Josephson, Brett Schuster, and Petur Eiriksson. We went to Boston University to work with the Empire Brass Quintet (EBQ). Like so many other trombone quartets, we thought, "we can make something of this?" We all started in the Masters program at Boston University, and eventually the others all got jobs! I was the only one left. I studied with Scott Hartman for a year, and when he left the EBQ, he threw my name into the hat for consideration as trombonist for the group.
CL: So, was Scott your direct predecessor in the quintet?
DW: Yes, and I stayed with EBQ for three years.
CL: How many performances do three years equal?
DW: Performances? About a zillion! In my first year, between August and January, I was home for a total of ten days. We were always on the road: 5 ? weeks in Japan, then London, and so on. It was tremendous, and I got to see a lot of the world.
CL: Fill in the gaps between that and where you are now.
DW: I basically came directly from EBQ to the Minnesota Orchestra. After three years with the quintet, I decided that I wanted a change, if even only to stay home more. So I left the group in May, auditioned and got the job here in Minnesota.
Tuesday 1/29/02, 1:35pm: After a Monday and a Tuesday morning rehearsal for Schubert's Great C-Major Symphony and Carl Maria von Weber's Freisch?tz Overture, Schwertsik's "Mixed Feelings" is ready to be rehearsed for the first time onstage with orchestra. The composer is present, score in hand and, after briefly introducing myself as an interested trombonist who hopes to write about this event for the ITA Journal, he invites me to sit with him. Thus, I am able to follow in the score as the first sounds unfold around us. I am quickly captivated by the collage of sounds and tantalizingly narrative lines, and opt to listen without reading along in the score, although my interest is piqued to later analyze how Schwertsik has composed some of the sounds, textures, and rhythmical combinations that I am hearing.
All four movements are rehearsed in order, and the orchestra is very quick in finding and nurturing what is evolving as the spirit, pulse, and energy of the piece. Schwertsik intervenes occasionally on matters of dynamics, tempi, and balance. He later confides to me that he is already mentally cataloguing a few changes that must be made in the score, and he can be seen shortly before the dress rehearsal penciling a forte line into the flugelhorn part in order to reinforce one of the spicy horn passages in the last movement.
As presented in the Minnesota Orchestra's monthly publication Showcase (January 2002), the composer prepared the following text for the premiere:
1. Through the early morning mist we recognize The trombone's distant voice. The day is called forth! What will it bring? 2. The trombone ponders about ideas floating Through its mind in a loosely knit song. There are still many possibilities! 3. The day's work requires strength & Concentration; one has to assert Oneself, sometimes even forcefully. The environment is far from harmless. 4. In the evening the trombone tries to relax & joins the crowd: eating, drinking & Dancing, doing its best to enjoy itself!
Wednesday 1/20/02, 10 am: After a dress rehearsal run-through of the Weber overture ("2nd & 3rd trombones, not too late at letter 'G', please"!), the personnel quickly change for Mixed Feelings. Each movement is played in its entirety, with corrections being made before going on to the next. In this manner, I begin to recognize the broad sweep of this work, my enthusiasm for the piece growing as it unfolds before us.
Movement I - Andante tranquillo: The piece begins with murmuring strings creating a peaceful, spacious, and innocuous texture easily construed as wisps of the "early morning mist" described by the composer. The trombone enters softly with Harmon mute on a high b-flat, sustaining a line that expands to include signal fragments, through the fog as it were. Shedding the mute, the line slowly meanders its way down to pedal b-flat. The piccolo provides a distant echo of the trombone's narrative to end the movement.
Movement II - Allegro moderato: The piano creates a slow, eerie, chime-like effect to begin the movement, and this will return three times throughout the movement, in a sense separating the various "ideas floating through its mind in loosely knit song". As the trombone enters with a sustained and yet frequently arpeggiated line, the low strings step forth to offer a ponderous counterpoint to the trombone's floating ideas. The arpeggios provide an upward lift at key points in the line, and a glance in the score reveals that they are perfectly composed to use the appropriate harmonic series on the trombone. (Former hornist Schwertsik later mentions in this context that "It's just like the b-flat side of the French Horn, after all!") The trombone explores some of the "still many possibilities" by playing unison/octave passages with the horns of the orchestra (including flugelhorn). The piano and harp chime again, and the trombone continues its dialogue with the more gravity-minded strings. With the third chiming, the trombone continues its sustained, arpeggiated line, now in dialogue with the high strings, followed by a fourth and final, distant chiming to end the movement.
