Well, I'm finally back to blogging after a long respite. For those serious trombone readers, fear not, many serious blogs regarding new thoughts and research I have done will no doubt be coming in the next few weeks. I've been reading and experimenting quite a bit with physical training methods as they relate to trombone performance and found some of the discoveries to be quite fruitful. I plan to write about them quite a bit very soon when I have a little more time on my hands. Also, the article on audition preparation that has long been posted on my website will be a feature in the upcoming ITA Journal. So, keep your eyes open for that.
Now to the title of the post, summer 2010...
This has been a great summer of travel for me. I've gotten the opportunity to see so many amazing things. From July 9-Aug 15 I have been working with the AIMS Festival Orchestra in Graz, Austria. The orchestra is comprised mostly of students/recent graduates with professionals from different American orchestras scattered throughout. The festival is mostly geared towards the development of young singers, and as a result, the schedule for the orchestra is very light. After 5 seasons at the MET, there really isn't much new operatic material for me to learn. So, attending AIMS this summer presented me with the opportunity to travel Europe while staying musically in shape.
Our first concert of the summer included Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter Overture and Barber's First Essay. This was my first opportunity to play the solo in Russian Easter and I think it went over pretty well. It was great to finally get the opportunity to play this piece. I've played it countless times in the practice room and auditions, but until now had never had the opportunity to play it in context in a really great concert hall. It was a lot of fun to play, and having had past experience playing things like Bolero, Tuba Mirum and Tomasi's Fanfare Liturgiques, I must say that this solo is far less nerve racking!
My first extended weekend included trips to Vienna and Rome. Vienna is such a musical treasure. I think any serious musician should consider making a pilgrimage to Vienna to allow themselves the opportunity to take in the musical history of the town. The tour of the Vienna State Opera House and the Musikverein were fantastic. To think that the likes of Brahms and Bruckner actually spent time writing, performing and teaching at the Musikverein is quite something. A visit to the cemetery to see the graves of Beethoven, Johann Strauss, Brahms, Hugo Wolf, Schubert, etc. was quite the moving experience. As musicians we often think of these names in a historical context that almost removes them completely from the realm of real humanity. We perceive of Mozart as the bumbling idiot savant from the movies or Beethoven as simply a name on the page. An actual visit to their places of work brings a greater sense of humanity to what they've done for our industry. If you think there aren't many jobs available to classical musicians now, imagine how few there would be if those guys had never lived. Yikes! No Brahms, Bruckner or Mahler symphonies? Classical trombone players might cease to exist!
Rome was amazing. There is so much to see there. The Vatican/Sistine Chapel and Colosseum really lived up to all of the hype. The artistic magnificence of these places is too immense to describe adequately with words. On a musical note, since this is a musical blog/website, I did have the opportunity to see the many fountains of Rome that Respighi wrote about in his famous Pines of Rome. The Fontana di Trevi was definitely my favorite. Basically, every piece that Respighi wrote was about Rome, and I can see why he wasn't lacking for inspiration. Two other things of musical note... I had a chance to quickly take a look at the main opera house in Rome. I wasn't aware until then that this was the house where Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana had it's premiere. This is one of my favorite operas to play, and for those who don't know it, it is also one of the most difficult trombone parts in the opera repertoire. This piece has a special place in my heart because it was the most difficult excerpt on the MET audition back in 2005. I also made a trip to the church of St. Andre della Valle. This is the church where Puccini set the first act of Tosca. Until recently, the MET's production of Tosca was done by Franco Zeffirelli who went through great pains to exactly recreate the scenes that Puccini specified in the score. Having seen it myself now, I have to say that he nailed it! I walked through the door and thought to myself, "I've been here before!" Kudos to Zeffirelli for such an accurate depiction.
