Friday, February 29, 2008

Concertos That Are Hard to Like

Sweep all the dust into one pile. Pick it up, throw it away, and then feel better. And stay out! This is not a rant on players, but pieces. Granted, it is not nice to say these things about certain annoying concertos, but maybe it will be good therapy to gather them into one pile before disposing. Perhaps a cathartic exercise, getting it out of the system. There, there, that wasn't so good.

Tops on the list: How about the Mozart Clarinet Concerto? How about not! Why do clarinets so seldom use vibrato? All the other woodwinds can. What if all the other woodwinds played absolutely straight, while the clarinets were allowed to schmaltz it up? Very strange.

Then there are those Rococo Variations of Tchaikovsky labored over by all of those struggling cellists. Way too many variations. The theme alone would have been just fine. Only one time through should do it for the whole thing. And for sure, no more than two hearings should be permitted for the Schumann Cello Concerto. Two and through. It was already old at the premier.

The Hindemith Sonata for Trumpet must surely have been hard to have to write, as it is to have to learn, as well as to have to learn to like. No one should have to sit through a performance of it, especially when crashing and burning is likely to be part of the performance practice. Old man Paul surely knew what he was inflicting on us with that final inscription: "All men must die!" His last laugh.

Oh, that raspy Mendelssohn Violin Concerto that is always in E major! It should at least be put into another key, like D flat, or C flat minor. Well, they tried to improve the Hummel Trumpet Concerto by lowering it a half a step, but it didn't work. It's still here. Someone should lower it a couple more octaves. Maybe a nice 6/8 march tempo would greatly improve the first movement of that old Moldy Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.

Bassoon concertos, all of them, should be illegal. Bass concertos likewise should only be allowed if water boarding is. Give captives their choice of agony. Water boarding isn't so bad.

I heard a piccolo concerto one time. It was well played by a great player. It was by Vivaldi, but it was still awful.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Extra Quality

"I know that guy! Who is he?" As the CSO awaits its new principal trumpet, Robert Sullivan, the audience has been seeing a few new faces filling in the ranks. Since their names aren't listed in the program, I hear a lot of, "Hey, who was that?" Here are some of the quality players that have been contributing in recent months.

Outstanding work has been heard from Chicago Symphony Orchestra assistant principal Mark Ridenaur, most notably in the recent Prokofiev CD with Lt. Kije and the 5th Symphony. It is all first-class playing! In fact, in Music Hall, if you listen very carefully, you can still hear Mark's gorgeous off-stage call from Kije echoing in the foyer. On the Moussorgsky Pictures CD to be released later this year, it will be Mark playing as well.

Earlier this season the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra week was played by Ryan Anthony, the new principal trumpet with the Dallas Symphony. His biography is impressive. He was a member of the Canadian Brass and has performed with many major orchestras in the U.S. and abroad. He is an experienced soloist, clinician, studio player, and has taught at several colleges. Ryan's versatility is evident with his numerous recording projects for TV, radio, and motion pictures.

Mark Inouye played principal on the Mahler 7th week last fall. Mark has been acting principal trumpet with the Houston Symphony and a member of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Mark is an awesome player equally at home in the world of classical and jazz music. Mr. Inouye's resume has lots of solo, orchestral, ensemble, and recording experience. He is also an active composer and has toured internationally with the Empire Brass. Mark was a founding member of the Juilliard Jazz Sextet at Lincoln Center.

Robert Sullivan, Assistant Principal Trumpet in the Cleveland Orchestra since 2003, played a Wagner/Beethoven week with the orchestra in the fall. Bob comes with prior experience of eleven years as Associate Principal Trumpet with the New York Philharmonic. He was on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, and later joined the faculty at the Cleveland Insititute of Music. Bob also played for four years in the Charleston Symphony Orchestra where he also was Adjunct Professor of trumpet at Charleston Southern University and the College of Charleston.

Mr. Sullivan was a student of Armando Ghitalla at the University of Michigan, and was a Ghitalla Fellowship winner at Tanglewood. After leaving the Air Force, Robert became solo trumpet in the Chicago Chamber Brass. He is an active recitalist and clinician. He has had recent solo performances of Haydn, Hummel, Bohme, L. Mozart, Torelli, and Telemann as well as a concert with the Summit Brass, and a Gabrieli recording with the Empire Brass in which he conducts members of the Empire Brass, Boston Symphony, and the N.Y. Philharmonic. Robert has performed recitals throughout Europe, South America, and Asia. He has collaborated on concerts with the Canadian Brass and the German Brass. He is one of the top players in the country and brings his experience, talent and wonderful playing to Cincinnati.

Anthony DiLorenzo is another amazing player who has complemented the trumpet section this year. He likewise has experience as soloist with top orchestras. Trained in Boston and Curtis he brings versatility and mature musicianship. Anthony is a member of the Burning River Brass, and Proteus 7, a mixed chamber ensemble. He is also an Emmy Award-winning composer whose works have been performed by major orchestras and can be heard on numerous TV networks.