Movement III - Allegro risoluto: A vigorous, ?-step descending punctuation is sounded by the timpani and joined by the low strings. The trombone enters with an agitated Sicilian rhythm (Am-ster-dam, Am-ster-dam, Am-ster-dam) that calms briefly before churning again. The soothing woodwinds cannot keep the trombone from "asserting itself, sometimes even forcefully". The opening ? - step figure in the low instruments continues, ostinato-like, and serves to underscore the conviction behind "the day's work, requiring strength and concentration". This day's work remains agitated, and ascends into the upper reaches of the instrument. Indeed, the "environment is far from harmless".
Movement IV - Molto vivace con spirito: Above a string and woodwind texture, the flute hints at some of the Latin flair to come. The bass drum and tuba begin a steady, bossa-like beat, and the trombone enters the scene. Obviously seeking fun and entertainment with some lithe, jazzy riffs the trombone wails like one letting loose on Friday night after a difficult week, "doing its best to enjoy itself." Especially the orchestral brasses (4 horns, flugel horn, & tuba) offer some flashy, compelling Latin-style riffs. Things calm down to a minimal but still persistent beat, and the trombone takes a cadenza. The woodwinds enter into the midst of this solo display, providing the framework for the trombone to hold forth in recitative manner. The trombone emerges from this monologue, supplying the bossa beat and bass line while the orchestra swells in a tutti rush to the finale.
While I'm sure that Meister Schwertsik would agree that the composer speaks best and most effectively through the music, the opportunity to talk to him in this setting, having just heard the entire work in context, was too good an opportunity to miss. Upon citing to him the apparent influence that Tommy Dorsey and other greats of his era would seem to have had on compositions such as the Martin Ballade and the Tomasi Concerto, Schwertsik did mention being fascinated by J.J. Johnson at one time. He mentions "a couple of the earlier LP's", and finds the rhythmical intensity sustained over long phrases to be especially fascinating.
While I can hear hints of the Bolero trombone, and the Moses and Aaron (Sch?nberg) trombone in "Mixed Feelings", I don't find, for example, the Mahler 3 trombone, or the Pines of Rome trombone, although distant relatives of the Ride of the Valkyries can be construed in the 3rd movement. While no one would want to force fit a composer into a mold, I did try, perhaps unfairly, to pry that question open with Schwertsik. More along practical lines, he did claim that he knows the trombone by virtue of knowing the b-flat side of the French Horn, which is just the same in terms of range, for example. Indeed, his intimate knowledge of the instrumental capabilities shows repeatedly that he has an uncanny feel for the trombone, whether in the arpeggiated passages or glissandi, the palette of dynamic and stylistic possibilities, or the keen sense of being able to fully and effectively exploit the endurance and range resources of the trombonist. And of course, we mustn't forget that Schwertsik worked full-time as an orchestral musician for many years, so his trombonistic inspiration, however tempered, is intimate, real, and first hand.
In pre-concert talks with the audience, Schwertsik, in addition to presenting his brief prose poems for each movement, mentions that two big influences on him in the 1960's were John Cage and the Beatles. He further explains that the titles of his pieces often occur to him after they are composed, implying perhaps that he has or had some kind of mixed feelings tied up in this music. He does mention that his publisher (B&H) definitely had mixed feeling about the title!
Alas, there is not yet a piano reduction available, and this is an issue that his publisher Boosey & Hawkes will have to address. Both Schwertsik and the soloist's rehearsal pianist (Doug's wife Lauri) cite especially the latter two movements as a challenge in this respect.
So, while perhaps not completely satisfying to the reader who has not yet heard "Mixed Feelings", I will let the composer's ideas resound with subsequent performances of the work itself.