The next weekend included Milan and Venice. Lawrence Brownlee, one of my best friends and one the world's great Rossini tenors, was singing Rossini's Barber of Seville at La Scala. As an opera musician, I've always wanted to see the world renowned La Scala, and things just happened to work out for me to see La Scala with one of my best buddies in the lead role. Thanks to a hookup, I had seats in the prime box, first tier center! The performance was excellent. It was very interesting to note the extreme difference in acoustic and size of the hall by comparison to the MET. La Scala is aesthetically gorgeous. The color scheme is excellent, and with the exception of the orchestra level, all seats are box seats. To my surprise, the hall is actually quite dry. You would expect that a smaller room would be easier to fill with sound, but that is not the case here. On the contrary, I could tell the singers (many of whom I've heard sing the exact same roles at the MET) were singing with their usual dynamic and inflection, but the sound did not travel as far. All in all, this was an extremely positive and informative trip. You always hear about what other halls and orchestras sound like, but it's not real until you witness it for yourself. I'm glad that I was able to satisfy that curiosity. On another note, there is a mozzarella bar on the top floor of a department store right next to the Duomo that was absolutely divine. Also, the fashion of Milan locals is an interesting one. People are wearing all of their finest gear, even if it doesn't go together. White shirt, green pants, blue shoes... there are some interesting ensembles walking around over there.
I didn't have much time in Venice. Seeing as how the place was grossly overrun with tourist (I know that I am one too...) it wasn't the most enjoyable place to hang out. I did get a chance to tour La Fenice however. This historic opera house is one of the smallest and most beautiful rooms I have ever seen. It was also home to the premiere performances of Verdi's La Traviata and Rigoletto. Pretty cool!
The next extended weekend included trips to London and Paris. I have the feeling that London would have been a far greater experience if 1)The weather were less overcast and 2) I hadn't lived in NYC for the last 5 years. London and NYC are extremely similar in my opinion. It's a great town, and I could definitely see myself living there. All the tourist things were on the list... Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, London Eye, etc. On a musical note, I had the opportunity to check out St. Martin in the Fields. I can't remember how many times I've listened to a great performance on NPR and they said, "That was Sir Neville Mariner with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields". I also had the opportunity to see the Bolshoi Ballet perform Le Corsaire at Covent Garden. Another visit to one of the world's great opera houses. I played in a professional ballet orchestra and been to several others, and I have to say that this one stood out above the rest. Just as the Americans are great at basketball and the Brazilians are great at soccer, the Russians are great at ballet. The technical precision of the dancing was far greater than anything I've ever seen and I left thoroughly impressed. The hall was beautiful and had a great richness of tone quality. The next night I saw the BBC Scottish Symphony with Donald Runnicles perform Mahler 3. Good timing for a trombonist to be in London I suppose. It was a very fine concert and the principal trombonist, Simon Johnson, did a really great job with the solos and the section tutti passages. It was interesting that he didn't use any vibrato in any of the solos. It's definitely not the way I would do it, but he did it very well, and it's always interesting to hear something different than what you're accustomed to. I think that's part of the beauty of hearing foreign orchestras and great players with a different background than your own. Two other things stood out about this concert. The trombones/trumpets put cloth coverings over their bells for much of the final movement, and the children's choir was mostly girls. I've never seen either of these things. I'll ask to ask Runnicles about that the next time I see him.
What I can I say about Paris? It is AWESOME. I'm not the most sensitive or emotionally in touch guy all the time, but I think I actually fell in love with this city. There is a great energy and sense of international/racial/religious diversity. Beautiful people, beautiful city, good food. I think Paris made me think twice about so quickly saying the NYC is the greatest city on earth. I think I'll continue to say that just because I live there, but it might be a tad less genuine. Still not decided on that one. Outside of a tour of the Paris Opera and a bike ride past the Bastille, there weren't any musical events to note in Paris. Unfortunately, in August, the Parisians are on vacation. Maybe next time! Still had the time of a lifetime though. The Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Luxembourg Park... it could be a whole lot worse.
That's all for now. I will be back with much more soon, and then we will get into some more deep musical thoughts. Til then...
Ciao, Tchuss, Arivaderchi, Salut