John Rommel, currently Professor of Trumpet at Indiana University, has periodically filled in with the CSO. John has been a valuable player who brings his years of experience as principal with the Louisville Orchestra as well as a rich resume of solo and recording projects. His chamber music experience includes performances with Summit Brass and the quintets of St. Louis and Nashville. John also has extensive commercial recording experience both in Indianapolis and Nashville. He is also a clinician for the Bach Corporation.

Cincinnati Associate Principal Trumpet Doug Lindsay has been the real hero for the past two years. Always prepared and always accurate, Doug continues to cover the majority of principal parts, doing a fabulous job week after week, and that includes many Pops responsibilities. Most jobs these days require flexibility to be able to cover all parts. Doug has proven that he can handle any assignment. Any orchestra would be happy and fortunate to have a Doug Lindsay in their section.

It is obvious that quality abounds in this highly competitive trumpet world. Just reading these brief resumes gives us a lesson in showing what is needed in preparation for an orchestral career. Congratulations to all the above who have contributed so brilliantly to the CSO in recent months.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Pops or Not?

Matching quiz (result of too many pops concerts and way too much free time):

1. "Jaws" answer: c
2. "Oh, Canada" answer: g
3. "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" answer: f
4. ESPN Theme answer: b
5. "I'll be Seeing You" answer: a
6. "Sleigh Ride" answer: h
7. "Buglers' Holiday" answer: e

a. Mahler's Third Symphony (clue: last movement)
b. Charlier's Solo de Concour (clue: very opening)
c. Dvorak's New World Symphony (clue: opening of last movement)
e. Britten's Young Person's Guide (clue: you don't need one)
f. Mahler's Ninth Symphony (clue: it's slow, can't miss it)
g. Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto (clue: first movement)
h. ESPN Theme (clue: giddy-up!)

Note: 4. and h. don't match

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Johnny One-Volume

The mindset of the typical auditionee: "I'll be O.K. as long as it's fortissimo. If it's loud, I'm nailing it every time. Listen to me guys. I'm king of the orchestra! (Sure hope they don't ask anything soft.")

Just as no one can drive at only one speed, no trumpet player can survive with only one volume at his disposal. Our comfort zone must be large and able to encompass all dynamics. Great players have huge comfort zones, or at least their listeners think so. They must fly through the air with the greatest of ease. Only when they have learned to obey all of the traffic signs are they free to move about the country at will. But using only one speed kills.

So if you are a one-volume-fits-all player, don't worry. At least you have excellence in one area. Now begin venturing into unfamiliar neighborhoods so that you have clout and respect in more than one district. Take your show on the road. Visit the quiet hospital vicinity. If you play too loud, sick people might die. The elderly are crossing. Drive very slowly and carefully. No hitting-and-running allowed.

Transfer your strong suit to a weaker area. Then take it beyond what's required. Play way softer than needed, but with the same quality. Become reliable at different speeds as well as various dynamics. Flexibility and control rules.

You can't just race that semi in high gear through residential areas. You must skillfully maneuver without crashing or burning. Simply, you gotta make it sound good no matter how soft it is.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Another Hero is Gone

Quietly yesterday in Auburndale, Massachusetts a hero passed from the trumpet scene. Roger Voisin is dead at 89, once the youngest member ever of the Boston Symphony. He was born in Angers, France, and studied with his father Rene and the great George Mager whom he joined in the BSO at the age of 17. Roger's tenure began in 1935 and ended in 1973. He led the section as principal from 1950 to 1965. He was equally renowned as a teaching mentor for his countless number of inspired students.

In our home in N.J. the recordings of the BSO and their televised broadcasts could be heard regularly. One could get a free lesson just by tuning in. Those shots of the trumpet section provided enough inspirational ammo to send me straight to my room for hours of practice. Although he never gave me a lesson, I have taken many from him. Those solo trumpet recordings on the Kapp label with the bright red, blue, or green velour on the cover gave me regular injections of needed energy. Mr. Voisin's wonderfully stylized playing left impressions that I will never forget.

I loved the fact that each of the BSO trumpeters had totally different embouchures. They seemed to break all the rules of mouthpiece placement, aiming in all directions. But never mind, what came out of their bells was on fire. Roger Voisin was king in those days. He was arguably the most energetic orchestral player of all time. Of course there have been many greats, each with distinctive qualities and strengths, but none with the personality and character of Roger. His playing was instantly recognizable.

Those summer days at Tanglewood in the late 60's were like a trumpet student's heaven. Great players were everywhere. Mr. Voisin's way with music was infectious, and we seemed to learn by osmosis. Whether he was coaching or conducting brass ensembles, or driving us through sight-reading exercises, we got quick, blunt, practical instruction always with his dry humorous wit. Solfege was one of his skills, and he drilled us relentlessly to develop those needed reading and rhythmic abilities.