The dress rehearsal resumes after the break with a run-through of the Schubert symphony, everyone striving to perform along the guidelines of articulation, inflection, and dynamics as set by conductor M?rkl in the previous rehearsals. I always enjoy the experience of an orchestra congealing into a cohesive yet multi-facetted, communicative voice with one of the masterpieces that make up the mainstream symphonic repertoire, and the Minnesota Orchestra under Jun M?rkl's interpretive baton presents a finely-polished, dynamic reading of the symphony.
For the equipment-interested trombone fans among us: for both the Weber and the Schubert this week we are using small-bore instruments. Kari S?ndstrom plays a L?tzsch alto borrowed from Doug Wright, I am playing my Conn 6H (.508 bore), and David Herring is using a Bach 42B for the bass trombone part. This scaling down seems especially appropriate, as the orchestra is not doubling either the woodwinds or the horns for Schubert, as is often done. The smaller instruments enable a forte and fortissimo excitement in the sound without opening the Pandora's box of romantic dynamics. While I have no qualms about performing these works on the modern symphonic instruments ? indeed, enjoy the lusciousness of that tonal approach ? it is also gratifying to recreate this repertoire, these roles, in something more closely related to period costumes, as it were.
It is also worth noting that, in order for Doug to have some free time before the concerto performances for his intensive preparation, Kari stepped up from his accustomed 2nd trombone position to play the solo part in four performances of Ravel's Bolero. To judge from the many comments he was still receiving at the beginning of this week, he did an excellent job!
Wednesday 1/31, 8pm: After the overture (in which David Herring and I, always willing to please, entered in a timely fashion at letter 'G', thus eliciting a positive response from conductor M?rkl), we trombonists quickly steal into the hall to listen to the world premiere performance of Mixed Feelings. Doug enters the stage, followed by M?rkl, to a warmly supporting welcome by his orchestral colleagues.
The piece begins, and unfolds along the lines described above. Audience reaction is perceptible as the trombone begins to communicate, and the listeners seem fascinated by this instrument that they know ? and yet don't really know like this. The subdued moodiness of the first, and to a degree also of the second movement, gives way to the agitated and compelling resoluteness of the third. Finally, in the fourth movement, one can truly sense among the audience the inner feeling of "oh yeah!" as the Latin rhythms start to cook. Some feet are tapping inconspicuously and a few heads are nodding to the beat, as though in a jazz club.
With the final chord ? a multi-phonic major chord in b-flat by the soloist (pedal b-flat played, d above the bass clef staff sung) ? the audience lets loose with an immediate ovation, which erupts into a standing ovation when Wright and Schwertsik re-enter the stage with Markl.
In the Minneapolis Star Tribune from February 1st, Star Tribune Staff Writer Michael Anthony wrote of the piece and of Doug's performance of it:
"The concerto, which the Minnesota Orchestra played Wednesday with trombonist R. Douglas Wright and Jun M?rkl conducting, was an unqualified success." Further, Anthony mentions "a hint of the ominous in the inner movements, a tone in the orchestra about which the trombone has definitely mixed feelings ? sometimes challenging the orchestra, other times running from it. Although Schwertsik acknowledges the power of the trombone, his writing here is full of subtleties, grace notes and glissandos. He often asks for 'cantabile' (song-like) phrasing, a reminder that Frank Sinatra always credited Tommy Dorsey's trombone playing as his chief influence in phrasing a song. "Wright, a gifted player who has been principal trombone since 1995, made his instrument speak, sing and tell jokes Wednesday night in a manner that Sinatra surely would have admired."
Surprisingly, no mention is made of the 2nd and 3rd trombone entrance at letter 'G; of the Freisch?tz overture?
