Month: June 2018

Reflections on the Second Nagoya (Japan) Trombone Festival

Reflections on the Second Nagoya (Japan) Trombone Festival

I don’t think I could possibly count all of the times during my long career when I have traveled to schools, colleges, and universities to do some teaching or performing, or attended trombone festivals or symposiums as a guest artist. It would certainly number in the hundreds throughout the United States, Canada, South American, Europe, Africa, and Asia. I have always enjoyed working with trombone players around the world and I recently returned from a week in Japan where I was the guest artist for the Second Nagoya Trombone Festival.

As I mentioned in my earlier post about the Festival — made before the trip — I have been to Japan twelve or thirteen times. I’ve lost count. Many of these trips were tours with the Boston Symphony (conducted by Seiji Ozawa) or Boston Pops Orchestras (conducted by John Williams), and other times were to teach and perform at the Hamamatsu International Wind Instrument Academy and Festival. The First Nagoya Trombone Festival, hosted by the Nagoya Trombone Association, was held in 2016 and Jörgen van Rijen, principal trombonist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, was the guest artist. I was very honored to be asked to come as guest artist for this, the Second Nagoya Trombone Festival, held on May 5-6, 2018..

Here are a few reflections about my time in Nagoya, a time that was very special to me in many ways.

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Before the Festival began, I spent an afternoon teaching at Aichi Prefectural University in Nagoya. The University’s trombone professor is Hiroshi Kurata (about whom I recently wrote on The Last Trombone), and it is the undergraduate alma mater of Nozomi Kasano Flatt, bass trombonist of the Japan Century Orchestra in Osaka. I met Nozomi in 2004 when she was a student in my class at the Hamamatsu Academy and Festival and she subsequently came to Boston to study with me; she earned a Graduate Diploma and a Master of Music degree at New England Conservatory of Music. It was a special joy for me to have Nozomi as my translator in Nagoya, both during my masterclass at the University and also at the Festival. The photo above shows the students with whom I worked at the University, with Professor Hiroshi Kurata on the left and Nozomi Kasano Flatt on the right.

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I worked with several students who played solos, and also with an orchestra trombone section. The level of talent at the University was very high as was the level of attention of the audience members. I ended my teaching sessions with a lengthy question and answer period where several students asked engaging questions about a life in music. Kurata San was kind enough to take Nozomi and me to dinner at the finest sushi restaurant I have ever enjoyed – a small restaurant with just a handful of seats and a private chef; it was a memorable experience in so many ways. A few years ago I saw the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” Never did I even dream that I would have a culinary experience of the quality shown in that movie. But I did, thanks to Kurata San. The photo above shows a piece of sushi as a work of art. It is impossible to describe but something I will never, ever forget.

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The Nagoya Trombone Association organized the Nagoya Trombone Festival and among the many people who worked hard to put it all together was my host, Hiroshi Tanaka (shown above with me after the Festival’s final concert along with the announcer for the concert).

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Tanaka San had engaged a superb pianist for my recital, Shoko Gamo (shown above with me after a rehearsal) and we enjoyed a very, very fruitful collaboration. I have rarely worked with a pianist who possessed such tremendous abilities as well as a very deep, emotional side to her musical personality. And a very nice person, too!

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The festival took place over two days. I gave a masterclass on the first day, working again with some very talented students. The photo above shows me working with a student; Nozomi Kasano Flatt is translating for me.

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In addition, I gave a lecture on the history of the trombone — in 50 minutes! This was a whirlwind for sure, with nearly 100 Powerpoint slides in my presentation and Nozomi working hard to keep up with my pace. She did a great job. One of the great things about her translation skill is that she captures the character of my spoken personality. This does not happen all the time when I need a translator and it really helped those in attendance understand what I was talking about. I have rarely given a lecture for such an attentive, engaged audience. In the photo above, I have just told the audience that I was going to do the impossible — talk about 500 years of the trombone’s history in a very short time. This image from the movie Home Alone captured my feelings about the impossibility of the task!

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The Festival also had a number of instrument companies present so participants could try out different trombones. It was great for me to see friends from YAMAHA who were present at the Festival. YAMAHA has been so great to me over the years and our relationship goes back over three decades, to 1986. In the photo above are Ken Takei, Naoki Suzuki, me (with my YAMAHA YBL-822G bass trombone), and Michio Ohse.

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Before I headed to the Festival on the second day, I took a long walk to Nagoya Castle, one of the great castles of Japan. I have been to Nagoya once before, on a Boston Pops Orchestra tour, but it was nice to get to the Castle, something I had read about but had never visited previously. It is a very special, majestic, peaceful place.

Day Two of the festival included my giving a recital. My program was an eclectic mix of repertoire:

Widmung — Robert Schumann, transcribed by Douglas Yeo

Sutenaide Kudasai — Jan Kaňka

Sonata No. 6 from 18 Canons Mélodieux — George Philipp Telemann, arr. Douglas Yeo

Sonata for Bass Trombone and Piano — Alec Wilder

Canzone — Girolamo Frescobaldi, arr. Eddie Koopman

Sonata for Alto Horn and Piano — Paul Hindemith

Sång till Lotta — Jan Sandström

Each piece had a particular reason for being on the program.

In recent years, I have always begun recitals with Schumann’s great paean of love to his wife, Clara, Widmung. It always reminds me of my wife, especially when I am far away from home. I also like to give my accompanist a superb piece of art music to play on my recitals and this piece certainly fits the bill. Shoko was very happy to play Schumann’s beautiful song; she told me she often plays it in the arrangement for solo piano by Franz Liszt. Her playing was spectacular.