To condense such a brilliant career is impossible. Known well in the publishing world, he left us several of the International volumes of orchestral excerpts that are must-haves for trumpet libraries. Numerous pieces have been edited and arranged for trumpet. But Roger's legacy for me was his enormous energy, stamina, musicianship and confidence. For so long Roger Voisin was that vibrant, spirited, and wonderfully belligerant hero of the trumpet section. Now sadly, his trumpets and the man lie silent.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


It's application time! CD's are being prepared for competitions, jobs, auditions, grad schools, summer institutes, etc. Committees everywhere will have stacks of concertos of Haydn, Hummel, picc solos, and lists of excerpts to sort through. Sadly, some will never be heard past the exposition. What justifies the rejection of so many valiant efforts?

We first need to get into the minds of the judges. What appeals and what offends? A good committee is very good at quickly sifting through applications. They can usually tell all they need to know in the first few seconds. For that reason the best playing should be offered immediately. Judges are not known for being forgiving, but for recognizing excellence. No A's are awarded for effort, and no flaws are allowed. They are looking for the standout. If you want to win, you must nail it from your first entrance.

The general impression of your playing is only as good as the excellence of all the parts. Discerning evaluators will be impressed by your attention to those small but vital details. Notes may not be out of tune. They also cannot be clunky and lifeless. Each note must be polished. No notes can be ignored, but must be crafted for their perfect fit in the music.

So how do you practice crafting? Suggestion: imagine a floating fermata that plants itself randomly on any note. As you play, say the phantom fermata lands on one of your 16th notes. You quickly hear the quality, or lack of it, fix it and continue. It then finds an out-of-tune 8th note and parks on it until you adjust it. Call it the "stop-the-tape" game. Wherever it stops, it alerts you to make corrections. Eventually the ear starts to get picky instead of being willfully tone-deaf.

The Dynamics Police will also arrest you if distinct dynamic markings are not observed. Judges must know that you are aware of everything that is printed on the page. And then you must please the Phrasing Freaks. How about those judges with "last-noteitis"! They listen to make sure you leave as nicely as you entered.

Just as it is with all art, each part contributes to the greatness of the whole. None of our notes don't count. Awards go to the best quality, and that applies to every leaf in the forest. What we tend to neglect is the painstaking effort to recognize and remedy our bad notes. Hearing them is one thing, but it is the one who has learned how to craft them that wins the prize.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Dealing with Burnout

Unfortunately this is the season not for blazing practice frenzy, but a sudden shortage of fuel for the fire, commonly called burnout. Nearly as contageous as the flu, it approaches stealthily taking its unwilling prisoners. The usual symptoms are unproductive practice sessions, fatigue, and motivation turned cold. If only the remedy were waiting it out with a couple of aspirin!

Some suggestions based on trial and lots of error: First, the good news is that no one is immune. Struggling with progress, or even trying to maintain your ground, is part of the business. It is universal. Keeping motivated is perhaps the most difficult long range assignment. It separates the O.K from the greats. Vince Cichowicz confessed that only 10% of the time did he feel like everything in his playing was going the way he wanted. The rest was working to conceal and deal with the 90%.

Learning how to handle challenging obstacles is one of the marks of great musicians. So when we are down-in-the-dumps, we can take heart. Here's our chance. This is how it's going to be. We must get used to it. Gather your own collection of inspirational tips, and begin using tomorrow to find your voice. How well can you play when your heart isn't in it? Remember Pagliacci?

When inspiration runs out, never mind concerto run-throughs. Use the day to polish needed details. For example, drill your trills. They should be clean, in rhythm, and appropriately graceful.

Another pesky necessity is first notes. As long as you're bored you might as well improve something. Rehearse tons of entrances, playing only the first notes. Get each entrance perfect. You know you'll be needing them.

How about taking a few short phrases from your solo, excerpt, or etude repertoire, and playing them at a snail's pace, perfectly in tune. Be sure to listen to your last notes as well. They rarely get enough attention. You must finish the phrase as nicely as you began it. Know your entrances and exits.

Then you could have a quality-only day. (duh!) Allow only slowly played top quality notes out of the bell. Pinched, inhaling notes will not be rewarded. Only money notes permitted! This should shorten your sessions considerably! It will also save you from wasting your time and your lips.

There are countless items to work on that don't require artistic inspiration. How about fast scales, chromatics, arpeggios, or high and slow speed multiple tonguing. Fermata with dim. is another one. You can come up with your own list of needed refining.

Chances are that you'll find your uninspired mood being replaced with confidence. Disciplined basics give you the tools to be expressive and in control. Then life in the practice room and on the stage can be fun. No longer hamstrung by your deficiencies, you will be free to execute the demands of the music. Burnout begins when we ignore control of basics. Most of our work must be done whether inspired or not. So just do it, and don't whine about burnout. It is fixable!