And now, having followed Schwertsik's lead in personifying "the trombone" as the entity that lives and communicates in Mixed Feelings, I must now turn to R. Douglas Wright as the one who brought the trombone to such life in this world premiere concerto. For this writer, his playing in Mixed Feelings transcended critique and entered the realm of total communication. The technical challenges and nuances, as well as the required endurance and stamina were all mastered in a sovereign manner that enabled the listeners to simply bask in the sounds and follow the narrative lines of the work. Doug's playing was of the very highest symphonic refinement while encompassing an exceptionally broad range of expression. Using Schwertsik's opus 84, he truly presented the trombone as a solo instrument able to excite and enthuse, placate and mollify, fascinate and intrigue, and ? frankly ? tickle the funny bone, too.
Friday 2/1, 7pm: Ending the story as it began for me; I meet with Doug in a small, acoustically loud dressing room back stage in Orchestra Hall. The typical pre-concert sounds in the background are eternally the same, it seems, as the instrumentalists arrive, unpack and coax their instruments into operating mode (and operating temperature, here in the Minnesota winter!) with a diverse array of tones, figures, patterns, riffs, and excerpts. It is an hour before the third and final performance in this series. A few times during this interview, Doug answers a knock at the door, and graciously acknowledges sincere, yet emphatic compliments from his orchestral colleagues, wishing him well for this last performance.
CL: Doug, back in November you said that this piece was challenging, but playable. Yet you were glad you didn't have to play it twice in one day. Looking back at Wednesday's dress rehearsal and evening concert, and Thursday morning's 11am concert, you have now performed it three times in 24 hours!
DW: Well, that's the way the schedule works here, and those Thursday morning concerts have been successful, audience-wise.
CL: So, what are your feelings about Mixed Feelings now?
DW: Well, it has really been great fun, just going through this experience. It has been a blast working with Kurt (Schwertsik) personally on this and getting his perspective on things. His approach was in some ways similar to mine and in some ways different. I feel like I'm still scratching the surface of the piece ? but I have scratched it! I know it will improve with age, as I come back to it.
CL: It has been exciting to hear the work unfold over the past days. Kari (2nd trombonist S?ndstrom) says that the piece is perfectly written for you, since you are always practicing such quick arpeggios and patterns throughout the entire range! I also figure that this puts you in pretty elite company; trombonists who have premiered solo works with orchestra. Joe Alessi with the Rouse Concerto, Christian Lindberg with the Berio, Robert Marsteller and Creston, Davis Schuman and Milhaud, Per Brevig and Hovland, all the way back to Karl Traugott Queisser and the David, or Paul Weschke and the Reiche!
DW: It is quite an honor to be able to do this and help add such a substantial work to our repertoire, which is growing ? but still pretty small, really.
CL: Do you have plans to perform it again?
DW: Just this afternoon we firmed up the details to perform this piece with the Richmond Symphony. That will happen in November. Mark Russell Smith is the Music Director there, and he was at yesterday's concert and will even arrange to fly Schwertsik in for that, I think.
CL: How has your interaction been, working with the composer to bring this work to life?
DW: He, M?rkl, and I got together on Monday, with my wife Laurie at the piano. Kurt had lots of comments about the tempo and feel of things, and M?rkl had quite a few questions about things. We spent about 2 hours while I got to know what he wanted. Then I went home, refigured a few things and came in Tuesday afternoon to rehearse it with the orchestra.
CL: It got intense from there, with a Tuesday afternoon rehearsal, Wednesday morning dress rehearsal, and then Wednesday evening and Thursday morning performances. After all of that, the 36 hours before the final performance must have felt like a vacation!
DW: Absolutely. But I found my way back, and hope I remember how to play the piece tonight!
CL: It will be interesting to see how this piece takes hold in the repertoire. It has been fun to watch the audience reaction, and I hope that many more people get to hear the piece. Let's talk about specifics in the piece. The opening murmers in the strings and woodwinds reminded me a bit of Stravinsky' Petrouchka, just a bit more pensive, perhaps.
DW: Yes, I heard that comparison from others as well.
CL: When I first heard the opening trombone line, sustaining on the high b-flat, first with mute, then open, I thought that maybe it could be a lot more lyrical, ballad-style with vibrato and such, but that doesn't really fit the picture.