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Several years ago, I became aware of the work of Czech composer Jan Kaňka. A trombonist himself, I found his Sutenaide Kudasai (the title is in Japanese and is roughly translated, “Please don’t throw it away”) to be very engaging and I thought the Nagoya Trombone Festival was a great place for me to perform it for the first time.

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I was then joined by Nozomi Kasano Flatt for one of Telemann’s remarkable canons, a piece that I had arranged for my book published by G. Schirmer, Trombone Essentials, and that I also recorded with Gerry Pagano on our new compact disc, Fratres. Playing a duet with Nozomi on my recital was very important to me and it was an absolute joy to collaborate with her on my recital.

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I wanted to perform a piece by an American composer and I chose Alec Wilder’s Sonata for Bass Trombone, a piece that for many years was the most frequently performed  piece ever written for bass trombone. Over the years, I have written several articles about the Sonata for the International Trombone Association Journal and in a serendipitous convergence of events, I had just recently happened to meet Russ Schultz, who as a student of Emory Remington at Eastman School of Music gave the world premiere of Wilder’s Sonata on March 24, 1969. The photo above shows Russ and me in a diner in Fort Worth, Texas two weeks before I went to Japan; it was great to finally meet him and then play the Wilder Sonata in Nagoya.

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I then turned to Eddie Koopman’s arrangement of the first Canzone by Girolamo Frescobaldi, in a version with pre-recorded accompaniment. For this performance, I used a buccin — a dragon bell trombone used in France and Belgium in the early nineteenth century. I love playing historical instruments and the buccin is the coolest kind of trombone. This particular buccin (photo above) is a one-of-a-kind instrument that was made by YAMAHA; it is a fantastic instrument with a great, unique sound. Eddie Koopman’s techno-pop-Rennaisance accompaniment brought this old piece and instrument right into the twenty-first century.

The other major work on the program was Paul Hindemith’s Sonata for Alto Horn and Piano. It is the least performed of Hindemith’s Sonatas and it works very well for bass trombone, transcribed down an octave. Shoko Gamo had a fiendishly difficult part that she performed with superb technique and style. The Sonata also has a poem by Hindemith, The Posthorn, that the composer requires the soloist and accompanist to recite before the last movement. While Hindemith’s poem is in German and English, I wanted to recite it in Japanese. I asked my good friend, Megumi Kanda, principal trombonist of the Milwaukee Symphony, if she would translate it for me so Shoko and I could read it during the recital. I read the first part of the poem and Shoko read the second part. I practiced this very hard! The audience was very supportive in my reciting this in Japanese — people told me they actually understood what I was saying!

Hindemith The Posthorn ポストホルン

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Finally, I ended with Jan Sandström’s beautiful song, Song for Lotta. For many years I have ended recitals with this beautiful piece, slow and soft, very emotional, and different than the kind of loud piece that people usually play as a final piece. Shoko’s playing was exceptionally sensitive and the audience responded with great enthusiasm and warmth.

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At the end of the recital there were flowers and congratulations all around. But there was more to come.

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One of the great things about the Festival was seeing so many former students who had been part of my class over the years at the Hamamatsu Academy and Festival. Here I am (above) with several of them — and there were others, too. It was great to see them and talk about their progress and successes since we had last met.

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The Festival ended with a gala concert that featured members of the Nagoya Trombone Association’s organizing committee trombone ensemble. I performed as soloist in John Stevens’ The Chief, dedicated to Emory Remington (above),

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and I also conducted the ensemble in Stephen Bulla’s arrangement of Londonderry Air (above).

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The concert concluded with all of the Festival’s participants coming on stage for a performance of two pieces: Steven Verhelst’s A Song for Japan (above), especially arranged for this concert, and Tommy Pederson’s arrangement of 76 Trombones. What a sound! And what great playing from all of the players, from students to players who were older than me.

Here is a video of my performance of The Chief, and also of A Song for Japan. I hope it will give you a sense of the great music making we all heard from so many people at the Festival (to view this video on YouTube, click HERE):

Following the concert, we had a group photo. And then another, with everyone raising a hand and shouting:

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The word isn’t really translatable into English, but it captures the joy of a job well done — with great enthusiasm. It was a word that was used throughout the festival — always with a big smile.

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We followed the concert with a reception — food and games and prizes, and each participant went home with a little bag of chocolates that had been designed by Shiori Tanaka, Hiroshi Tanaka’s wife who is also a very fine percussionist. This was the first time I’d ever seen my photo on a piece of chocolate — I guess there is a first time for everything!

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I left Nagoya the following day with a feeling of deep satisfaction. I made many new friends and met many old friends. To Hiroshi Kurata (below),

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and Hiroshi Tanaka (below, as we enjoyed some traditional Nagoya kishimen at the airport just before I returned home), you have my deepest, sincerest thanks. Thank you for hosting me at the University and at the Festival, and for becoming new friends. Making music with you and your students and colleagues was a great, great pleasure.

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And to Nozomi Kasano Flatt,

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I cannot say “thank you” enough times. She was a tremendous help to me in so many ways, and I am so proud of her and her success.

The trombone brings people together around the world and I am a very fortunate person to have been to Japan so many times to engage with interested and interesting players and teachers who have taught me far more than I could possibly offer to them. Thank you, Nagoya Trombone Association. I hope we can work together again soon. The International Trombone Festival may be in Japan in 2020 — the Olympic year — and it would be the first time the ITF would be held in Asia. I hope that happens; it would be great for Japan, for Asia, for the trombone.

One thing is very clear to me: Nagoya is a place for the trombone. I am fortunate to have been part of its most recent Trombone Festival, and to feel a new kinship with this great city in Japan.

To my Japanese friends:

ありがとうございました

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