DW: Right! That's the way I originally approached it as well, but Kurt wanted me to capture the distant horn call in the line as though it is shrouded in some mystery. I was originally playing it more the way you mention, but he said it is not distant singing but rather a distant fanfare, wake-up call. I was playing it too lyrically. We're not quite sure what it is that we're waking up, but it gets closer and closer, building in intensity. About 2/3's of the way through the movement there is a big moment, and the trombone ? or whatever it is the trombone is personifying? is up, awake, ready to go looking around.
CL: The 2nd movement starts with low strings, and you enter with the sustained yet arpeggiated line. The arpeggios seem to be composed perfectly, right where you need them.
DW: True, I think so too. How did they come across?
CL: Very effectively. They reminded me of a cellist rolling across the strings. Schwertsik said he thought of it more as a guitar-like effect. Either way, I'm glad to hear the trombone presented that way, and like to do that kind of playing myself. The literature really only has a couple of random examples in that direction, no extended use like we have here now. The unison lines that you play with the brasses are very effective, and the pensive sounding piano and harp figure seems to be a key part of the movement.
DW: That figure is not a bright cheery sound. I think there is something very serious and dark that is being kept hidden at the core. I feel like that is a bit of the inside coming out. While we have the optimistic, "what's going to happen today?" we also have the darker, more brooding, "But here's how I really feel about today". It goes back and forth in this movement. We went around and around on the feeling of this movement, and Kurt revised many of his metronome markings. After striving to follow his markings exactly in my preparation, he arrived on Monday and began immediately with, "This is much too slow" and, "This has to go much quicker". These adjustments didn't so much make it technically harder to play as they changed the whole feeling ? for the better, of course. He often wanted a lighter, floating feeling to contrast the slower, more brooding feelings. I've got to where I can connect into it where it is exciting ? not crazy exciting, but more like, "what's up?" ? a bit more optimistic, really.
CL: The third movement begins with the descending half steps, and then you enter with your rhythmical, agitato line?
DW: Here he wants it to be forceful with a menacing quality ? and again, he revised the metronome markings ? it was much too slow.
CL: I can imagine that the difference between conceptualizing this in the mind and then hearing the true, full orchestral textures would make many such adjustments inevitable.
DW: Yes, he said it is very hard to capture that, and with this movement he is definitely after more fury, energy, and intensity. This movement gets pretty wild, especially compared to the first two movements.
CL: He told me, "This is the movement where we kill the trombonist!"
DW: I'm glad he didn't tell me that!
CL: Well, I insisted that you were one of the good ones, and that it would be a shame to kill you, after all. Besides that, you've survived the movement convincingly every time, and are able to start into the fourth movement?
DW: ?which opens with those little anecdotal woodwind figures that hint at the Latin flair to come.
CL: The trombone lets loose, gets down and jazzy, and the bursts from the brasses really get things sizzling, too. I think this is where the audience gets truly captured. It's hard to resist. The cadenza segues into a recitative with the woodwinds, and then the trombone gets the stomping beat that the timpani, tuba and low strings have kept up until now.
DW: I feel that this serves two purposes; it certainly cements the jazz feel further, but at same time there is a perceptible conflict in that beat, like someone pounding on the door.
CL: The orchestral tutti then sets you up for your multiphonic finale...
DW: ?ending with Pedal b-flat and singing d ? sometimes!
CL: You've pulled it off like a charm every time, and I hope that you sensed the audience reaction to the performance. Again, congratulations and bravo ? and have a great go at it again tonight!
About the author:
After an orchestral career of over twenty years in Germany, Carl Lenthe joined the faculty of Indiana University's School of Music in 1998. In addition to substituting with the orchestras of Chicago, Indianapolis, Minnesota, and Philadelphia, he remains active as a soloist and chamber musician through concerts with Summit Brass, recitals, and clinics. He recently completed a solo CD that should appear this autumn. For further details, please check: www.indiana.edu/~trombone
Special thanks go to Eric A. Sjostrom, associate principal librarian of the Minnesota Orchestra, for his insightful help in preparing this article, and to Eiji Ikeda, violist of the Minnesota Orchestra, for the photographs.